Marina Abramović Institute

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Over 850,000 visitors flooded through the doors of New York’s MoMA during the two and a half months of the Marina Abramović retrospective, The Artist Is Present, in 2010. The first of its kind, the retrospective of a performance artist was a huge gamble for MoMA. Historically, performance art has a reputation for controversy. During the decline of modernism in the 1960s, prominent New York artists turned to the art form which used their own body as a medium and avoided producing ‘objects’ of cultural and economic value. To many, this signalled a fundamental crisis in art during this period. In the 21st century, the immense popularity of The Artist Is Present has proved that the gallery-visiting public are embracing performance art. The visitors arrived, waited, observed and wept in their masses when experiencing the retrospective, in particular, the central piece of the same name, The Artist Is Present, 2010. Developed by Abramović specifically for the exhibition, visitors were invited to sit opposite her, locked eye-to-eye, for an interval of their choosing.

Despite the popularity of the retrospective, Abramović herself is a controversial figure. Widely considered to be one of the pioneers of the performance genre she has nevertheless been slammed by her peers for “killing performance art”. She has, arguably, entangled the practice with mainstream performing arts through her collaborations with pop musicians Jay-Z and Lady Gaga, not to mention her new found relevance in the fashion world, optimised by her appearances on the covers of L’Uomo Vogue and Elle magazine. Abramović, however, is not deterred by such criticisms. She believes that performance art has an important place in today’s culture and argues that her durational works “give back time”; encouraging concentration away from technology and allowing the artist and participant to mindfully engage with themselves and their environments. The public’s overwhelming response to The Artist Is Present indicates that Abramović’s conviction about performance art’s relevance to contemporary society needs to be seriously considered.

From this piece, Abramović, along with the world’s media, observed that people have a strong desire to connect with immaterial and performance-based art. It was from this observation that the Marina Abramović Institute (MAI) was born. Taking the form of both online laboratory and physical building (the MAI Hudson is still in under construction but, when completed, will house a number of custom-built performance spaces, library and education programme) MAI is defined as an incubator for collaboration across fields of the arts, humanities, sciences and technology with the common theme being long duration and the immaterial.  It also champions the presentation and preservation of already existing works which include contemporary and historical performance art pieces, scientific discoveries and experiments and Abramović’s own performance works.

Participation is a central focus of the institute. Performance art, to Abramović, traditionally invited the viewer to be a voyeur. She claims now to have reversed that positioning by inviting the visiting public to experiment and interact in the performance directly.

Since the late 1970s, Abramović has hosted workshops relating to her notorious ‘The Abramović Method’, designed to prepare artists for the creative act by encouraging mindfulness, better concentration and a greater sense of self. With the MAI, the participation in such seminars and events is extended to the wider public. MAI hosts live performances, installations, lectures and workshops in partner venues across the world and encourages the public to engage in the work of the institute. Counting the Rice at the Centre d’Art Contemporain Genève, Switzerland, in early May this year invited the public to participate in a collective performance originally designed for Cleaning the House, The Abramović Method training retreat for artists. Participants were asked to sit at a table for six hours and continuously separate and count two different grains of rice. This is a seemingly simple task, but one that becomes an exercise in endurance, self-control and willpower over a long period of time.

By taking part directly in the work, the audience member experiences a form of self-discovery. They realise for themselves, through practice, that it is the stretching of their mental and physical limits that is the important concern of the task, not the counting of the rice itself. It is this immediate personal experience that the public responds so strongly to when encountering Abramović and her institute. The works demand something more of the audience. They require full engagement of body and mind.

Because MAI currently acts as a “flying institute” without a permanent physical space of its own until MAI Hudson opens, the digital platform IMMATERIAL provides an important opportunity for MAI to achieve its aims of encouraging participation, collaboration and education. The online journal, for example, contains free educational content, mostly discussions between established and emerging artists, and provides a stage for sharing the ideas behind MAI projects. The website also acts as an extension of the performance. It hosts supporting materials for the performance works of MAI, such as the MAI Chronicles, short pieces of text written by participants which reflect on and extend the performance into the digital sphere; and more recently, a playable version of Counting the Rice, the first in a series of games created by video games designer Pippin Barr for The Abramović Method. With the potential to reach thousands more, the website is a crucial aspect of the institute’s functionality.

