Ever since watching The Artist is Present, the documentary about performance artist Marina Abramović, we’ve been just a tiny bit obsessed. She pushes the limits of the human mind and body in a way that made me so curious about the technique and method behind the wondrous madness. So, when we learned that Abramović was having a “residency” in Sydney where visitors could take part in exercises that comprise “The Abramović Method,” Partner-in-Crime and I were ready to queue right up. We took turns going (someone had to stay home with the kid), and I’m glad we did because it gave us both the freedom to have an individual experience without worrying about the whereabouts or possible boredom of a companion. The project consists of six activities:
- Sorting and counting a pile of rice
- Slow walking
- Standing platform
- Looking at color blocks on a wall
- Mutual gaze with a stranger – reminiscent of The Artist is Present project
We were both so taken with the experience and bursting to share impressions, so I asked if we could interview each other to try to capture here something of what the experience was like and how it felt.
“We constantly like to be entertained, to get things from outside. We never take time to get in touch with ourselves … our inner self.” -Marina Abramović, as quoted in the study guide for In Residence
Go to the Kaldor Arts In Residence project website to see these images and others from the project, which give more visual context.
Me: Did you go in with any expectations?
P-i-C: I probably had unconscious expectations, but I purposely stayed uninformed prior to the exhibit. I was eager and curious.
What did you feel when you saw the big black and white image of Marina at the entrance?
Me: As you know, I think she’s kind of a rock star, so to see her up there larger than life like that made me feel like I was walking into something special, and maybe a little daunting, too. Do you think maybe you’re supposed to be a bit intimidated?
P-i-C: When they placed a numerical black stamp on my hand I had a fleeting feeling of spookiness but probably because I was trying to assign a much higher symbolism than what they were doing – simply counting the number of visitors.
What did you think of the warm up exercises prior to entering the exhibit?
Me: I loved them. They said when I walked in to feel free to do as many as you wanted, and there was this whole room of people flapping all around, so I got the sense everyone was there to fully participate and go on the ride. I stayed through one whole round. A lot of them were exercises you might do in a yoga class. Did you do them, and did you feel they “warmed you up” for the installation?
P-i-C: I felt they put me in the right physical and mental space, a bit like yoga, but they also had another surprising dimension of awakening my emotional self, restrained by every day conventions.
How did absence of ambient noise make you feel about your presence after they gave you those noise-cancelling earphones?
Me: I loved that, and they really worked, too. I couldn’t believe how quiet it was in there. I don’t remember when I’ve been in a space so devoid of background noise. We always have something – traffic, clocks, machines – so much background noise in our lives. Even when we’re having quiet time, it’s not quiet. The headphones and quiet put me in a different space. Right after I got the headphones and walked in, one of the facilitators – they were all dressed in black – took me by the hand and guided me to an installation. Did they do that to you, as well? Did that comfort or discomfort you?
P-i-C: At first I did not quite understand that they work there. I was asked to join another pair and I gave my hand without much forethought. You can just imagine the feeling of entering the performance space with two other strangers, all walking very slowly holding hands without talking and not really knowing why this strange person asked for my hand in the first place, why I accepted it and most importantly, where we were going.
What did you do first?
Me: I was taken to the wooden platform. Everyone had a cube to stand on, and we were supposed to close our eyes. I liked that because it helped me get used to the silence, and after a couple of minutes, I opened my eyes and just had a quiet look around to get comfortable with the space. I started to get the idea that you could explore any way you wanted to.
What did you do?
P-i-C: I was led to the area where you sit and watch another person in their eyes in complete silence. I had two brief experiences with two people with earphones who were somewhat uncomfortable but trying to fake it through the whole thing, and both lasted only a few minutes. After that a person without earphones set opposite and we looked at each other for good twenty minutes. Looking into other person’s soul is an intensely emotional and riveting experience. I had outbursts of intense emotion and a rapid flow of thoughts as I am sure the other person did, since he dropped many tears. The entire process made me feel strangely immaterial as if my state of consciousness was just a mirage and a fragment in something much bigger yet reachable.
