THE ABRAMOVIC METHOD: A LECTURE BY LYNSEY PEISINGER
Text by INTERWEAVE for MAI
Photos by Natalia Tsoukala, Hick Duarte, Filipe Neves, and Tokomburu
Tuesday, March 15th – 2016
Her lecture starts with a familiar song from the late ‘80’s: “Alone”, an epic song by Heart that talks about secret and unrequited love and people getting by on their own. Three minutes later, Lynsey Peisinger, one of Marina Abramovic’s closest collaborators and the one responsible to select and train the Abramovic Method facilitators all over the world, starts talking about togetherness, collectiveness and participatory experiences - then on the Method: its origins, its development through time, its current form, and the way that it can be experienced in the As One exhibition.
The origins of the Abramovic Method are found in the “Cleaning The House”, a workshop that Marina developed over the years as a teacher, in order to help her students create ideas and be prepared to undertake long-durational performances.
The workshop, which typically lasts five to 7 days, takes place in nature: during the workshop, the participants typically share the same space to sleep, they are not talking or eating and they are experiencing a series of durational exercises, inspired by many peoples and cultures that Marina has studied with including Brazilian shamans, Aboriginal people of Australia, and Tibetan monks.
Her need for strict rules in the workshop and also in her work is related to her family environment: as child of two very strict parents, who both held positions in the Communist Government, she grew up with rules – thus, when she moved from Belgrade to Amsterdam, a city of complete freedom, she felt lost without any restrictions: she felt the need to make rules for herself, not only because they were something to push against, but also because their existence made her much more productive and clear-minded.
“Before working with Marina, I thought that rules were the opposite of freedom. But when working with her, I realized that with rules, you can have a lot of freedom. Rules provide freedom”.
2012: The Abramovic Method at PAC Milan
Marina understood the power of the “Cleaning the House” workshop and started thinking of ways to offer it to the general public, not only to students and artists.. In 2012, she was invited to Milan to present a show called the Abramovic Method - the first form of the Method, which is very different from its current form.
At that time, Marina was working on the idea of using objects with energetic properties to see in what way they can interact with people. So, the Method followed a structure that would serve this vision. People would experience the Method through three basic positions of the body: sitting, standing and lying down. They would sign up in advance and agree to experience the Method for 2 ½ hours, in groups of 21. When arriving, they would put all their belongings in a locker, especially phones and watches or anything that was distracting and then would split into groups and use each of the objects (beds, chairs,, copper towers) for thirty minutes. At the end, they would write down their impressions. It was, then, the first time that the Method had its own form, and it was really strict: there was a specific time frame and flow to the Method that the public would follow.
In addition, during that time, Marina was exploring deeper the role of the person observed and the role of the person observing. She wanted to express that these roles were interchangeable by letting the participants in the Method be observed by the public through magnifying binoculars, so that they could see them close up. And then, the following day, if the people watching would like to come back to the Method, their roles switched.
“This was something truly important because it was one step towards understanding how the public becomes a performing body.”
2014: The Shift in the Method
In 2014, Marina was invited by the Serpentine Gallery to London for a sixty-four day performance. Although she did not know exactly what she was going to present there, she knew, already since the beginning of the process, that she was going to use the public: their energy would be the material of her piece.
She decided to use some of the “Cleaning The House” exercises (slow motion walking, counting rice, walking backwards with the mirror etc.) in that specific space in order to generate a certain communal energy and strong connection among the visitors. The public would queue to get inside, follow the same locker protocol as in Milan and they would put on headphones when entering the space in order to eliminate external noise. “The act of waiting in the line is extremely important because it has a dimension of commitment – if people wanted to have the experience, they had to carve time out of their day.”
It was then that she introduced the idea of the facilitators in order to help manage the people in the space. “I selected and trained fifty people to be in the space with us, to facilitate the process”.
As for the roles of the observer and the observed, they became even more fluid: “It was this interchanging of roles, witness and participant,, that provided a sense of communal vulnerability and empathy”.
The result was beautiful: the material of the piece was the energy generated by the people participating in it, sharing the experience.
“We had created a non-discriminatory space, open to everyone, regardless of their culture, race, religion, socio-economic status. We were uniting people through common experiences that had a real energetic connection”.
The Method today:
In 2015, a version of the Method was presented in Brazil, during Terra Comunal – it was more like the format of the version of the Method that was presented in Milan. “That one too, is quite beautiful, because it gives people the opportunity of silence – and they were connected to each other, as well - though it wasn’t as palpable as the one experienced at the Serpentine”.
Before Athens, we presented the Method also in Australia, in Sydney, and in Buenos Aires.
“Those two experiences were great and made us understand that the one in the Serpentine was the direction we wanted to give to the Method”.
In Athens, the Method has matured even more: it is the first time that it has all of its components the public has autonomy inside the space with regards to how long they participate and what exercises they do. It is a very flexible pace as it is going to develop and shift during these six weeks. I have also trained seventy facilitators in an intensive three day workshop, based on a simplified version "Cleaning the House" designed for larger groups to be held in an urban environment. "We have put a lot of attention on the facilitators because they are the people that set the energetic tone at each space. They are creating and maintaining the energetic content in the space”.
“The Method may have started as a performance. But then it continued as a participatory experience for people. And that is its intention: that people would connect both with themselves and other people too”.
NEON + MAI | As One
March 10 - April 24, 2016
Benaki Museum, 138 Pireos St. Athens, Greece