#2: Marina Abramovic: Role Exchange
#2: Marina Abramovic: Role Exchange

#2: Marina Abramovic: Role Exchange

For the inspiration for this Friday’s Challenge we turn to “The Grandmother of Performance Art,” Marina Abramovic, and her 2 July 1975 performance Role Exchange at the De Appel Gallery, and the Red Light District, both in Amsterdam.

Role Exchange Challenge: Photo of the prostitute S.J. posing as Marina Abramovic and standing in front of Abramovic's show at the De Appel Gallery in Amsterdam, 2 July 1975
S.J. in Marina Abramovic’s role in front of the De Appel Gallery, Amsterdam, 1975

I find a woman who has worked as a professional prostitute for 10 years.
At this point I have also worked as an artist for 10 years.
I propose to exchange roles.
She accepts.

The woman replaces me at my opening at the De Appel Gallery in Amsterdam.
At the same time I sit in her place in a window of the red light district in Amsterdam.
We both take total responsibility for our roles.

Duration: 4 hours
De Appel Gallery & Red Light District, Amsterdam.

Role Exchange Challenge: black and white photo of Marina Abramovic in a window in the Amsterdam Red Light District on 2 July 1975
Marina Abramovic in S.J.’s role in the window in the Red Light District waiting for customers.

Your Mission, Avatar

Good morning, avatar. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to perform your own Role Exchange in cyberspace. I can think of a few ways to do this, and no doubt, some of you will think of still others. I’ll call my ideas Intra-World, Inter-World, Inner-Self, and Inter-Personal.

Pick someone in your world. If you like to look at art and they like to go dancing, trade places for a night. You go dance and let them look at art. It’d be nice to actually trade with someone, but if you can’t arrange that, don’t let that stop you. You can always do it as a thought performance where you consider the other person and then take on their role, I Vanessa normally to go art openings. Arthurine is a Gorean slave. So I’ll try to experience her life for a night.

Instead of a role exchange with someone in the same world, pick someone in a different world. Vanessa likes to shop for new clothes in SL and assemble new outfits. Ironyca likes to kill Young Thistle Boars in WoW. They trade places for a night.

If you can find a friend to do this with, a real friend that will trade roles with you, or even the 1-sided version where you use someone as the model for your alt experience, that’s pretty great. But you can also, within your own avatar, try an alt identity. Gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, age, ableness, body image, religion, politics, are all dimensions of persona that you could change from your normal for your Role Exchange Night Out.

This version won’t be for most people, but if you have someone that you know well, and trust, you could give each other your user names & passwords, and pilot each other’s avatars for a night. This brings up various security, trust, and ethical issues, but it’s also a pretty interesting, and unique experience.

Many of you love creating photographs and if you want to use this as an invitation to produce an image, that’s great. But you could also think about this not so much as producing a specific image, but as having an immersed experience, and then simply snapping 1 or more pix as documentation of that experience. You can post images and any thoughts you’d like to write up on your Blog, Flickr, etc.

Flickr Group
At the always insightful Strawberry Singh’s suggestion, I’ve created a Flickr Group for our Friday Artist Challenges. Be sure to post the URL for your Blog/Flickr/etc in the comments below, and if you like, you can also add your pix to our Flickr group:

As always, should you or your doppelganger be caught or captured, the Community Manager will disavow any knowledge of Friday Artist Challenge #2: Marina Abramovic: Role Reversal.

Good luck Avatar,

Vanessa Blaylock's signature


    1. Wow Pay, what a compelling synthesis of ideas! I love all the different, rich fibers you’re weaving together, and I love that you’ve made it a multi-week challenge. The idea that a worthwhile “challenge” should be a photo you can setup and “knock off” in an hour does have some functional value in our busy lives, but it can only go so deep. It’s awesome that you’ve chosen to explore it more deeply.

    1. Awesome Pay!

      Your comparison of body choices, one perhaps more “male” and one perhaps more “androgynous” made me think about Vilayanur Ramachandran’s theory of Peak Shift.

      He posits that all species seem to love exaggerated features. So in old ethological studies they could make a popsicle stick “beak” that baby chicks responded to more strongly than their actual mother – presumably because it maximized the features the chick was scanning for.

      That’s why caricatures of celebrities or politicians “look more like the person than the person themself”! The celeb doesn’t really have that huge a nose, but it’s just a tiny bit bigger or redder than “average” and so we key on it. I’ve always suspected that Peak Shift explains part of why so many avatars have the voluptuous curves of a Kim Kardashian West, or the overdeveloped biceps of an Arnold Schwarzenegger.

  1. Pingback: The Body Swap Challange | Ahn & Alex

    1. Another great post Pay! As I’ve commented over there, I love projects that take their time to investigate deeply. Nobody ever said that these challenges should be an “hour” or a “week,” but between busy lives and “Friday Challenge” it kind of (my bad!!!) feels like you’re supposed to just snap a photo and move on. In redefining the terms of the challenge you’ve taken this piece to a whole new level.


    1. Beautiful Pay. You’ve really used this “little challenge” as a springboard for everything from shopping sprees to considerations of tolerance and diversity.

      I hoped this would be a fruitful challenge, but the depth of your investigation can’t possibly be due to the few words on this page. This was little more than an invitation that you turned into a great mission. You could have created a photo… instead you created an identity!

      I must join the rising chorus of voices! Freedom for alts! Give Pay Lad his own tumblr now!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *