For 12 days this winter, Pier 2/3 in Sydney was the site of a truly innovative and remarkable art project. Kaldor Public Art Projects facilitated an interactive performance workshop conceived by Marina Abramović, a pioneer of performance as a visual art. The Abramović residency encouraged the public to enact seven works refined by Abramović throughout her incredible 40-year career.
Arriving at Pier 2/3 I really did not know what to expect. I had purposefully refrained from reading any coverage on the project so as to maintain clarity when forming my own opinions about Abramović’s residency. Upon entering I was instructed to place all of my belongings, including my watch, in a locker and enter a warm-up space. Having locked away any measure of the moment in a locker, I entered a timeless space intended to foster the tenets of the Abramović method – mindfulness and contemplation on the present moment. The first room facilitated a series of physical warm-ups, which were presented on large screens, looping to a narration of Abramović, intended to stimulate the senses and open cognitive passages to a place where the cultivation of contemplation and mindfulness is achievable.
Having completed my warm-ups, I put on sound cancelling headphones and entered the workshop space, to be taken by the hand from a figure dressed in all black and escorted to a chair facing a sheet of cobalt blue cardboard. The purpose of Looking At Colour, I assumed, was to sit and contemplate the vibrant hue and ease into a series of arduous tasks that require concentration and willpower to slow down the mind. I found it at first really difficult to focus on this mundane task after the excitement and cultish fervour I was experiencing no less than 15 minutes ago, in the line outside amid other curious people awaiting to enter the Abramović experience.
Eventually boredom got the better of me with this task and upon standing again my hand was taken by a figure in black to Mutual Gaze. I was seated opposite another young woman and as the minutes passed I found it easier and more comfortable to meet her direct gaze. We rarely just sit and stare into the eyes of the stranger, however I found that the initial feelings of examination surrendered to a seemingly unending, unspoken moment of mutual coherence.
Additional to Looking At Colour and Mutual Gaze were the exercises Slow Walk, Platform and Beds, which are all documented online (so I won’t go into them here), as well as the final exercise that I participated in – Counting Rice. The exercise involved separating grains of rice from a pile of black lentils, and then counting them, however when I was ready to participate, there was not actually a free space. I found myself pacing around the table of 40-odd people, observing the methods they had implemented to systemize and count the grains. I was impressed with one man who, having presumably counted his, was fashioning his rice and lentils into an ornate equation that testified to the quantity of rice and lentils he had been given. I could not stifle this overwhelming desire to count rice and lentils, which amused and frustrated me, as I can imagine the repetitive structure of this task would, yet I could not leave without doing it! I thought “I have never once been bored at home and thought, I know, I will count some lentils and rice!” The activity itself is not exciting, however I felt like I needed to endure the very slowness of the task in order to cultivate the mindset that repetition brings about. It is this state of mindfulness that is at the very core of Marina Abramović’s practice.
If you would like to know more about Marina Abramović, I highly recommend watching The Artist is Present, a documentary made in 2012 by Matthew Akers and Jeff Dupre that shadows Abramović’s preparation for her retrospective at MoMA, New York.
Or, if you have big bucks to spend and a desire to head to Hobart, David Walsh is presenting the exhibition Marina Abramović Private Archaeology at MONA until Oct 5, 2015.