The nothingness that makes you feel something

Marina Abramovic’s 512 Hours @ Serpentine Gallery, London

Another odd, ‘immersive’ exhibit from Marina ..as is expected of her, of course.
It’s called ‘512 Hours’ and you spend a fraction of that waiting in the queue to get in, true.
‘The artist was present’ [sic.], and although looking tired, she possessed a kind of interesting ‘radiance’, something alluring

Firstly, as you enter, you must dispose of every item you’re carrying, especially mobile phones, cameras, overcoats and other things (free yourself)
Then you get handed noise-cancelling headphones, and off you go
As you enter a large hall, you see all the other museum goers, a few docents, and one platform about the middle of the room
People just mill around and eventually, as you loiter, trying to make sense of this nothingness, one of the museum docents gently takes you by the hand to this platform, where you are supposed to stand for a couple of minutes (as long or as brief as it’s ‘socially acceptable’), eyes closed, and feel the “minimalism, reduction, simplicity, nothingness, emptiness”..

The point is to concentrate and find yourself in the moment, not to think about worries, whether you’ll make rent next month, or if your project will get approved, or how your summer tan has already faded, or how to get to Southbank tonight if it’s raining.. the point is to not think about anything. What do we think about when we think about nothing? (..Murakami?)
It’s a type of meditation, I suppose, or at least an introduction into it, the kind that some believers spend years immersing into, in ashrams and tops of mountains, and pilgrimages, ‘trying to find themselves’..
But this is a place (and the moment) when you should leave yourself behind/ outside: “the visitors will both literally (digital devices) and metaphorically (worries) leave their baggage behind”, slow down and reconnect with the self.. if you get a hang of it. I am not sure how liberating this whole setting was: you know you’re on the stage, you know everyone else is around, maybe hoping to see if you will have something worth noting (an incident that will make an interesting story later? inspirational guidance? give us anything!) but hey that’s precisely the kind of thing you shouldn’t be thinking about, either.

On to the second room, where you get blindfolded, and in a ‘deaf’ and ‘blind’ state like that, you are supposed to wander the room, along with other ‘deaf’ and ‘blind’ people there, in the perceived darkness and silence, just feeling your way through. More a game of trust (in yourself.. and those around you to not go crazy right then and latch onto you) and courage really, you’re supposed to give yourself to this sense-free point in time and space (where no time and space should exist, ideally) and try to move through ‘the world’ sometimes not entirely reliant on your senses. Useful? Mind-opening? Misleading? A bit of all of the above? I suppose there isn’t a right answer here, after all, your personal experience is subjective, thus something that can’t be argued..

You give the blindfold back and carry on to the third room, where, in rows of small exam-like desks are people hunched over piles of mixed uncooked rice and lentils, diligently separating them, and noting the progress down on the sheet provided.
I suppose, in this room, you should try to find comfort and peace in the dullness of unavoidable everyday routine (laundry folding, dish washing, vacuuming, personal grooming, etc – chores that don’t in any way contribute to you becoming a more intelligent, interesting, inspiring person, but that are nonetheless crucial, or at least, inevitable).
It has a feel of a factory production line, as everyone appears to be so industriously and meticulously doing their task, as if they will in the end get paid for it (and the payment is this new, collective experience?)
I sat and, feeling the need to be a bit out of line and silly, instead of separating and counting the grains, made a few spiral designs and left it all behind like that
If you’re not disturbing the others, or the exhibit’s structure, no one will bother you or come after you..

Most people there are ‘tourists’: they try it all – sometimes with nothing more than courteous interest and curiosity – observe the others, perhaps even engage in a little judgement, or, preferably, introspection, simply to feel that they are participating in something creative, modern, original, experimental..
But there are always the odd few who ‘feel it’, who ‘live’ this change, this vibe that’s imperceptible to the rest, that have a ‘life-altering moment’, an experience like no other – those who have ‘found’ themselves right then and there.. Although, admittedly, there is also a number of visitors that are moving about with a wholly baffled, lost, even slightly guilty expression of someone manifestly clueless.

As I’ve come to know, these experiences show their effects later, a few hours, days, or even weeks following the event, that is, when you find that they have weeded through your mind and you can’t stop thinking about them. I have a few checkmarks – most notably, Taichi Saotome’s Shadowgraph in Tokyo [performance], Ryoji Ikeda’s Transfinite at Park Avenue Armory in NYC [digital], United Visual Artist’s Momentum at the Barbican [computerised] – all of which I loved being exposed to and often think back to.

Movies are also a kind of ‘immersive art’. Lars Von Trier’s Antichrist (TIFF 2009, 8am projection, leaving me decidedly flummoxed the rest of the day), Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland, et cetera..

And Burning Man, of course, the ultimate immersion.

Marina is, as you may know, famed for this performance art. I wish I had made it to the PS1 in NYC. Or back in the 70s when she was doing the really avant-garde expositions!

What I really liked was this line from the Gallery pamphlet, that “her work has increasingly led to more and more of less and less”.

Less is more.

And nothing is still something..

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3 thoughts on “The nothingness that makes you feel something

  1. Lucky you! I can only compare to more contemporary stuff, but it’s easy to see why she’s still very relevant on the art scene

  2. An amazing evolution of The Artist!
    I had the opportunities to see Marina’s conceptual-ism, her art stream in the early 70s , in an environment that had better understanding and appreciation for the avant-garde, or better to say exceptionalities, then it actually has it nowadays.
    And i witness rolling out new Marina at present time, changed, matured and brings more (“of less”) subtlety and flavour to her work.

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