Text by Gustavo Bonfiglioli
Photographs by Felipe Neves
"Australian Aborigines always live in the present time. Aborigines perform in the present time, they live through the ceremonies. Performance, in a certain way, is a ceremony," said Marina Abramovic recently in an interview with Australia's ABC broadcasting company. In 1980, she spent five months in the middle of the Australian desert with Pitjantjatjara and Pintupi aboriginal populations, learning new ways to control her body and mind through their culture.
Thirty five years later, Abramovic is back in Australia. This time, it’s not just to coexist with a cultural and artistic environment, but to conduct it. From June 24 to July 5, she partnered with Kaldor Public Art Projects for Marina Abramovic: In Residence. The project occupied a huge industrial warehouse by the beautiful Pier 2/3 at Walsh Bay, beneath the Sydney Harbor Bridge.
Over the course of two weeks, approximately 40,000 people attended and actively participated in the exhibition, which featured long durational exercises developed by Abramovic during her 40-year career, a lecture conducted by the artist, and the work of 12 Australian artists in residence as part of the project, curated by Sophie O'Brien and Emma Pike.
Artists from various backgrounds lived inside the exhibition for the 12 days it was open. Following a series of talks inside the space with Abramovic and curators, the artists shared their ideas and were challenged to further the investigation of their artistic ideas, perspectives, and expressions. It was an opportunity for experimentation, nurtured by a multidisciplinary environment that presented an interesting variety of mediums: performance art, theater, painting, dance/choreography, interactive work, etc.
Upstairs, all 12 artists in residency performed and also presented public lectures on their work. They discussed contemporary views on a wide range of subjects, such as politics, feminism, intimacy, gender, neuroscience, racial identity, psychology, and vulnerability.
During her lecture, Abramovic explained her role as conductor of an artistic environment, one that should be built by the audience. It was what she defined as a "brain spa," or a "a new kind of performance situation” which allows for to undergo a physical and emotional journey inside themselves and by themselves. The artist is merely a facilitator of this internal process of increased self-awareness. She also explained how she had the idea to create MAI as a way to further investigate immaterial art around the world, incporporating multidisciplinary collaboration between artists, scientists, philosophers, educators, communicators and many other thinkers.
Visitors were invited to participate in a series of six long durational exercises. They originated from Abramovic’s Cleaning The House workshop, a 5-day immersion to prepare artists for long duration performance work, which aims to develop endurance, concentration, perception, self-control and willpower.
1. LOOKING AT COLOR
This exercise consists of staring at red, blue and yellow squares. The three primary colors are defined as the genesis of a whole range of color combinations, but are not achievable by any other mixture. This visual aspect of purity and absoluteness can nurture a sense of full commitment to a task.
The use of primary colors is also related to Abramovic's simple, pure, and minimalistic work aesthetic. Anyone can benefit from this exercise, as it allows the public to meditate on what is being both seen and felt.
2) COUNTING RICE
This is one of the most primary and simple exercises about presence developed by the artist during her 40 years of artistic work. Practicing this exercise deeply improves concentration using only a chair, a table, a good amount of rice mixed with lentils, and some patience. It consists of separating the grains of rice from the lentils and counting them, to practice doing something without purpose.
"If you can’t count the rice for three hours, you can’t do anything good in life,” said Abramovic at the Design Miami fair last year. She also believes that it is important to do one thing every day that has no purpose.
3. MUTUAL GAZE
This exercise is based on one of the simplest forms of silent communication and energy exchange between two people: staring at someone's eyes for as long as the mutual gaze can continue. Looking someone in the eyes– and the circle of energy it generates–can lead to a courageous and calm state of mind, as well as promoting deep self-awareness and connection.
4. SLOW MOTION WALK
Walking in slow motion is an exercise in slowing down not only the body, but everything around you. Each movement is made with full awareness of all the muscles in your body. It is necessary to feel each step as you move slowly through the space and to remain aware of your thoughts and your breathing.
Lines of camp beds with black blankets and white pillows are available for people to lay down. This is the setting for the exercise, in which the public is asked to lay in these beds with noise-cancelling headphones, close their eyes and relax their bodies, resting, sleeping, and practicing doing nothing.
Wooden platforms are placed together in different configurations inside the space. The exercise is performed by simply stepping onto these platforms. The public is invited to feel present individually by just being still, as well as creating a collective presence together.
Marina Abramovic: In Residence took place @ Kaldor Public Art Projects, Sydney - Australia from June 24 to July, 05, 2015.