A minute of calm with Marina Abramovic

1. Photograph by Marco Anelli 2014

A Serbian cult artist doubles as my Yoga teacher in London’s Serpentine gallery.

“Breathe slowly”, she says and gently massages my shoulder. Not so bad for the beginning of a yoga class I think. But hold on: This is not my yoga teacher. The woman with the sensitive touch and Serb accent is Marina Abramovic.

It is a sunny day in June, Hyde Park is in full summer mode and Marina Abramovic just opened her much anticipated Show “512 hours” in the Serpentine Gallery. The subject is: Nothing. And the problem with this, obviously, is the substance. The artist will be available in the gallery 512 hours to interact with her visitors. I am personally easy to entertain so I go in there with an open mind. You have to leave your bags in lockers and the security explanation is longish, but in a way it is modern to leave behind your Iphone once in a while to be really in touch with yourself. Or with Marina Abramovic.

Dozens of other visitors walk and stand around in the otherwise empty rooms of the gallery. Abramovic hands a mirror to my daughter and asks her to walk backwards, to look into the mirror and to see what happens. Collision, inevitably. But fortunately everyone is gentle here. There are no injuries.

Then Marina walks up to me and leads me through the rooms on her cold hand. She finally asks me to stand still, close my eyes and breathe slowly. “Feel the simplicity of life”, she whispers, “Feel the calmness of the rooms”. I follow her command: “Breathe slowly”.

I have to admit this is what I need. It is Thursday, my parents are here for the graduation of my oldest son and I am trying to entertain them. That’s on top of work. In the morning I interviewed the historian who researched the cruel and sad story of 796 dead babies in mass graves behind a home for unmarried girls and their unwanted offspring in Ireland. Catherine Corless showed steadfastness and courage to confront the ridiculously conservative Catholic environment with the crimes convicted in the name of their value system. (see www.profil.at) The quiet minute with Marina Abramovic before lunch in the park is certainly welcome.

But if her latest project will add to her cult statues – I doubt it. Her last project “The artist is present” in the Museum of Modern Art in New York, where she lives, had enormous response. “The grandmother of performance art” (self-description) has come a long way since the wild Seventies. I was too young to see her early performances. But the videos of her scream sessions with her then partner Ulay, which the Lisson Gallery showed recently, had strong energy. Her self-injuring performances, when she invited members of the audiences to attack her with scissors and other dangerous items, go down in art history. Marina Abramovic showed a strong wish to radically change rules and understanding of interaction. I have great respect for her as an artist. And for her as a woman in her 68th year who attacks the concept of calm with the same uncompromising spirit than she attacked the concept of conflict before. But in comparison to her early work “512 hours” is not the most ground breaking project.

Before she takes her hand off my shoulder she whispers: “Stay as long as you like.” After I breathe slowly for a bit I decide to head back out to the bright sunlight of Hyde Park. My 9 year old son is sitting there waiting for us. He is considered too young to experience the calmness of Marina Abramovic. The age limit is 12.



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© 2018 Tessa Szyszkowitz