The same can be said for MAI’s presence on social media websites. MAI utilises social media as another platform for encouraging thought and discussion on immateriality and long durational works. For example, recent Facebook posts share facts about the lifespan of trees and corals while Tumblr is used as a visual think-tank with collaborators curating the webpage and adopting themes such as repetition, (im)material, bodily interactions, duration and natural materials. It is interesting to note that the focus of MAI’s online operations is not dissimilar to the original concerns of the artists of Abramović’s generation in the ‘60s and ‘70s. In fact, such themes are well established in the historical fabric of performance art. By translating performance to an online platform and making use of popular social media sites, the work of MAI explores these themes in ways which are more relevant to contemporary society.

In The Artist Is Present, Abramović discovered the true power of offering the public the opportunity to experience an intense human connection, something that is evidently lacking in today’s world where talking through screens has become so ingrained in communicative practices. MAI allows Abramović and her collaborators to explore this experience further. Through the employment of current trends in online communication it is possible to develop performance works by providing a platform for an online community to engage in them. MAI has also enabled performance art to expand beyond the discipline through collaboration across various fields. The Artist Is Present has since been adapted by Abramović and neuroscientists to create an experiment that visualises the alignment of brain activity between participants. The nature of performance art means that it has great potential as a tool for exploring social interaction. Introducing scientific technology that measures and visualises this interaction builds on this potential, making the implications of Abramović’s practice more significant.

MAI is ensuring that performance art is developing as a discipline whilst still retaining the essential focus of the art form. Abramović has admitted that MAI will represent her legacy in the future but is clearly determined to keep pushing the boundaries of the genre herself. Her new performance piece, 512 Hours, which opened at the Serpentine Gallery in London this June, is building on the work of The Artist Is Present. In this piece, Abramović will occupy the gallery for a total of 512 hours, interacting with the visiting public in a space that is focused on ‘nothingness’, aiming to minimalise the separation between artist and participant more than ever. Abramović has eliminated the table and chair of The Artist Is Present and is not dressing in a specially designed uniform like she did at MoMA. Abramović is also expanding the online aspect of the performance by making and uploading video diaries at the end of each day as well as posting the participants’ chronicles on a unique Tumblr page and assigning the posts their own hashtag (#512Hours). Abramović’s first performance piece in the UK and hosted by an internationally recognised art gallery, 512 Hours is unsurprisingly drawing in a lot of media attention. There have been reports of queues stretching across Kensington Gardens of people waiting to enter the gallery to participate in the new piece. It appears that Abramović continues to be a force to be reckoned with, making waves in the art world and beyond and ensuring performance art has an irremovable place in today’s society

Marina Abramović: 512 Hours is at the Serpentine Gallery, London until 25 August 2014. 

By Erin Cork. Originally published at www.thinking-in-practice.com June 2014. 

My experience of 512 Hours

I spent a portion of my Sunday afternoon in the Serpentine Gallery, participating in Marina Abramović’s unique work, 512 Hours. To a certain degree, I knew what to expect; queue outside for a while, leave your belongings and wristwatch in a locker, put on a set of soundproofing headphones and enter the gallery space. I also anticipated what I would probably feel; contemplation, mindfulness, peace, self-awareness. I had researched the work of Abramović and MAI in detail fairly recently and wrote an article for an online journal about the impact of their work engaging contemporary audiences with performance art. This research involved following the progress of 512 Hours via Abramović’s daily video diaries and the blog feed of visitor “chronicles”. Many of the visitor’s comments mention feelings of “calm”, “silence”, “therapy”, “peacefulness”. Abramović wearily talks at midnight at the end of each day about the work happening organically, naturally, and the shifting role of the public from observer to participant.

