Participatory Performance Art With Marina Abramovic

Marina Abramović Photograph © 2014 by Marco Anelli. Image courtesy of Serpentine Gallery.

Marina Abramović
Photograph © 2014 by Marco Anelli. Image courtesy of Serpentine Gallery.

Marina Abramovic is known for radical pieces of performance art. In one work she sat still and allowed the audience to do whatever they wanted to her with items ranging from a feather duster to a loaded gun, and it escalated surprisingly far. In New York she sat in a chair for days on end, anyone could sit opposite and she would stare intensely at them and nothing else — the result was that some audience members confessed their deepest secrets and even burst into tears. With this pedigree there is a high expectation from the so called ‘grandmother of performance art’ for her latest exhibition in London.

The start is promising as visitors are required to put away phones and watches in lockers so that the outside world is shut off.  Stepping inside the gallery feels like entering a zoo full of zombies as people are intently staring at colour patches on the wall or into a handheld mirror. After exploring the space and trying to mimic other participants we were approached by one of the artist’s assistants and told to walk backwards using a handheld mirror to guide the way.

With this and all other activities assigned to us, we tried it, felt unenlightened after five minutes and gave up. What surprised us the most is how many people persisted until told otherwise, even though they didn’t look like they were getting anything out of it.

It only serves as a reminder that most people are afraid to question modern art and if this was the message Abramovic is trying to convey then it serves its purpose, but in fact the artist is trying to give visitors a sense of spiritual enlightenment. The use of assistants removes the personal touch from this experience and the fact that the assigned tasks are mundane means we found the overall experience uneventful.

After her previous powerful works, we were expecting something more insightful from Abaramovic but we were left sorely disappointed.

Marina Abramovic: 512 hours is on at Serpentine Gallery, Kensington Gardens until 25 August. Admission is free but there is likely to be a queue at peak times.

For more art to see in London, check out our June listings.

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