Marina Abramovic @ The Serpentine Gallery

June 17, 2014


I am very sceptical of anything classed as modern art. White blank canvases, videos of people chopping off their genitals, installation pieces... call me uncultured, but I just don't get it. The Tate Modern is one of my least favourite places in the world - give me a Degas or a Monet any day. 

So naturally, when Katherine suggested going to Marina Abramovic's exhibition at the Serpentine Gallery, I knew absolutely nothing about it. To avoid looking completely unintelligent, I had a quick google - her Wikipedia page says this: "Her work explores the relationship between performer and audience, the limits of the body, and the possibilities of the mind." Sounds like modern art nonsense to me. However, the exhibition is free and I love any excuse for a trip to Hyde Park, so I decided to give it a go. 

Further research found that the 67 year old Serbian artist's previous work included recording her stabbing herself with a knife, rewatching it and trying to do it again; inhaling smoke so she lost consciousness; and encouraging the audience to do whatever they wished to her with a variety of weapons that she had laid out for them. Luckily, the new exhibition, 512 Hours, was a little more tame. 

There is very little information given to you before you go in, which is precisely how Abramovic designed it, and having heard stories of people being reduced to tears, or even fainting in the queue in anticipation, we were a little nervous as to what the exhibition would entail. After a half an hour queue (probably best to go on a weekday) we were ushered through to the locker room, where we were required to leave all coats, bags, electrical items and watches. From there, we were free to wander in. 

Essentially, its a big, white, silent room. That's all. The audience are really the exhibition, and at first glance there are people everywhere who all seem to be taking part. Some are walking backwards holding mirrors, some are staring in silence at a blank wall and some are, oddly, sat in chairs and swathed in a variety of multi coloured blankets. All very bizarre.

After about 3 minutes of looking very confused, bemused and, in my case, sceptical, a woman in black approached me and handed me a mirror, whispering the words: "Reality is an illusion", and told me to walk backwards and hold it. I felt like I had very little choice but to do just that, and, feeling like a bit of an idiot, I did. 

Marina herself wanders round, like a sort of ethereal old relative that you've always been a little scared of, quietly telling people what to do. She gently takes the hands of some, pulling them into a side room and demonstrating that they must walk very slowly. Soon, the entire room is full of couples holding hands and walking at a snails pace, in silence. 
Others (including me, once I had got bored of walking backwards - which was surprisingly quickly after a few near misses with people out of my line of vision) are taking to a room full of chairs, where they are guided to sit down, wrapped in a blanket and given what I can only describe as a mildly comforting shoulder massage. 

I'm still not entirely sure what the point of it was. When we left, after about 45 minutes, I had an intense headache, my contact lenses had dried up from all the staring and I had nearly fallen asleep about three times. However, although surreal, it was oddly calming. After the initial awkwardness at the strangeness of the situation had passed, there is something very peaceful about being a room full of strangers, and all being part of the performance. Would I pay for it? Probably not. Would I want to go again? I doubt it; however, if you're stuck for something cheap and cultural to do in London, go for it. It is quite the experience. 

The exhibition runs Tuesday - Sunday until the 25th August. 
Full link here: http://www.serpentinegalleries.org/exhibitions-events/marina-abramovic-512-hours



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