Go See – London: Marina Abramović at Lisson Gallery through November 13, 2010

October 29th, 2010

Marina Abramović, Portrait with white lamb. 2010. Courtesy the artist, Marco Anelli and Lisson Gallery.

Currently on view at Lisson Gallery London is an exhibition of new and retrospective works by Marina Abramović. The installation showcases videos, photographs, and sculpture, divided in two parts between galleries across the street from one another. In one, her seminal Rhythm series is mounted in its entirety for the first time; in the other, Abramović’s new series Back to Simplicity makes its debut.

Back to Simplicity reveals a somewhat softer side of Abramović: exhausted from her recent 90-day performance at the MoMA New York, the artist returned to nature to renew her energy. Shot in upstate New York, where Abramović intends to open an institute for the preservation of performance art, the recent images are a far cry from the challenging, violent, and provocative work for which Abramović is known. Instead of pills, guns, or other tools of violence, the artist’s new companion is the lamb. As a symbol of innocence, this creature carries with it a gentler, more vulnerable air.

Marina Abramović. Video still from Confession. 2010. Image courtesy the artist and Lisson Gallery.

More text, images, and link to the artist’s Twitter interview with Lisson Gallery after the jump…

Yet the new work, which reads at times like magical realism, does not betray the artist’s bold character: the shots are tight, with Abramović’s stirring expressions dominating the frame. Whether crying over a flower, carrying an armful of firewood, or quietly peeling potatoes, the artist and her emotions are very much present. “The artist should be empty and vulnerable, available and accessible,” she shared recently in a interview with Art in America. This is a stark contrast to her nearly-expressionless face at her MoMA performance.

Lest we forget the Abramović we are accustomed to, critic Linda Yablonski observes that at the opening of the exhibition, “The artist herself was in the gallery, having a stare-back contest with the P.S. 1 director Klaus Biesenbach, curator of her recent retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art.”

Installation view courtesy Lisson Gallery.

As part of the exhibition, Abramović took to Twitter to answer questions posed by director of Lisson Gallery, Nicholas Logsdail. Either by going directly to Lisson’s Twitter, or by searching using the hashtag #marinalissonlive one can read brief, eloquent statements from the artist, such as, “Every time there is an economic crisis around you have to start from nothing. I always like to confront my fears. I am staging my fears in my performance. It is also important to explore humor in art” and “I see my work as my children. For me it was important to be in the present for my MoMA performance. I gave unconditional love to total strangers.” Along with discussing potatoes, donkeys, and flashmobs, Abramović revealed that her MoMA performance will also be staged in the Garage Moscow in September 2011. Aside from this surprise, followers received a joke: “How many artists do you need to fix a light bulb? I don’t know I was only there 6 hours!” The entire exchange is available in this transcript.

Marina Abramović, Holding the Lamb, 2010. Courtesy the Artist and Lisson Gallery.

Born in Belgrade in 1946, Abramović is the daughter of a museum director and a Serbian revolutionary. The artist’s father was a commander in World War II, while her mother was a major who also served as Director of the Museum of Revolution and Art in the mid 1960s. Abramović studied in Belgrade until her move to Amsterdam at age 30. After initial experiments with painting and sound art, Abramović arrived at performance, the first of which was Rhythm 10 (1973). In this piece, the artist used 20 knives and 2 tape recorders to play the Russian game between the fingers. “At that time,” she shares in a monograph by the Fondazione Antonio Ratti, “it was very important to exercise with pain, with blood, with the mental and physical limits of the body.”

After this performance came Rhythm 5 (1974), wherein Abramović encloses herself inside a burning 5-pointed star. After a doctor in the audience saved her from the near fatality of smoke inhalation, the artist relates, “I was very angry because I understood there is a physical limit: when you lose consciousness you can’t be present, you can’t perform. So I started thinking about how I could make the performances, in which I could use the body with and without consciousness, without stopping the performance.” This statement could be seen as a harbinger of The Artist is Present at MoMA earlier this year.

