Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Expansion: The Abramović Method

Things discussed: Marina Abramović; PAC; Milan; performance; being active; being passive; inner space; crystals; quartzes; earmuffs; being naïf; bad trips.

written by e

Among works with a different approach to space, another example is The Abramović Method, which explores one’s inner space.


The Method is, in the artist's words: "a kind of summary of all the knowledge I have acquired over 40 years of work: to bring the public to the point of experimenting for themselves", and is also an adaptation of her Cleaning the House workshops.

The Method was born from the realization that the performative act can make a profound transformation in those enduring it, but also in the audience watching them.

In my experience, I came to the conclusion that the public plays a very important role, I would say crucial, in performance,"
says Marina Abramović,
"Without the audience, the performance does not make sense because, as stated by Duchamp, it is the audience who complete the work of art. In the case of performance, I would say that audience and performers are not only complementary, but almost inseparable.
What follows is my experience of the Method at the PAC, in Milan, in 2012.

It started at the entrance where we, the participants (those taking an active part) signed a document committing ourselves to give the artist two hours of our time. It proceeded inside, where, in small groups, we were asked to take off our shoes, bags, mobile phones, accessories, and wear a labcoat-like white gown.

The silence, the slowness in which everything takes place, the way everyone accepts to follow instructions in an almost empty, neutral space, immediately imparts the act with a sacred aura.

First, you are made to sit in a room and watch a video where Marina and two assistants suggest simple but effective movements and exercises to help you relax, and open your senses in order to enter the right attitude to start the method. Earmuffs are given too, to cushion sounds.

Everything is planned to increase awareness of one’s own physical and mental experience of the moment.

©Marina Abramović by SIAE 2012, courtesy Marina Abramović. Photo: Laura Ferrari. 
via Artribune

To emphasize the ambivalent role of actor and spectator in the performance, the artist has chosen to test the public who has chosen not to actively participate in the interactive installations. Telescopes allow visitors to closely observe those who choose to engage in the exercises.

As active participant, we were advised to keep our eyes closed, which I did for almost the full duration of the method.The only moments I kept them open was when I, together with my small group, were escorted in little groups by similarly white-coat-clad guides from one situation to another. There, we were left alone with ourselves (if you manage not to think too much about the possible public looking at you with the telescope) for 30 minutes in each one of the three planned situations.

Situation one (in the order in which I experienced them): lying on a wooden table. Under each table was a big quartz, amethyst or tourmaline, each of different colour and hues.

via domusweb - photo by Fabrizio Vatieri

Situation two: sitting on a high wooden chair, again with crystals either on the back, or beneath, or under the legs. All the chairs were in different positions, never facing each other. On the side of each chair was another smaller and lower chair, supposedly for your spirit.

via Artribune 

Situation three: standing in the centre of an empty copper parallelepiped, with above your head a big suspended magnet. Here pregnant women and people wearing a bypass could not access their inner space.

©Marina Abramović by SIAE 2012, courtesy Marina Abramović. Photo: Laura Ferrari

Eyes closed, sounds muffled, your body is motionless, and you can access a space which is virtually immense, your inner space. The artist gives you the tools, but it’s up to you to create and move inside a space that you alone can perceive.

I won’t go into details of where I travelled in the three situations, enough to say that I did travel and they were all different journeys, and that, yes, I found spaces - unexpected too - to explore, and a finally rewarding experience.

So surprisingly much that I decided to go back some time later, towards the end of the exhibition. And I had again my journey, but… how bad it was the second time!

If the first time I had been surprised at the inner lands I had been able to touch, the second time the space I found myself in was black, dense, and uncomfortable. I just wanted it over as soon as possible. I was very surprised and did not understand why.
A friend of mine, who came with me the second time, and had had a similarly pleasant experience on her first time, shared with me her suspicions.
According to crystal therapy - which isn’t supported by any scientific proof - each crystal has a sort of "energy field" and would have the ability to get in touch with every form of life in the animal kingdom. The crystal would be able to operate in the human body plans defined as "physical-mental-emotional" and spiritual, bringing "balance" and "harmony."
Crystals are used for allegedly "therapeutic" purposes and "spiritual transformation" and to "recharge" the hypothetical aura of the body.
Marina Abramović already used crystals in her work, such as the, Crystal Cinema (1991), Shoes for Departure (1991), Dozing Consciousness (1997), and the Crystal Chamber.

via Mudam 

According to crystal therapy, crystals should also be periodically energetically cleansed. Each type of crystal should be cleaned in a different way and cherished as a living thing, so as to charge its energetic power. This is because they would deteriorate in their supporting us. Operations to restore a crystal are also usually quite time consuming.

The crystals in the exhibition had probably been left untouched since the first day they had been placed there. If we take the crystal therapy assumptions for good, they might have absorbed tons of good and bad feelings of all kinds of people in months. And they might have been releasing those tons too. This was my friend’s supposition.
Ignorant of the matter, I was a bit doubtful, but gave her some possible credit. If that was true, I started thinking that was quite irresponsible of Marina Abramović. If really so, she could at least have warned us. But then it came down on me that maybe our negative reaction was also part of what she wanted us to achieve. The Method was supposed to be a condensation of her experience in art, of her performances. She had always been the performer. With the Method she invited us to be the performer. Then, her performances are not known to be comfortable or pleasant. Quite the opposite. They were more often than not also painful to her. How naïf of me to read what the Method was meant to be, and go through it so thoughtless, so unaware of what I could really expect. But still, I think it’s better like this, that I went in with no expectations the first time. And that, going with many expectations instead the second time, they were all betrayed.
And finally, yes, I appreciated also all what I thought I did no appreciate on my second visit.

I don’t know if my interpretation is close to what the artist meant, but what the experience was fulfilling and rewarding to me, even when it was bad and made me feel sick.

To conclude, it is clear that the exhibition is all about inner space. The set up is minimal, essential, functional. The space the artist creates is not so much concrete, and yet it is probably the vaster she could tackle. Actual space and the props in it are just a medium to get to one’s own inner space, and her space too, the space she has experienced in her previous past performances.

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