A Visit To The Godmother – by Charlotte Elliston
Having read a little about the new Marina Abramović show, 512 hours, at the Serpentine gallery, I was eager to experience the performance for myself. ‘Experience’ being the word here, where it is only the artist herself and those who visit who comprise the work itself. I was aware of her 2010 work ‘The Artist Is Present’ where visitors to the exhibition were invited to sit silently in front of the artist – some visitors bust into tears or reported spiritual epiphanies.
I am a poor audience usually for performance art, as it is a failing of mine to have quite a short attention span for works of this nature in a gallery setting. 512 Hours is intended as a durational work, so I fully expected to be in the gallery for 5 minutes at the most before my attention waned – especially as it was such a beautiful day for walking in the park.
At the gallery, all visitors are asked to leave all possessions in a locker – including phones and watches. One of the aims of Marina Abramović with this piece is to rid the viewers of materialistic thoughts – to give them time for what she calls ‘mindfulness’. Once out of the locker room and into the gallery proper, I found it took me a while to become adjusted to the atmosphere – people were standing or sitting silently around – some with eyes closed, some wearing headphones. I felt awkward and out of place as others who had clearly been in the gallery for some time seemed to move with an almost trancelike motion.
After a while, and with a turn of wearing the headphones (some kind of odd noise limiters), I found myself acclimatising to the almost religious quiet and strange pace of the performance – so much so that I felt myself wanting to stay and just hang around to see what happened (whilst knowing that nothing at all was going to happen). I had a go in a room where you had to be blindfolded (horrible – gave up after 10 seconds as I got scared of falling over), and a room where the sole purpose seemed to be to walk as slowly as possible. Time did indeed seem to slip away, but the feeling of compliance from all of the visitors who were led around and encouraged to stand still, or walk slowly, by the gallery attendants and Marina herself, did make me want to rebel and run in the walking slowly room. I also could not prevent my commonplace brain from wondering where Marina had a pee and when she had her lunch (she vanished towards the end of my stay so I guess that answered both questions).
Afterwards, coming out of the gallery into the summer sun, it felt a little as if I had just been released from some kind of strange cultish rehab, or an old peoples home for minimalists (where you do a little light exercise but everyone has dementia so no one is really knows why they are there). And I certainly want to go back, perhaps I have been brainwashed!
I checked out the pavilion too, on my way out, by Chilean architect Smiljan Radić. He said he was inspired by floating buildings in creating this work – as it is a pebble shape balanced on a few giant boulders, which are made to look as if naturally occurring but actually were carefully placed.
I preferred the cork pavilion from a few years ago, but went inside the pebble and discovered the fibreglass interior had a beautiful effect with the sun shining through – lighting the interior with a warm glow. So I will leave you with a picture of this.