When you got dressed this morning, did you think carefully about that scarf you wound around your neck? Did you deliberate which ring to wear? Did you check your socks were matching?
Perhaps when you left the house, how did you walk? Did you want it to attract attention? Did you want that extra spring in your step to present something to the milkman? Maybe you flashed your eyes at the woman who lives across the road, you cheeky minx?
How was your journey? The tube was hot, wasn’t it? Did you powder your face to cover that natural redness? You listened to some music to distract yourself – but so the person next to you couldn’t hear, because you’re so considerate, right? Did you give a bit of your Pret sandwich to a homeless man so your mates could see?
You probably didn’t think about any of these things – I certainly didn’t. But upon entering Marina Abramovic’s new show, these issues came to light.
If you have yet to hear of Abramovic, she is widely referred to as the ‘mother of performance art.’ Her shows have included the legendary Rhythm 0, where the audience were invited to wreak havoc on the artist herself. Moreover, she had selected a range of tools for them to use: a rose, honey, a whip – she was cut, hurt and delighted within a six hour period. More recently she was seen in The Artist Is Present at MOMA; she was visited by the likes of Lady Gaga, who later appeared in a video practicing the ‘Ambrovic method.’ And now, she is in London.
I have followed Abramovic for a while now. She is a fascinating, absorbing, captivating personality whose shows push the relationship between artist and audience to their very extreme. This was the very same reason I refused to read any preview of the show, I wanted to come to it without expectation to see what the artist could conjure up in front of me. You should finish here if you want the same.
Walking into the Serpentine Gallery, I was asked to leave my phone, wallet and bag in an anti-chamber before entering into the artist’s space. What I was greeted with confused me immensely. Abramovic was not in the room. However, a number of people stood, eyes closed, on a platform before me, watched by a number of other people, eyes closed or open.
A woman all in black approached me and nodded to the chair in front of me. I refused her offer, she nodded again. In this strange, completely silent atmosphere, I felt obliged. Throughout the gallery a number of other people, all in black and completely silent, moved around and took people by the hand, leading them to the centre stage or to a pair of adjoining rooms. One of these contained a number of people walking, slowly, up and down. The other, camp-beds with people seemingly asleep on them.
In the eerie silence of Abramovic’s world, it seemed she had created the perfect exercise in control. People trusted the helpers, almost seeming scared to break the mould. Abramovic herself had previously said nudity was a possibility from the audience and people searched her out desperately in the crowd. Silence yet again became her greatest tool, medium and weapon for control – even if the audience members were not aware of it.
Then I saw the artist herself. She had spoken to one man, previously, and ignored a number of well-dressed art students vying silently for her attention. She brushed past a number of people who stared on and turned a corner. It seemed she didn’t care for the scarves wound around their necks, their matching socks or their perfectly put together faces.
In fact, she picked me, as I looked on, perplexed. Why me? I had left the house in a rush this morning and looked pretty ordinary, aside from having silver-blue hair – and even that had been mangled by the rain. But, for whatever reason, I was picked to enter Marina’s world as she whispered into my ear ‘I like the colour of your hair – come, lie down, but do not feel guilty.’ I told her that I liked her hair too, to which she laughed and led me to lie down. Here, she tucked me in, made sure I was relaxed, closed my eyes and left. And I lay there, for a while, contemplating what had just happened.
And what had happened? I am still unsure. Abramovic’s enthralling piece leaves more questions than it answers, but ultimately deals with themes of control, power, relationships, the audience and silence. She herself is a dominating, powerful character wrapped in a strangely warm, jovial and mute exterior. She picks those who don’t look special and moves them, silently, through the crowd. She herself is lost to the Serpentine Gallery and swallowed whole by her performance. She has once again conquered the space in which she exists, and touched strangely her audience.