News Column

Banning phones from a gallery may be Marina Abramovic's best work

June 10, 2014

Kate Abbott, theguardian.com



Marina Abramovic's new exhibition could not come at a better time for me. Not just because she's one of the world's leading performance artists, and is set to spend 512 hours interacting with the public at the Serpentine Gallery, but also because she's decided to ban all technology from her show, even the humble watch. This ban includes, of course, mobile phones and cameras, lately a leading irritant on any gallery visit. And they're not only irritating because other people use them too liberally; sometimes it's just so difficult to stop yourself. We can now all look forward to a whole summer, three happy months, free from the banal worry that a picture of Abramovic will fail to get the 13 Instagram likes it seemed worthy of.

I came six years late to the iPhone game before getting one, I reasoned that it would be better to keep emails for the workplace and my life free from the shackles of 24-hour Facebook. But after just six months, I no longer recognise myself. There's not a moment you won't find me, logged in, Instagram account at the ready, poised to share my pictures with the world.

The problem is, although I count myself among the phone-obsessed masses, I still go into spirals of rage when mobiles are used at cultural events. That 6ft 3in pillock at a gig with his iPad held high? Despise. The relentless phone flasher at the cinema, distracting from the drama every four or five minutes? Nightmare. Those swarms of view-blocking berks who take photos of any masterpiece at any gallery in the world, when they could just buy the requisite postcard? Loathe. Anyone whose phone is even at risk of ringing at the theatre? Hell.

A cultural experience, free of distractions, no longer seems to be enough for many of us. But I don't want that to be my lot. I want to continue seeing art, going to plays, watching films, without feeling the need to share it all on social media. I want to keep having adventures where not one picture makes it online. In our social media whirl and haze, it's easy to forget that, in fact, nothing needs to be shared.

Abramovic may be an eccentric with a messiah complex, she may take herself way too seriously, be baffling buddies with Gaga and Jay-Z, have swaths of Americans clamouring for her retirement, and curators calling her unoriginal but banning technology from a gallery could well be the apex of her performance art career.

She claims to be terrified of the great British public, because we like bad gags and drink too much. Even so, she wants to tackle our cynicism. She could be our mascot, our tutor, perhaps our great guru of mindfulness, if we let her. Last night, my boyfriend had a word with me, casually accusing me of becoming a phone-wielding sociopath. "But I'm not even the worst offender we know " was met with a disturbing, revealing silence. In my defence, the main reason it never leaves my side is in case something happens to my 99-year-old Grandpa. But still, it's high time I learned how to extricate myself from my phone, aka my new diary, memory, brain. And I think the famously intense Abramovic might be just the one to crack me.

I would hazard that you could do with a masterclass in being away from your phone, too. This is a great British shout-out for all of us to get a grip, before it's too late. So before you scoff, join in. You know where to find me: I'll be the one counting grains of rice at the Serpentine with Marina, practising the lost art of concentration, not an iPhone or camera in sight.


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Source: Guardian Web


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