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Marina Abramović Method

Marina Abramović Method

Exploring a return to 'Self'

Familiar with Marina Abramović's work and method, I am not taken aback when a woman dressed in black silently instructs me to leave my belongings in a locker. As I turn around, without warning, she places noise-cancelling headphones over my ears. Sliding back the thick black curtain she gracefully leads me to the next room. From my understanding, she is one of the facilitators and I am a participant. Entering a world of 'long durational activities,' I surrender to the experience. 

I catch a quick snapshot of the well-lit space filled with people dressed in black.  Instantaneously I am aware of my own all-white attire. Standing still, I close my eyes and focus on my breath - refusing to succumb to my untamed curiosity.

Standing patiently by my side, my guide waits until she senses I am prepared to move onward. She gently touches my arm and we walk slowly to a grouping of small tables with chairs. I sit in the only unoccupied chair. On the table is a pile of rice and lentils, a sheet of white paper, a sharp pencil, and the instructions to separate and count.  

I respond without thinking through my actions. I separate the rice from the lentils. Then I put each in piles of ten. At some point, I realize I do not have enough space to complete the project. What project? Once again I quiet my mind and continue organizing. I have no concept of time while I immerse myself in the 'Doing.' 

At some point, another person quietly and gently takes me by the arm to another station. Before leaving, I have an urge to view the other tables. Is it not a natural instinct to compare? I resist by focusing on my feet as we walk away. 

I look up as we approach a lineup of camping beds dressed in white bed linens and a small pillow. I am extremely uncomfortable with what is expected. I see others lying underneath the sheets, some with eyes open, others with eyes closed. Although I prefer not to lie down - I do. Attempting to relax - I don't. Instead, I sit up, eyes closed, hands resting on my lap and I wait. Uncertain of what to do, I remain seated. I am uncomfortable, awkward and embarrassed for not following the instructions. I attempt to rationalize my feelings but fail. All I want is to move to the next experience. Time is creeping by - tictoc. 

I am about to stand up when someone comes to save me. I appreciate the escape as I am led away. Wherever I go next will be a relief. I am led to a wooden platform. While there are empty platforms, my facilitator takes me to one which is occupied. Is this a deliberate attempt to create discomfort? I believe so. At first, I refuse to look up. Realizing I am avoiding emotions, I raise my head and gaze across the platform into his eyes. Oddly I relax into the experience. Other participants mount the platform. I remain, as does he, as people come and go. Our eyes remain locked until I am approached and led away. At ease, I feel a sense of achievement.

I am directed to the next station. Large rectangular sheets of red, blue and yellow paper are mounted on the curved wall. In front of each sheet is a chair. Once again I am in a comfort zone. No one guides me in this area.

I am left alone to move from chair to chair at my own pace. This is a crowded area. Some people sit while others stand. I wait patiently for an empty seat and repeat the exercise several times. I am aware of my response to each color. 

I allow myself to trust the facilitators. Each activity creates a unique reaction. I try not to judge, but am aware that I am most at ease with the rice and the color paper. I welcome silence, concentration, and stimulation. My understanding of the Abramović Method is that it encourages one to be in the present moment and to push through one's limitations. There are times I succeed, and there are times I fail. I am aware of how often I judge myself. When this happens, I close my eyes and focus on my breath. Breathing slowly and deeply brings me back to my 'Self.' I feel reconnected, if at times only for a moment.

I have no idea of the time as I am invited to leave the space. I return to my locker and realize I have only my memory of this experience. Usually, I have pictures and notes. Appreciating each moment, whether enjoyable or not, I know each will fade in time.

What I do have are my pictures and collages of the eight long durational performances by the invited artists. In addition, I have captured my experience of interacting with Marina's installation "Standing Structures for Human Use.' This piece encourages viewer interaction and I focus on the details of the rose quartz crystals. Staring into the crystals is a form of meditation.

My images of the crystals are the only visual representation I have of my personal experience with the Marina Abramović Method. Exploring her world provides one with the opportunity to confront vulnerabilities and an avenue to return to 'Self.'

Experiencing 'Nothingness' is a challenge and one I am only able to sense for a nanosecond.  Inspired by my experiences with her work, I welcome more opportunities for 'being in the moment.'

Through My Lens: confronting emptiness

  • Post author
    Debra Levine

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