٠ Can Marina Abramović’s work be faulted? ٠

Marina-Abramovic-5Marina Abramovic, © Marco Anelli

The first time I cried while reading a book I was going through some spectator’s reviews of The House With the Ocean View, in the book featuring that performance. I naturally connect to the atmospheres Marina often tries to create and can understand the importance of immateriality and spirituality in art, not only because it challenges the institutions to re-define their notions of value, but also because it appeals to some of the most important qualities in art, namely its ability to suggest new values and to potentate a symbiotic relationship between subject and object, i.e., between the self and his/her state of being.

Since The House With the Ocean View I’ve often felt frustrated with Marina Abramović’s work, in particular with what I was able to understand, at a distant, from her retrospective at Moma. I see the re-enactment of her past performances (or any performance for that matter) as an attack on performance itself. Though I can easily argument against my own impulses, there are some points worth noting: (i) performance exalts the value of immaterial labour and makes it impossible to attest a value to the object based on its utilitarian value; (ii) performance is an ephemeral event, its value also comes from the fact that it cannot be repeated and objectified, therefore maintaining its originality and singularity; (iii) performance is nothing like theatre, for its strength comes from it taking place in the here and now.

A lot has been written about Marina’s latest performance – 512 hours – at the Serpentine Gallery, in London. Throughout the summer, the Author will be in the white cube connecting with people. Director Julia Peyton-Jones, and Co-Director Hans Ulrich Obrist have stated in a press-release that 512 Hours draws on the history of Abramovic’s use of her body as the basic material of her artwork. During her exhibition at the Serpentine, the artist will, for the first time, commit to an unscripted and improvised presence in the space of the Gallery. And that’s it.

Her message seems to be basically the same (isn’t that what really makes anyone an author?), the goal being to create an atmosphere of spiritual cleansing where people can come and find new perspectives by seeing, touching and hearing her. The artwork, in this case, is the body of each spectator, the extension of the artist’s work.

marina abramovic© Splash News/Corbis

MARINA ABRAMOVIC PRESS CONFERENCE© Splash News/Corbis

Reviewers speak of the ambience inside the gallery as being hot and, as I understand, tendentiously paranoid. The audience is expected to leave their gadgets at the door, so that they can fully enjoy the experience. Then Marina’s assistants guides them into specific situations. And once again, amidst the theatricality of such dispositions, I wonder if Marina’s creative freedom is in fact only possible at the cost of our submission to her authoritative role. This performance, as happened with The Artist Present, is only possible if the spectator follows the rules, if he experiences it as Marina wants him or her to.

One spectator tells: Having been guided by an assistant in black uniform to a room filled with chairs and sound blocking headphones, I simply sat down, received a five-second massage, and experienced ‘nothing’. Sitting at the front I closed my eyes waiting for something to happen but nothing did. Opening them a couple of minutes later I discovered every chair had been filled by other Marina fans, breathing and closing their eyes in meditative pose. / Deciding I knew there would be more to gain from this exhibition I got up, only to be directed moments later to a different chair in that same room. Thinking about my presence and why I was ‘chosen’ by an assistant to sit back down I got up again and walked around a different room. Standing against the white wall I found myself staring at those deciding out of intuition or guided by assistants to stand on this slightly raised platform in the centre of the room. […]

There is no denying that she is a great influence in the art world and has done ground-breaking work, but the fault in her latest works is that she isn’t doing anything new, nor is she proposing new relations, understandings or associations. Where she succeeds is in bringing to the art world formulas and processes that exist outside the urban society and have huge ritualistic and spiritual value. By bringing them into the Gallery, Marina, because of her nominal value, is able to ascribe to these practices artistic significance. Is the place itself – the museum, the gallery, etc – and the nominal value of the author that make these performances possible.

In an extreme interpretation of Marina’s latest durational performance, what she sets out to do has a neo-colonialist undertone that can only be accepted and legitimated as a self-referential note to the art-world.

More of Marina’s work can also be seen on artsy.net

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