I cannot describe fully how it felt to see Marina Abramović in the flesh. It was…surreal…to say the least. I had viewed footage of her performance work, watched a variety of lengthy interviews on screen. I never imagined I would actually be in the SAME room as her, have her come up and speak to us as she looked at us all individually in the eye. You know the moment you meet someone you admire and you get slight ‘butterflies’ in your stomach? Well…it was one of those moments.
Her public performance 512 Hours now showing at The Serpentine in Hyde Park, is a triumph in relation to silent conversation, participation and amusement. At the entrance of the gallery we were told to make no sound and were given thick headphones to wear throughout the performance. There were three rooms. Within each room there were alternate performances, which change drastically everyday. Upon my visit, in the main space, chairs surrounded an upper level (let’s call it a stage for now). Members of the group chose to stand upon this ‘stage’, some hand-in-hand, with their eyes firmly closed, listening to the surrounding silence. Those sat on the chairs (including myself) simply watched and scrutinised.
In the room to the left people were blindfolded and pushed gently into the centre of the room and left to their own devices, as they circulated the room slowly, relying solely on their natural sense of direction. It was rather funny to watch to be honest, seeing random people bump slowly into walls and into each other. I remember a moment when my hand brushed against someone else’s. It was slightly strange, not knowing who the person was or if it was a man or a woman. Just a complete stranger whom I will never cross paths with again (and even if I do I wouldn’t have an idea).
In the remaining room to the right however, there were no blindfolds, no closed eyes, but rather people walking incredibly slowly and gingerly across the room, some alone, others hand-in-hand. This particular room is were Abramović spent most of her time, guiding occasional individuals personally across the room by holding their hand and taking them for the ‘slow walk’. Now I found this a bit irritating as I am an incredibly impatient person. But what the heck, I did it. I was just too thrilled to be there in the first place, in the presence of such a remarkable woman.
All I can say about the performances is how intrigued I was, not only by the patient, captivating nature of the performance itself, but by the people and their intense engagement within the process. Thoroughly worth the National Rail train ticket I say.
Born in Belgrade in 1946, Abramović began exploring the art of performance in her youth in the 1970’s. An example of her early work includes the independent performance Art Must Be Beautiful, Artist Must Be Beautiful, were she is sat half-nude, brushing her hair frantically and intensely whilst murmuring how art and the artist herself must be a thing of beauty (constant repetition of the title basically). She is internationally famous for her long durational performances, (one of the most renown was 90 days) and her engagement between the audience and the artist.
Marina Abramović: 512 Hours is currently showing at the Serpentine Gallery, London, until 24th August 2014. Tickets are free of charge and are on a first-come, first-serve basis.