Because of this knowledge, I felt as though my expectations were especially high. I entered the space with a hyper awareness of what was happening to me and around me. Although I could not have predicted the exercises that were taking place that day (slow walking and being put to bed), as soon as one of Abramović’s associates who was dressed head to toe in black reached his hand out to me, I thought “here we go”. At first it felt like I was going through the motions. I was overthinking the experience: “now I should be feeling [like this]”. I found it impossible to fully let go and release the preconceived idea I had formed in my head. It was only when I left the gallery space and reflected on the experience as I whole that I realised it had made me feel something different, something I could not have predicted. Because I was so concerned with the concept of self-awareness and personal mindfulness, I hadn’t for a moment considered how the work makes you reflect on your relationship with other people. Ultimately, the work for me was about the collective audience. In the process of walking slowly across a room, even if I was deep in my own thoughts, I still had to encounter a person walking towards me in my path and consider how we would navigate around each other. As I entered the main room, I glanced and stared at other people and thought about what they were doing, what it must feel like for them to be sitting on the floor or standing with their eyes closed. Even when I had my eyes shut, lying on one of the beds, I was wondering what other people were thinking about. Has the woman next to me fallen asleep, what would happen if someone started snoring and so on.  

Even though you are forbidden from communicating with one another in the gallery space, one of the most important aspects of 512 Hours, I felt, was sharing. From writing down and submitting your own “chronicle” of the work to existing in a space with other people doing the same exercise as you, with no influence from the outside world, every part of the work comes back to the collective experience. We had all taken some time out of day to be there. We had all committed to handing over our possessions and our own initiative to be fully immersed in the work. And that is quite a powerful image. It is interesting that Abramović talks about this in particular in her video dairy from day 39, the day that I attended. She quotes a girl who told her how in awe she was of “the sheer beauty of people standing together, motionless, peaceful, in a perfect balance of energy, harmony and symmetry.” Abramović goes on to describe the feeling of somebody passing by you. The feeling of being able to sense the movement and waves of energy from other people, even with your eyes closed. “All day it was like this”, she says, and I guess I felt it. 

Exhibitions to see in London this Summer

My current list of ‘must-see’ exhibitions in London is growing rapidly, to the point where I am worrying that there just aren’t enough hours in the day to see them all… I need a system. 

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Bob Mazzer: Underground - Howard Griffin Gallery, Shoreditch High Street - until 13 July 2014

The Glamour of Italian Fashion 1945 - 2014 - V&A, South Kensington - until 27 July 2014

Jenny Saville - Gagosian Gallery, Kings Cross - until 26 July 2014

Kenneth Clark: Looking for Civilisation - Tate Britain, Millbank - until 10 August 2014

Yvonne Rainer: Dance Works - Raven Row, Aldgate East - until 10 August 2014

Summer Exhibition 2014 - Royal Academy, Piccadilly - until 17 August 2014

Peter Hujar - Maureen Paley, Bethnal Green - until 24 August 2014

Marina Abramović:512 Hours - Serpentine Gallery, Kensington Gardens - until 25 August 2014

Ed Atkins - Serpentine Gallery, Kensington Gardens - until 25 August 2014

Making Colour - National Gallery, Trafalgar Square - until 7 September 2014

The Human Factor: The Figure in Contemporary Sculpture - Hayward Gallery, Southbank - until 7 September 2014

Journal - Institute of Contemporary Arts, Charing Cross - until 7 September 2014. 