Me: Ah, yes. I did that one a little later on. I’d been so interested in sitting with someone else after seeing The Artist is Present where she sat with so many people. I got the feeling the person who sat across from me didn’t expect this because she looked uncomfortable and sort of laughed at first. But, as we sat longer, we both got more comfortable, and it was an intense experience. It was like seeing something deeper than you even do with your closest friends, or something different, anyway. It was so powerful. I don’t know how Abramović did it for so long. I wonder if it energized or drained her.
P-i-C: What did you do after the wooden platform?
Me: I went to one of the chairs facing the wall where you looked at a square of color. Mine was blue. That’s it. You just look at the wall. After about a minute, I felt like crying because I realized that I never, ever have time in my life for just sitting. I’m always preoccupied with something, even if it’s so unimportant. I was so moved, and it really set the tone for the rest of my afternoon. I wanted to take my time. Did you do that one?
P-i-C: Yes I did a few colors, but was a bit disappointed that I could not feel the emotion of the color itself. However, one that left the greatest impression on me was this yellow rectangle that had a natural shade of the setting sun. I followed this shade with intense concentration, which allowed me to visualize time and the rotation of our planet. I felt very geospatially connected and thought about how the earth rotates around its axis and around the sun and how the entire solar system actually travels through space at unimaginable speed. Again, I felt my consciousness as a beautifully connected fragment of the universe.
Me: Very intense, my dear!
P-i-C: What did you do next?
Me: I did the meditative slow walking. You walk from one end of the space to another quite slowly. It probably took me half an hour.
I’m curious to ask – when you finished with an exercise, what was it that told you you were done? Because most of them you could participate in for as long as you wanted – hours even, in theory. What motivated you to get up and move on? Sometimes I moved because my mind wandered and I felt like I “should” do something different and sometimes I started getting physically uncomfortable.
P-i-C: In most cases, it was the cognitive completion rather than the emotional completion of the experience… and yeah the parking meter was ticking… I clearly have much more training in front of me.
What made you get up from your comfy bed? What did you think and feel during your dream time?
Me: Oh man, let me tell you, I never wanted to get out of that bed! It was so comfortable, and they tucked you in. Just needed some milk and cookies to make it complete. I don’t remember what I thought. I didn’t think that much. I did catch myself starting to snore, at one point (thank goodness everyone was wearing headphones!). It was great because when I laid down, it was light, and it was starting to get dark when I got up. It was like the best nap ever, even if I wasn’t really sleeping. Thanks, Marina!
Actually, I think it was starting to get cold in the space because of the sun going down, which was why I finally got up. You weren’t lying when you told me those beds were comfortable.
P-i-C: Weren’t those beds great? I loved being tucked in. What a special feeling…After that I went to do some rice and seed counting. I felt like a two year old completely immersed in it, counting, making shapes and patters – it was a very playful but also a very grounding experience.
Me: That’s such a perfect analogy. Hushpuppy loves that sort of sorting, too, doesn’t she? Something quite primal, I think. I did the rice counting after my little nap, as well. I woke up all ready to count rice, and as it was dark, I sat at my desk with the light on, and felt like some sort of Renaissance genius working problems by candlelight.
I spent a long time with the counting – got to almost 800 pieces of white rice and 700 pieces of black. I only stopped because my back was getting sore. I came away with so much respect for Marina Abramović – the physical, as well as mental stamina she must have do to her work is stunning. I also took a sneaky peek at everyone else’s rice counting work as I walked out. It was so interesting – each person had their own style of piling and counting, and everyone was very intense. One person behind me had two huge piles – he must have been at it for more than an hour.
P-i-C: What were your final impressions?
Me: So many, but most of all, just a feeling of calm that I wanted to bring with me. I wanted to remember the sense that we don’t have to fill our minds and lives with so much clutter. That became so evident. It was very powerful.
12 noon – 7p.m.
Admission is free