After the success of The Artist is present, her impressive retrospective held by the MoMA in 2010, Abramovic comes back this summer with a new durational performance called 512 hours. This time, she will invest the more intimate space of the Serpentine Gallery in London to create her new work: a silent piece where the public is widely encouraged to participate. Six days a week over a period of three months, Abramovic will stand and roam over the empty space waiting for the public to come and interact, just to “see what will happen”.
“I’m there for them. They are my living material, I am their living material. And from this nothing, something may or may not happen.” (artist’s statement)
After a waiting time, more or less important depending on the day and time you come, you will be allowed to enter the exhibition space, but only under one condition: you must leave all your personal belongings in lockers. No phone, no camera, no watch allowed, nothing that can relates you to the outside world and to the notion of time. Free of all your day-to-day concerns, equipped with a nice stamp and some ear plugs, you will finally be able to enter the strange and timeless space of the performance.
The uncluttered exhibition space is simply divided into three distinct but not closed areas. The first room on your arrival is filled with camp beds, where members of the audience lie: ear-defenders on, eyes closed, and covered with a colourful blanket. You stay and you watch, still uncertain to have understood the rules of the game. Then, you move to the second room to check what’s going on. About ten chairs are facing the opaquely covered windows of the gallery. On them, also wrapped in bright covers, are sitting some absorbed people as if caught in the middle of a meditation session. As for the last and third room, it is filled with people walking really slowly, either in group hand in hand, or alone. They all seem hypnotized by something, and for a minute, you wonder if they are following a particular route or simply following their instinct.
The next things you notice are the people walking backward with a mirror in their hands. They do not seem to be allocated to a room in particular; on the contrary, they move everywhere and link the different spaces of the performance. The next people you notice are the one in black; Marina Abramovic is one of them. They are the people that invite you to take part in the performance: they are your mediators in a way. Usually they will take your hand, you will follow them and they will give you some instructions such as: “I’ll ask you to sit/stand/lie here. Listen to your breathing and what your body is saying to you. You may stay here as long as you wish”. After that, they will put their two hands on your shoulders and press them, creating a strange flow of energy circulating through your body.
Overall, this performance is quite a strange experience, but it certainly is a transforming one. You’ll see that you move quickly from one feeling to another. At the beginning you don’t really know how to behave and you feel like an intruder, but soon you will adapt and take part in what’s happening around you. Starting with the lying part in the first room is a good way to warm up, as lying down eyes closed really enables you to concentrate on the present time and yourself. It then helps you to fully engage with the whole performance.
At the end, you cannot really say how much time you’ve spent inside (unless you’ve check the time before your entrance): but does it really matter? In a time obsessed world, it is nice to have this little refreshing moment of calm and focus.
“I test the limits of myself in order to transform myself but I also take the energy from the audience and transform it. It goes back to them in a different way. This is why people in the audience often cry or become angry or whatever. A powerful performance will transform everyone in the room.” *
During the period of the exhibition, Marina Abramovic is keeping a video diary of her impression of the day that you can access on the Serpentine Gallery website.
“Performance art has to live and survive. It cannot be put on walls.” *
* Both quotes are coming from Marina Abramovic’s interview by Sean O’Hagan published on The Guardian.
For more information, please visit the Serpentine Gallery website.