Digital Revolution - Barbican Centre, Barbican - until 14 September 2014

BP Portrait Award 2014 - National Portrait Gallery, Trafalgar Square - until 21 September 2014

Radical Geometry - Royal Academy, Piccadilly - until 28 September 2014

Britain: One Hundred Years of the Human Story - The British Museum - until 28 September 2014

An Idiosyncratic A to Z of the Human Condition - Wellcome Collection - until 12 October 2014

Dennis Hopper: The Lost Album - Royal Academy, Piccadilly - until 19 October 2014

Malevich - Tate Modern, Bankside - until 26 October 2014

Virginia Woolf: Art, Life and Vision - National Portrait Gallery - until 26 October 2014

Louise Bourgeois: Works on Paper - Tate Modern, Bankside - until 12 April 2015

Bill Viola - St Paul’s Cathedral, St Paul’s - until 31 December 2015

My first published article

For a few weeks now, I’ve been working on an article about the significance of Marina Abramović and her institute, MAI, in developing the genre of performance art and its relevance in contemporary society. I have just had it published by the online journal I am currently working for as an editorial intern. It’s exciting to now be able to say I am a published writer and also for my first article to be in a journal that champions thinking, theory and invention across the fields of art, science and architecture. Please check it out.

http://thinking-in-practice.com/marina-abramovic-institute

Marina Abramović: 512 Hours

Marina Abramović began experimenting with durational performance art in the early 1970’s. Four decades years later she performed The Artists Is Present at the MoMA which drew in huge crowds including celebrity admirers. Criticised by some for “killing performance art”, Abramović has arguably entangled it with mainstream performing arts by collaborating with pop musicians and appearing on the cover of Vogue. Considering the potentially narcissistic nature of performance art this entanglement is hardly surprising as a 21st century development of the art form. Abramović believes, however, that performance art has a place in today’s culture. She argues that her work “gives back time”. It encourages concentration, away from technology, to get back into oneself. It is with this notion of the immaterial and purely bodily experience that she is performing 512 Hours at the Serpentine Gallery in London this summer. Abramović will spend eight hours a day, for six days a week in a space with strangers. The public will be asked to leave their belongings at the door and “become the performing body”. Abramović admits, however, that she is panicking about how cynical the British public can be. “They don’t want to be involved in anything that might embarrass them, or make fun of them. And that’s a huge challenge.”

11 June - 24 August 2014, The Serpentine Gallery, London.

A Career In The Arts - A Year On

This time last year, I was handing in my dissertation and preparing for the final exams of my undergrad degree. It was both a fulfilling and unnerving time. Many of my friends had the next stage of their life set-up and planned out. Studying for a masters, starting a grad scheme or going into employment. I, and a fair few others to be honest, were a little less prepared. The only concrete plans I had post-graduation were Glastonbury festival and moving back in with my parents. Career-wise I didn’t have a clue. All I knew is that I wanted to work in the arts and culture sector, but without much idea of doing what or where. I certainly wasn’t sure how I was going to get there, wherever ‘there’ was. 

A year on and things are still uncertain, but I’m realising that I am much closer to knowing what it is that I want to be doing and I’ve learnt a hell of a lot in the mean time. Here, I would like to share a few of the things I have learnt from beginning to build a career in the arts. Perhaps they will be useful tips for someone who is currently in the same situation I was in a year ago, or perhaps they will simply help to reassure you that it’s ok not to have your entire career sussed out the same day that you take a dissy selfie. 

  • 1. You are not going to land your dream job straight away

I spent days applying for jobs that had the word ‘curator’ in the title and got pretty much nowhere. Because I didn’t know what the kind of job was that I wanted to apply for I naively picked out the ones that sounded glamorous and super-arty. Naturally I didn’t get a look in because it is competitive out there, in case no one has told you already. I decided to be more focused and think about the kind of experiences and skills I had developed over my time at uni. I applied for a paid internship at Tate in events co-ordination because I had experience organising fundraising events for RAG so had plenty to talk about in the application and interview. It was a dream opportunity and I felt privileged to have been offered the role, but I tell you now, it’s because I changed my approach to thinking realistically about what I could do.

