If Marina Abramović’s cultural currency was jazz instead of performance art, it’d be safe to say she’s entered her “Bitches Brew” phase.
The Serbian-born artist can be seen in a new performance, “512 Hours,” at the Serpentine Gallery in London — and just like Miles Davis’ challenging, spare 1970 seminal album, Abramović is taking her craft to a precipice even she’s not entirely sure about.
She’s going to sit in a museum for eight hours a day with … nothing.
That’s what she said: “Nothing.”
Abramović will be at the Serpentine six days a week from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. starting Wednesday through August 25, interacting with an audience that she’s ordered to eschew cellphones, cameras and tablets while it experiences the exhibition. The gallery is providing lockers for personal affects. In a durational performance piece that only includes 160 spectators/would-be participants at a time and her choreographer Lynsey Peisinger, Abramović, 67, intends to improvise her work in real time, ratcheting up the stakes from her last piece, “The Artist is Present.” When she performed “The Artist is Present” at the Museum of Modern Art in 2010, Abramović sat motionless opposite museum-goers, and they silently stared into each other’s eyes indefinitely in a piece that proved to be both captivating and unnerving for those who met her gaze. There will be no meal breaks, and guards will be charged with weeding out those who are intoxicated.
Her interactions at the Serpentine will depend on her audience and limited props such as tables, beds, chairs and platforms, though she hasn’t made any calls about how or if she will use them. As for the lack of electronics, “We don’t want people to come here and phone and blog and tweet before they have even seen it, as they do all the time,” Abramović told Artlyst.
Abramović serves as a bridge between high art and pop music. She rejects gatekeeping and snobbery, but to some, she lost credibility when more people began to see her work and she became something of a celebrity, even more so when she began tooling around with the likes of Lady Gaga and Jay Z (she was part of his “Picasso Baby” performance art piece, which was inspired by “The Artist is Present.”) “I accepted because it’s interesting for me to break taboos,” Abramović told Timeout London of her decision to work with the rapper. “When you’re a visual artist you’re not allowed to do anything with pop music or fashion. I don’t accept any of these taboos.”
“Our audience isn’t an art audience, it’s a general audience,” BBC Radio 4’s Will Gompertz said during an exclusive interview with Abramović in April. “That’s my favorite audience,” she replied.
Now she’s once again challenging that audience to become part of her work, erasing the distance between artist and observer without even allowing for a recording device for the curious souls who just want to say, “This is how strange this strange woman is.” It’s something she’s explored extensively — the idea of boundaries and propriety and where lines get drawn in the course of human interaction. In one six-hour performance piece called “Rhythm 0,” Abramovic made herself available to her audience with a selection of 72 objects, including scissors, a knife, a gun, flowers, even a bullet — all real. It was up to them not to kill her.
“I want to show that the public actually can kill you,” Abramović said to Gompertz. “The public is the one you have to be afraid of, not yourself. I’ve proved, for the last 40 years, that performance is art form, so can you accept it, finally? It’s like video. It’s like photography. It’s just another art form which is dealing with the present. It’s an extremely strong experience because the public, when they see strong performance art, it does something to them. It’s life energy. Painting, you come, and the next day, it’s still there. But this is life energy. It happens that moment. It’s never going to happen again.”
Abramović is actually facing some controversy over the nothingness of “512 Hours.” According to the Guardian, a group of curators and art historians sent a letter to Serpentine curator Hans Ulrich Obrist, expressing concern because Abramović didn’t cite New York conceptual artist Mary Ellen Carroll’s “Nothing” as an influence. Carroll’s “Nothing” is an ongoing project that began in the 1990s, and even includes a six-week trip she took to Argentina with nothing but the clothes on her back.
They stopped short of accusing her of plagiarism; Abramović’s is a different sort of nothing. “First of all Marina has never used the idea of nothing as her title,” Obrist told the Guardian. ” Many things will happen in the space. This piece evolves out of previous work that Marina has done. It will be very physical and interactive and performative.”
“I only know that I will be there every single day … eight hours a day, with a public who I don’t know,” she told Gompertz. “Then, when they arrive, and I arrive, something’s going to happen and every day is different. I want to prove that you can make art with nothing.”