Marina Abramovic. Artist. Performer. Provocateur.
512 Hours: A short account.
Gaga is a fan and practises her pedagogy, she walked from one end of the Wall of China to the middle and broke up with her boyfriend and after many years has perfected the sustained gaze. So what is Marina's deal?
The title refers to the length of time this performed artwork was open to the public at the Serpentine Gallery in Hyde Park, London. Participants were asked to leave their personal belongings in lockers before entering the gallery space. There were three rooms, with an activity occurring in each. Marina was there, supported by a group of guides who welcome the participants. Over the course of the month the activities shift slightly, but all of them facilitate a reflection, a meditation- while the deprivation of certain senses (via black cloths and headphones) aid concentration and focus.
I had been informed of the significance of her work by art historians and in relation to the theoretical discourse surrounding immersive theatre and the performed body. For me, the live experience of her work seemed to unpick the academy’s sticky categorisation and oxygenate an experience that can not be articulated with theory alone.
The First Room
I stand against the wall and quickly realise I am watching people with their eyes closed. Mostly women 25-40 years, though there is a healthy spattering of men. I wonder about those men, their sweat stained office shirts and leather pointed shoes moving nervously from side to side. Have they run across the park to experience this during their lunch break? Quite possibly. It is only when a guide takes my hand and leads me to the centre of the room and asks me to ‘close my eyes for as long as I can’ that I stop watching and start listening. I stand there for ten minutes, my mind tumbling around. I am surrounded by people. I can feel their breath. I could be at yoga practise or on a crowded underground at peak hour. So why here? Why do it in gallery? And why should I partake in this?
the moment when I open my eyes is
the moment when I disbelieve in the authenticity of my experience
The Second Room.
The second room involved walking up and down wearing a blindfold. Bumping into others was acceptable but not encouraged… it was about slowing down. Listening. I liked what happened when I did bump into people. The retraction… the adaptation, the theatre of surprise. The whole experience however was not a piece of theatre. It was not immersive within the current conception and constraint of the word (built on the premise that the audience members have autonomy and the ability to ‘choose’ their experience. After gaming, but also a product of affluent Y gen and their ability to move fluidly between socio - fiscal and cultural structures) nor immersive in that theatre dictates a direct engagement between artist and participant. Marina’s exercises facilitate an indirect engagement- in the same way that a painting provides a medium between artist and respondent.
Marina was there, but she didn’t need to be.
The artist was absent.
The Third Room
This room was full of beds, clean simple stretchers that were reminded me of a hospital. Large black headphones were worn by the public and turquoise sheets covered your torso and legs. One of my friends disliked the environment, for her it felt institutionalised. My experience was off the back of a performative walking tour in central London so I responded positively to the idea of ‘becoming well’ through art and reflection. The guides soft touch either allowed you to enter a place of calm, or reminded you, you were in the presence of others. It asserted its authority assisting you to wade through the shadows of a collective dream. Jung would have been proud. All these people, buzzing and breathing together. For me, I found it quite a solitary process.
The energy of the gallery had a cathedralesque solemnity. I believe this was the combined effect of ritualised meditation, the closing of ones eyes, the presence of Marina as guru and public notions of decorum and etiquette that are confined to gallery spaces. Moments of joy and irreverence were discovered in those (particularly older members) who walked through the rooms huffing and puffing that there was nothing to see. Other memorable people seemed to ‘encounter an exorcism or an interpretive breath dance.’ A performed introspection. It is difficult to say how much was performed and how much these people were experiencing. For me, 512 Hours was not about being watched but experiencing oneself in a way that is not familiar, redressing ones habitual patterns. To experience reflection and breath, despite being surrounded by others demands a determined focus and requires one to be embodied, to respond to all of your senses and let the exterior stimuli wash over you. For me this forgetting and remembering, only happened momentarily and I constantly had to remind myself of this (perhaps impossible) task.
A great teacher once told me that to embody something you must first acknowledge it, then learn it and then forget it.
An art in itself.
I watched, was asked to join in, became fed up, bored, forward thinking, present, reflective, where’s the door, I can do this, I am dying, keep going. Of course, it wasn’t until I gave up trying to do anything that I finally found some peace.
At the end. I then allowed myself to quietly depart. Two and a half hours is probably relatively quick to calm the London and coffee fuelled mind. Given the simplicity of the work, who knew it could generate such a load. I am very grateful for artists like Marina who generate platforms that conjure up new ways of mediating time, space and thought, and challenge the way I habitually encounter the world. If you didn’t happen to catch it… thank goodness for Abramopug.
Keeping it real.