  • 2. Know how to sell yourself

After finishing my internship at Tate, I spent a lot of time filling out job applications and going to interviews. I cannot emphasise enough how important it is to be able to talk about your skills, experiences and knowledge in a way that demonstrates that you have many valuable things to offer. At the end of the day, being the “chosen one” comes down to you being more desirable that someone else and you only have a small space to convince the employer of that. It is definitely something that comes with practice. By the tenth job application or fourth interview I felt that sense of “nailed it” relief. I think some of that practice came from doing the York Award as that was basically a dry-run of the job app and interview process without the stakes. So get practicing! 

  • 3. Find part-time work that relates to your desired industry

Between graduating and starting my internship at Tate I worked as a Front of House Assistant at Lakeside Arts Centre in Nottingham. It was the flexible job I went back to during university holidays and was still there for me when I returned after graduating, which I am very grateful for. It bought me some time in the career game because it meant that I was not only earning, but also getting relevant experience, as well as the opportunities to develop useful skills. Instead of feeling stuck waiting for the ‘career’ job to take off, it was really rewarding having the part-time job to keep me busy and allow me to spend time in the right kind of environment with fellow arty people. 

  • 4. Use websites that are specific to the industry

Knowing where to look for work in the arts and culture sector is one of the biggest challenges of getting started. Luckily there are a handful of specialist sites that are the holy grail of job hunting. They are great because they advertise jobs at all levels and even give you the option to search by the area, salary and type of contract, saving you a lot of time trawling through job adverts. My favourites are the Arts Council England jobs website (http://www.artsjobs.org.uk/) and the University of Leicester Museum Studies jobs desk (http://www2.le.ac.uk/departments/museumstudies/JobsDesk)

  • 5. Sign up for a temping agency

It sucks being stuck in the cycle of being rejected from jobs because you don’t have enough experience, but not being able to get the opportunities to gain experience. I have recently discovered that temping is a good way to break that. Sign up for a recruitment agency, or a couple. They look at your CV and put you forward for roles they think you would be suitable for. You can even specify what kind of work you want to do, including the kind of client. I signed up for Val Wade Temping in London and was placed in the Marketing Department at Southbank Centre for four weeks. 

  • 6. Keep in the loop with the art world

It can be difficult to stay enamoured of the art world when you are getting rejections from jobs or simply out of practice with studying. It is really important to not get out of the habit of going to exhibitions, reading art journals and blogs and attending lectures and talks, just because you are not studying it any more. This is so because, yes, you must know what is going on in the art world and being able to answer the question “so which exhibitions have you been to recently?” in an interview without lying, but more importantly because you have to keep motivated and keep that art history mind ticking over. People work in this industry because they are passionate about it so it’s essential to keep that passion alive yourself. 

  • 7. Use your friends as a support network but don’t compare yourself to them

My friends have played many indispensable roles throughout my career development. They have been there to talk it out with, bounce ideas off and even proof-read my applications. They have been a bottomless pit of encouragement and advice, and I like to think I’ve done the same for them. In your early twenties, your friends are your support network. However, constantly having the “so what are you doing now?” conversation with every person you know from university can be a little overwhelming. My friends all seem to be moving at different paces, doing different things that are “successful” to them. It’s impossible to compare yourself to them and not feel like you’ve missed out or fallen behind on something, whether it’s the number of figures in their salary, the big name company they now work for or the cool places they’ve traveled to. You have to remind yourself not to compare what you are doing to them because we’re all taking slightly different paths to where we want to get to. 

So that’s my (rather long) list of things I have learnt over the past year in terms of building a career in the arts. Please feel more than welcome to drop me a message if you want to chat. Alternatively, if you still feel like you need more encouraging words of wisdom, listen closely to Greg Dyke’s speech at graduation. He is a guy who knows. 

Shimmering, Shining, Vomiting, Glitter

I am going to this symposium tomorrow! It’s going to be intense for my lazy little brain as it has been at least five months since I’ve engaged with long hours of lectures but I’m really looking forward to it. I’ve felt inspired by the exhibition on display Nottingham Contemporary celebrating the work of artistic collective Asco and been to a few talks and film screenings in connection with it, so I’m hoping tomorrow will be fascinating and rewarding. Having a read through the list of speakers and the titles of the talks, I can tell a lot of it will be quite new to me but it definitely sounds right up my street.

