Thursday, 26 June 2014

The Artist is Busy

This is an account of my experience of 512 Hours by Marina Abramovic, the Serpentine Gallery, London, on Thursday 26 June 2014. Each experience will be individual and therefore different. But if you plan to experience it yourself you may want to read this afterwards.

for Tobi

The Queue
I'm welcomed to the Exhibition. There are some rules. No phones, no sunglasses, no bags allowed - they should be deposited into lockers. A woman behind me changes her mind, turns around and leaves.
My hand is stamped with numbers - the title of the show and today's date.

The Antechamber 
A room with lockers not unlike a changing room in a gym.
The Artist is sitting on a bench chatting with a visitor.
I rush in because I have nothing to deposit, having left everything with the baby and partner outside.

The Central Room
I'm caught in mid-stride as I realise that one enters the Exhibition in medias res.
There is a cross-like platform in the room crossed with a cross-like formation of folding Ikea chairs stemming outwards (four in each row).
People are standing in the centre of the platform their eyes closed.
People are sitting in the chairs with headphones on - their eyes mostly closed.
I'm trying to work out the rules.
Will I have to wait for the Artist to put me into this installation when she finally comes in?
How long have these people been here?
I realise some people are coming and leaving on their own - it's a self sustained mechanism, it does not require the Artist all the way through.
There is a young man in the centre who looks very eager as if he has been there since early morning and intends on staying till closing hours - intends on putting his own durational performance in.
A chair in front of me is vacated, the person gets up and hangs the cordless headphones on the back of the chair.
Is there a queue - I try and ascertain whether someone is waiting to sit down - they are not; a woman behind me goes for it.
I take the next available seat.
I put the headphones on - silence.
I notice some people holding hands in the centre of the platform.
A couple - beaming man, gently smiling woman - come into the centre together; perhaps they are holding hands because it's less scary stepping in on their own.
I look at the kind of people attracted by the work.
Artsy-types, lots of really young hopeful faces, some older people, a woman sitting in a chair meditating, palms facing upwards, eyes closed.
Two women step on holding hands - they look like they could be mother and daughter.
Then I realise the woman who I thought was part of the 'couple' is whispering matter-of-factly into the ear of the man - she is part of the show.
She is dressed in black and she is one of many vigilant figures walking around, taking people by the hand.
She then gives the man a rub down his back and chest and leaves. 
I decide the people in black are 'Curators' - people literally 'taking care' of the space and the people in the space.
I speculate whether the Artist has acted as a Director on this occasion and may not be part of it at all.
The Artist has created an Exhibition consisting of the visitors themselves.
She has taken the notion of Presence as a material for art-making from her MOMA show (The Artist is Present) and extended it to the viewers of art - their Presence too can be moulded; they too can be an artwork; they too can find Art within themselves.
The Artist has issued a challenge to the tradition of a passive viewer of Art, to the hierarchical relationship between Artist (as a specially gifted entity) and Viewer (as somehow inferior to the Artist).
The Artist has issued a challenge to the idea that Art and the Experience of it is an element of material reality.
How will this be appreciated by someone who does not believe that the Invisible exists?
I catch a glimpse of the Artist - a person in black trousers and a white untucked in shirt, her hair braided into a loose hanging 'pletenica'.
She is talking to a visitor standing by the wall - they both look relaxed though the Artist is also in the flow, purposeful and only pausing briefly here before she moves onto someone else.
I'm aware I'm one of the rare few people actually watching what's going on and straining and moving to the left and to the right trying to see; the others are cantering themselves in silence.
I lift the headphones off and I'm suddenly aware of an onslaught of sounds - mostly just feet moving in the space - I wonder for a moment whether it's actually raining outside. 
Those were good headphones, I conclude.

The Room to the Right
White walls and white blinds and rows of chairs with cordless headphones hanging off them, facing the whiteness.
I bump into the Artist on my way in and we exchange smiles and whispered hellos - she looks busy and happy in her work mode.
Her face is open and generous.
I take a look in, I don't fancy sitting in chairs any more so I turn around to go to the other room.