Marina Abramović, Sleeping with white lamb, 2010. Courtesy the Artist and Lisson Gallery.

Marina Abramović. Video still from Sleeping under the Banyan tree, 2010. 60 min B&W Blu-Ray loop. Courtesy the Artist and Lisson Gallery.

Marina Abramović, Portrait with Firewood, 2010. Courtesy the Artist and Lisson Gallery.

Marina Abramović, Portrait with Flower, Eyes Closed, 2010. Courtesy the Artist and Lisson Gallery.

Marina Abramović, Portrait with Potatoes, 2008. Courtesy the Artist, Marco Anelli and Lisson Gallery.

Marina Abramović, Black Dragon (Green and Rose Quartz pillows), 1994.Quartz, metal brackets, lucite plaque. Courtesy the Artist and Lisson Gallery.

The work consists of three smooth, concave pieces of quartz crystal affixed to the gallery wall for viewers to lean their heads, chests and other body parts against. These ‘pillows’ as Abramović calls them, address both potential for healing properties of art and the distance traditionally maintained between viewer and object.

Installation view courtesy Lisson Gallery.

Marina Abramović, AAA-AAA, 1978. Black and white single-screen video, 9 min 54 sec. Courtesy the artist and Lisson Gallery.

Marina Abramović and Ulay, Rest Energy with Ulay, 1980. Color 16mm film transferred to DVD, 4 min 5 sec. Courtesy the Artist and Lisson Gallery.

Installation view courtesy Lisson Gallery.

Marina Abramović, Rhythm 0, 1974. Table with 72 objects, slide projector with images of performance and text. Courtesy the Artist and Lisson Gallery.

Marina Abramović, Breathing in and breathing out with Ulay, 1977. Black and white photograph. Performance, 19 min. Courtesy the Artist and Lisson Gallery.

- J. Lindblad

Related Links:

Exhibition Site [Lisson Gallery]
Frieze-Dried London [New York Times]
Against Performance Art [Art Forum]
Marina Abramovic Discusses Performance Art – Video [T Magazine]
Interview: Marina Abramovic [The Guardian]
Artist Marina Abramovic: I have to be like a mountain [The Guardian]
Art, performance, and the spaces where they happen: Thresholds of acceptability [Architectural Research Quarterly]

Soul music 101: Taking a walk through the history of Stax Records

Chicago Sun-Times February 1, 2004 | Dave Hoekstra MEMPHIS, Tenn. — The dignity of Southern soul music can be traced to an unassuming building at 926 E. McLemore Ave., in a middle-class black neighborhood, two miles southeast of downtown. Here at Stax Records, from 1961 to 1975, more than 800 singles and 300 LPs were cut by artists such as Isaac Hayes and Otis Redding who put the civil rights movement to music.

Songwriter David Porter, now 62, was a key figure in launching the Stax imprint. He grew up within walking distance of Stax, now reborn as the Stax Museum of American Soul Music. His house was four doors away from Maurice White, who would go on to form the ’70s supergroup Earth, Wind & Fire. Porter partnered with Isaac Hayes to write Sam & Dave’s song of empowerment, “Soul Man,” Carla Thomas’ “B-A-B-Y” and Johnnie Taylor’s “I Had a Dream.” Together, the Hayes-Porter songwriting team contributed to more than 200 Stax records, and they produced most of them.

Porter was at Stax on April 4, 1968, when the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was murdered while standing on the balcony of the former Lorraine Motel, which once housed guests such as Roy Campanella, Nat King Cole and out-of-town Stax artists such as the Chicago-based Staple Singers.

On King’s birthday holiday last month, Porter served as tour guide for a three-hour walk through the new $20 million museum, built on the site of the former studio. The complex includes the non-profit Stax Music Academy, which offers after-school programs. in our site force factor reviews

More than half of the 20,000 Memphians who live within one mile of the new museum subsist below the poverty line. As dozens of shoolchildren checked out the museum, Porter offered up observations that were sometimes lighthearted, but more often, poignant.