"This two day symposium seeks to explore the meaning of disgust across a range of practices, including art, literature, film and popular culture, activism, spatial practice and performance, from the twentieth century to the present day."

Regeneración 2, no. 4, 1974 – 75, p.31, drawing by Patssi Valdez. Courtesy of the UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center Library

'VIOLINS, VIOLENCE, SILENCE' - Bruce Nauman @ York St Marys

I recently visited the latest exhibition in a series of contemporary art installations at York St Marys, ‘ARTIST ROOMS: Bruce Nauman’. In partnership with Arts Council England and the Art Fund, York Museums Trust presents a selection of works by American conceptual artist Bruce Nauman in a beautiful, historic architectural space. Walking around the exhibition I was thrilled to see the range of Nauman’s works that were featured, from his large cast iron sculpture to his video works and most iconic neon sign installations. It felt like a rare treat to see the work of a contemporary artist in the city of York, especially in an important public space. However, as I was having a quick flick through the comments book, I noticed other visitors didn’t exactly have the same reaction. Some felt this wasn’t the kind of work they wanted to see here, some confessed that they didn’t enjoy it because they couldn’t appreciate the point of the work and some wrote that they felt it shouldn’t be considered art at all. 

One of the comments that stood out to me read ‘Violence - what is all this obsession with violence?!’ I reflected back on the exhibition I had just walked around and contemplated what it was about these works on display that created an apparent overwhelming theme of violence. One of the most prominent works on display is a neon tubing piece titled ‘VIOLINS VIOLENCE SILENCE’, 1981-2. The words ‘VIOLENCE’, ‘VIOLINS’ and ‘SILENCE’ in neon bright shades of yellow, pink and white intersect and overlap to form a triangular shape hung on the central back wall of the church interior. The word ‘violence’ takes prominence in the work as it becomes apparent that the beginning and end of the supporting words combine to make the ‘violence’. Whether the material quality of the neon helps to emphasise the significance of the word ‘violence’  could be debated. The harsh flicker and buzzing sound of the neon sign affects the senses in a violent manner, yet the iridescent glow in warm hues softens the word. What is undeniably clear is the detachment of the word from its context. The viewer is aware of the uneasy connotation of the word but is not subjected to experiencing or witnessing any form of violence as part of the work.

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This is in opposition to a video piece on display around the corner to the neon work titled ‘Violent Incident: Man-Woman Segment’, 1986. In this piece the viewer observes a male and female performer become physically violent towards each other. The performers actions become more erratic and over-the-top until the ‘violence’ seems like something from a cartoon sequence and less aggressive or vicious. In the work, the ‘violence’ in the title is mirrored by ‘violence’ taking place in the work. Nauman has interpreted the word and recreated a form of violence that takes on a comical appearance but is none-the-less something the audience may associate with the word. In the neon piece however, the interpretation of ‘violence’ is left to the viewer to produce. It seems that the person who has made the comment about an “obsession with violence” has walked away from the video piece with a set idea about violence in their head and continued to view the works with this in mind. Nauman’s work has an inherent violent quality to them perhaps. This is something the sculptor and installation artist Cornelia Parker believes about her work and sculptural artworks in general. The process of making sculpture and installations can be violent in itself, she believes - the cutting, sawing, slicing, carving, assembling, disassembling actions that take place, for example. Parker has made work such as ‘Words That Define Gravity’, 1992, where she engages with the violent act of throwing words over a cliff edge. In some works an action associated with violence is reduced to a word, and that word alone can still have powerful associations with the viewer, who then makes the assumption that the artist is “obsessed with violence” for example. 

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Above: Bruce Nauman, ‘VIOLINS, VIOLENCE, SILENCE’, 1981-2.

Below: Cornelia Parker, ‘Words That Define Gravity’, 1992.