Marina Abramovic @ Lisson

Marina Abramovic seems to me to be the sweetheart of the performance art world, despite being controversial, many remain captivated by her work, thus it seems fitting that White Space, the name of her current retrospective-style show at the Lisson Gallery, comes from a performance first realised in 1972, which has its focal point in a recording of the artist saying ‘I love you’, playing on repeat.

The performance was originally performed in Belgrade in a room filled with white paper and is now being repeated for the first time in over thirty years. Stepping inside the room alone was a somewhat relaxing experience. The white paper seemed to move and float around the room with the sound of the record player. The room is bright and light, and a contrast to the somewhat intense experience at the Serpentine earlier this year.

The rest of the work on display however, is not so light, or indeed bright. Other performances on display include two films that are shown in dark rooms. One of these is a film, also from the 1970s, where Abramovic lies down in the middle of a burning star, where the performance ends when the artist is awoken by concerned spectators after falling unconscious.

The other film on display is entitled ‘freeing the memory’ in which the artist is seen on black and white film listing every word she can think of for nearly an hour. This piece has a chant-like quality. Abramovic remains still and expressionless throughout and it is remarkable that she doesn’t seem to tire at all. For the time that I was in the viewing room, the artist listed all kinds of things from the Galapagos Islands to words about love and youth. These all appear quite nice and quaint, however, in other reviews that I have read, it has been noted that Abramovic also managed to recite the names of diseases and political dictators.

The wall art on display mainly comprise photographic stills of the artist during her most famous performances. However, also on display are a series of photographs in which Abramovic has ‘blacked out’ buildings with white correction fluid during her time away from Belgrade, which coincidentally were then literally blacked out by the NATO bombings during the Kosovo war. I found these images particularly moving. Unless you stand very close to the images, it is almost impossible to see that they have been altered then upon closer inspection the effect hits you like a bomb. The artist manages to say so much without saying anything. Also in the exhibition are drawings of plans for the performances on display in the gallery, giving the viewer the opportunity to see some of the thought processes behind the work.

For any Marina fans this show should not be missed – an opportunity to go back to the beginning of the artist’s career.

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Lizzy Vartanian Collier aka Gallery Girl is a writer and curator based in London. Her work has been featured in publications including Dazed, Hyperallergic and Vogue Arabia. She was curator of Perpetual Movement during AWAN Festival 2018 and in 2019 had a residency at the Lab at Darat Al Funun in Amman, Jordan. She has also worked with Armenia Art Fair for its inaugural edition and previously worked as an editor at I.B.Tauris Publishers. In 2019 she co-founded Arsheef, Yemen’s first contemporary art gallery. She has given workshops at Manara Culture in Amman, Jordan and Victoria and Albert Museum in London, UK. As of 2020 she is currently in law school, with the ambition of greater understanding the intersection between art and the law.

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