Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The Artist is Present...no, really

A few of you may remember when this particular video went viral.

Marina Abramovic had an exhibit called, "The Artist is Present," where visitors were invited to sit across from her for a few minutes. For the majority of these she sat stoically, until she was reunited with another artist she'd worked with 20 years earlier. They were lovers and performers together, finally ending things by walking from opposite sides of the Great Wall of China, meeting in the middle, hugging, then never speaking to each other again (or so the legend goes). This was the first time she'd seen him since that moment. I think the reaction speaks for itself.

Naturally when her name came up on YPlan for her exhibit in London, called "512 Hours," I was intrigued. It's not everyday you can see an internet sensation! Of course she is also known for her rather controversial work including orgasming on stage, letting visitors do what they wanted to her body with a variety of objects laid out (some of them did cut her, while most were more gentle)...but let's make it clear I haven't looked deeply into her previous work for a number of reasons.

Unfortunately I couldn't make it the first few times I intended to - it's a free exhibit at the Serpentine Gallery in the middle of Hyde Park, open six days a week (closed Mondays) from about 10am-6pm. I figured weekends might be busy and lunch times were probably out as well. Because it was free, there was a potential for queuing if others wanted to come at the same time. They employ a one-in-one-out policy to keep from overcrowding the exhibit.

This past weekend I finally made time to go. It was a bright sunny day, hot by all British standards (a solid 25 degrees C I'd say). It was gorgeous. I walked through Hyde Park and read in the queue, getting further towards the end of Alice Hoffman's "Here on Earth" (my then-current pick from the library).

I got in and was told that I would have to leave absolutely everything I'd brought with me (including my watch) in a locker before entering. I was then handed a pair of soundproof headphones and allowed to walk in.

Now the idea behind this exhibit was to force visitors to leave all of their baggage behind (literally and metaphorically). No sense of time, no sound, just interactions with other people visiting and the artist herself.

There were three rooms.

The first you stepped into had a wide wooden cross platform set up in the middle of the room, with wooden folding chairs enclosing it in a square. People were sitting in the chairs, standing against the walls watching, or a few had even taken to standing completely still (most with their eyes closed) on the stage. I watched for a few minutes before deciding to move on.

The next room I went into had two rows of colorful, simple cots. They had a single pillow and sheet on each, and there were people lying in them. Seeing Marina herself helping people into cots, I walked over to one and tucked myself in, unsure of how to react because there were no instructions other than simply being. It was clear she would interact with you if she desired, so I laid down and waited my turn, if it was to be my turn.

It was easy to tune everything out at that point. You're lying in a comfortable clean cot in a blissfully air-conditioned room with soundproof headphones on. I was able to think clearly for the first time in months with all the sounds and noise that London typically brings.

...in other words I completely fell asleep. I took a nap in the middle of a performance art exhibit.

I woke up some time later (naturally no clocks or watches, so I don't know exactly how long I was there), and there was someone standing watching me. It didn't feel weird, but after I opened my eyes I wasn't sure what else I would do other than nap again.

So I got up. An exhibit helper (they were all dressed in black) smiled at me and I smiled timidly back before looking down quickly. It felt weird to interact with others, especially as I had just commandeered that cot for who knows how long. Considering no one had seemed to move around me, it seemed I took one of the shorter amounts of time. I awkwardly made the bed after slipping on my shoes again and made my way to the final room.

I could only peer into it, because so many people were clogging the entrance, but it looked like a room where people were walking very very slowly in straight lines, from one end of the room to the next. After my refreshing nap I almost snorted, but people take art so seriously (especially in London), so I just thought my silly thoughts and decided maybe it was time to leave.

I bought some postcards (unrelated) for my fridge at the shop to support the museum, and made my way out into the sunshine again.

To be honest, seeing Marina interact with others in the gallery...it occurred to me that she's just another middle-aged woman. It was nice seeing her be a normal person, someone who didn't take things as seriously as her exhibits suggest.

Well-done, Marina. You were able to completely take me out of the context of noisy London and put me into peace. I read the rest of my book on a park bench, finishing it perfectly in time to leave for a free comedy show I was seeing that night with Churches.

Wonderful summer day with Don.

1 comment:

  1. fascinating. I hadn't seen that video either. You do such neat stuff. I was hoping she would interact with you though. :)

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