One woman had already fainted in the queue outside. The line stretched away across
In the centre of the main room is a low platform upon which eight motionless visitors are sticking with the programme. Dozens more are facing the wall in all three galleries. Some are holding hands with a stranger, others are receiving what looks like very light back massage from a black-clad assistant. Most people have their eyes shut.
And through this assembly of living statues comes
Some have surely come to see the Serbian-born art star in the flesh, to stand in the force field of her personality, or take part in another of these historic episodes in performance art involving Abramovic, the public and nothing else for staggeringly long feats of endurance (she's performing eight hours a day, for 64 days, at the age of 67). Others have surely come to see what happens: and what happens is this.
Abramovic, or one of the assistants, singles you out of the crowd and moves you around the gallery. She does this by taking your hand and drawing you slowly but firmly along like a naughty child until an appropriate spot is found.
There you are stationed - facing the wall, in my case, in punishment position - and left to remain. That this is meant to be Zen seemed implicit in the instructions Abramovic mouthed in my ear. "Relax," she says, taking my shoulders in her strenuous grip. I don't feel like relaxing. A minute passes. "Breathe!" she insists. Not on your orders, lady. . .
Over the years she has become synonymous with durational performances - a three-month walk across
The rules of the game are similar in
Having sat through her messianic press conference, in which Abramovic did not for a moment understate her contribution to world art, and having listened as she spoke of the haste of modern life, spiritual slowness and the need to take time out, the deplorable price of contemporary art, the regrettable use of phones and cameras in galleries, never once avoiding the unashamedly obvious in her hypnotically sonorous tones, I was about as resistant to the designs of this latter-day Madame Blavatsky as could be.
And since the whole event relies upon the opposite - if nobody did what they were told there would be no performance - I went back a couple of days later when the doors opened to the public, to see how others fared.
Respect to those who can stand still as bidden, looking into "the void" of the wall; there is some pretty impressive staying power at the gallery (not to speak of repeat hand-holders, who clearly want to do it again and again). Abramovic puts you on the spot, to be sure, and some people stayed long enough to be tearful or tired on exit, though I saw others slink away fast. There is, incidentally, the promise of furniture to come; one imagines, with horror, the artist putting people to bed.
The ultimate value of 512 Hours depends upon each visitor; that is both the challenge and the artist's get-out clause. Of course there are various experiences along the way - witnessing Abramovic's stupendous stamina up close; seeing your fellow beings turning inwards, or outwards, in unconscious response or its opposite, hot self-consciousness; doing it yourself in a pristine white gallery, participating in a cult event - but in essence, this is just an elaborate exercise in mindfulness.
It feels very close to the Abramovic method, practised at the
And each becomes part of a group.
The group dynamics are calculated to keep us from opting out of this fatuity. The show revolves quite literally around the diva, her promenade performance and our curiosity; and the operation is smartly disciplined, predicated on a steady flow of good behaviour ranging from gallery-going deference to willing submissiveness. It is all quietly coercive and may become more so if folks get rowdy. Stay as long as you can, urges the sign. But mutiny got to me before the guards and I was out of there.
Marina Abramovic with visitors to the
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