Marina Abramovic is without a doubt the most famous performance artist on the earth, a fact the artist acknowledges by referring to herself as the ‘grandmother of performance art.’ This summer she has created a six week exhibition at the Serpentine entitled 512 hours where she claims to be present for eight hours each day, tuesday to sunday for the duration. Of course, I had to go for myself.
When I arrived at the Serpentine I was asked to put all my belongings including bags, coats, cameras and mobile phones into a locker. I was also informed that I was about to participate in a silent exhibition and that I could stay for as long or as little as I wanted, however I may have to queue if I wanted to be re-admitted straight away.
After locking my things away I entered a completely blank room. In the centre was a shallow platform with two adjacent rooms attached on either side. People were moving round the room, slowly and quietly as though in a trance. It appeared as though they were sleep walking with their eyes open. On top of the platform people were standing with their eyes closed. It all felt very strange. I walked around for a while and encountered chairs in the other rooms, on which people were sitting, also with their eyes closed. In another room there were people holding hands and walking forwards impossibly slowly. There were also other participants who were walking backwards. They were carrying mirrors in their hands as they were doing so, probably so as not to bump into anyone.
After a while a woman came up to the friend I was with and took her hand. She then led her onto the platform where she seemed to say something to her softly. She left her there and she stood there for about twenty minutes or so with her eyes closed. After my friend told me that the woman told her to stand there with her eyes closed and concentrate on her breathing.
It was apparent that there were a certain handful of people within the audience, working on behalf of Abramovic to direct the participants, who in turn became part of the performance. It was these individuals who were leading people off by the hand to stand quietly or walk backwards. It felt to me almost like you had to be invited by one of these participants to be a part of it. To be honest when my friend was led off I did feel a little left out. However I was later taken by the hand by a woman who then also took the hand of my friend and walked with us slowly into one of the smaller rooms. She told us to stand there and concentrate on our breathing and said that she would be back in a minute. When she came back she had put two wooden chairs behind us and told us to sit down. We were close to the windows which had been covered with a white blind with our backs to the rest of the audience. She then again told us to concentrate on our breathing and to sit their as long as we could, even when it got too much. While this may seem strange to many people. It was very similar to my own meditation practice where I begin with concentrating on my breathing. I found it to be a very intense experience which is beyond explanation.
While people are either going to love, hate or be completely confused by this show, it is worth noting that we were inside for over an hour, and many of the people who were in before us, were still there when we left, meaning that people clearly enjoyed it enough to stay for very long periods of time. The only negative point that I perhaps should mention, was that Marina herself didn’t appear to be their during our visit. This actually didn’t really bother me, but it was important to my friend, as I guess it would be to many others.
Marina Abramovic: 512 hours is on at the Serpentine until 25 August.