The Room to the Left
I am asked by a Curator on the door if I want to go in.
I say yes.
I'm given a blindfold and some brief instructions.
I put the blindfold on and wait in the doorway.
Someone grabs my right hand, laces their fingers with mine and takes me into the space.
Could it be the Artist?
A cold dry hand.
Should I peek to see?
What clues are there?
We keep walking.
My companion makes a small sigh - it is a woman.
We stop walking.
Will she leave me now?
Do I have the choice not to let her go?
She seems to want me to turn right.
So I do.
We take a few more steps.
My hand brushes the end of a shirt.
Is it a white shirt?
I'm left on my own with the words 'go' or 'go ahead' or maybe 'go along ' or 'go alone' whispered with an accent so I don't know exactly.
I keep walking.
What happens when I want to stop and leave the room?
I keep walking.
I bump into someone who is just standing there.
I realise I can open my eyes a bit and see the floor.
I see I have actually collided with two other people who are standing there.
What next?
Should I touch them?
We just stand there.
I go on.
I keep walking and I sense I'm coming to a wall.
I stop.
Am I being watched?
Has someone seen the fact that I've peeked?
I close my eyes and walk a bit more towards the wall holding the fingers of my hands slightly out so I don't bump into it.
I turn around.
I keep walking.
Someone's hand brushes against mine.
I sense I'm in a well of light and I stop.
I peek again.
I see someone - a man - making very small geisha-like steps in his trainers going past me on my right.
I wonder whether someone will come and get me, and take me out?
I decide to take my blindfold off.
I take a look at the room.
I'm by the exit.
I leave, handing my blindfold back to a Curator who has her hand stretched out for it anyway.

Back in the Central Room
Looking at the Exhibition from a different perspective.
It is a mandala this cross-like structure the Artist had created here out of wood - all the same colour.
The woman in the chair is still meditating her palms facing upwards, her eyes closed, her ears covered with headphones.
I keep my hands behind me on the wall - is that saying 'No' to the Curators?
Then I notice most of the others have taken up the same stance.
An older Asian woman is standing next to the wall on my left wearing John Lennon sunglasses.
But they said no sunglasses allowed! 
She occupies the space in a commanding, charismatic way.
Dressed mostly in creams and whites with white running shoes on.
I choose not to look at her - she could be someone famous.
One of the Curators - a neat looking boy - is leading a woman by the hand who keeps looking back to her boyfriend who follows behind.
They must have just arrived.
She seems a bit disgruntled to be taken in like that.
Her boyfriend follows obediently.
He leads them to the centre and whispers to both of them.
A female Curator comes to me:
'Do you want to go to the centre?' She asks with an accent.
'Are you sure?'
We go in.
'Open your feet a bit more and close your eyes'.
We stand there.
I am thinking.
Does my baby want me?
Is he crying?
I look through my third eye.
How do I record all this?
We stand there holding hands.
Will she let go?
Will she be offended if I leave as soon as she leaves me?
She rubs my chest and my back - she centres me.
She leaves me saying:
'Stay as long as you can'.
Stay as long as you can - is that a challenge or an invitation?
Why not 'stay as long as you *want*'?
I can stay longer than I want but I can't stay that long - I have responsibilities.
Why can't I be allowed to write about this while in here like I would at any other exhibition?
What shall I call my account of this -
'One of Marina's 512 hours?'
I peek.
I notice the man who was standing here at the beginning as if he intended to stay the whole day is no longer here.
I turn around and go.
(I notice artefacts for sale on my way out - the Artist's glass for drinking water, a pencil, an umbrella - all with a price-tag... The instructions for drinking water on her glass remind me this is all about mindfulness, though she may have arrived at it via a different route.)
I emerge with the words:
How long was I in there for?