“Isaac and I were here writing when Dr. King was shot,” Porter said in hushed tones. “When we heard about it, Isaac and I left to try to get there. But we couldn’t get close enough.” On the night of King’s death, Memphis went up in flames. Company employees helped Stax co-founder Jim Stewart move master tapes to another location. The abrupt shuffle of the tapes was perhaps a metaphor for things to come at the label. Just months before King’s assassination, Otis Redding, Stax’s biggest star, who was on the verge of mainstream success with his hit “[Sittin' on] The Dock of the Bay,” died in a plane crash near Madison, Wis., on Dec. 10, 1967. Shortly thereafter, in a corporate power struggle, Stax lost its catalog to the larger Atlantic Records.

On Tuesday Stax continues to reclaim its past with the release of the “Soul Comes Home” DVD and companion CD. Soul Comes Home” aired on many PBS stations nationwide in August 2003. The DVD includes all 16 performances from the PBS special, as well as a bonus track of the Bar-Kays and Chuck D covering “Soul Finger.” The “Soul Comes Home” concert was taped on April 30, 2003, in Memphis, to commemorate the opening of the Stax Museum, with featured artists Eddie Floyd, Isaac Hayes, Rance Allen, Mavis Staples, Solomon Burke (who covers Redding’s “Try a Little Tenderness”) and Al Green (who did not record for Stax, but for competing Hi Records in Memphis).

The “Soul Comes Home” CD includes all of the DVD’s musical performances, as well as liner notes by Peter Guralnick, author of Sweet Soul Music: Rhythm and Blues and the Southern Dream of Freedom. The Stax project is being released in conjunction with African American History Month.

“When we were working in this facility, race was never an issue,” Porter said. “Everybody bonded as a force factor for each other. True, when you’re working 15 hours a day, you don’t get out in the streets to interact with what’s going on. But we were tremendously loyal to each other inside the studio. We had a mostly black environment, but you had [whites] Steve Cropper, Duck Dunn, Wayne Jackson, a couple other horn players who were working every day in the studio. It was a very special bond.

“When Dr. King was shot, the community around us went in an uproar. People got bitter. It became stressful to come to work. Because of the uncomfortableness around us, that energy moved inside the building.

“The world was whacked. Consequently, you’d walk into the studio, and instead of talking about the groove you were going to get into for that day, you would talk about life and what was happening around you. Things changed. It did not damage the respect and loyalty for each other, it just damaged the climate in which we worked.” *** Stax went bankrupt in 1975. The bank turned the building, which originated as the Capitol Theater in 1930, over to the neighboring Southside Church of God & Christ for a planned community center. The building soon fell into disrepair, and despite community protests, Stax was razed in 1989.

But Porter maintains a deep feeling of community.

“We were so close,” he said. “Before this was Stax, it was Satellite Records. I was a sacker at The Big D grocery store across the street. I was a high school senior. There was a little recording studio across the street doing country-Western. The A&R guy was Chips Moman [who would go on to produce soul legends Wilson Pickett, Bobby Womack and Solomon Burke]. He was the first guy I wrote a song with [at Satellite]. None were ever released.” A former sideman with rockabilly pioneer Gene Vincent, Moman convinced Satellite owner Stewart to convert the old theater into a recording studio. And the Stax studio was born.

In early 1964, Jim Stewart brought Porter on for a six-month trial at Stax, paying him $50 a week. “Isaac and I met when we were in high school,” Porter said. “We would sing at Wednesday night talent shows at the Palace Theater on Beale Street, trying to win $5. After high school, I was still working at the grocery store, selling insurance on the side and singing around clubs in Memphis.” At Stax, Porter approached Hayes to form a writing team. “I also approached him about buying insurance,” Porter said with a laugh. “I knew we could be what Motown had with [the songwriting team] Holland- Dozier-Holland. So Isaac and I started writing profusely. Isaac was a keyboard player. Melodies, lyrics and chordal directions came from both of us. We always wrote from a theme.

“I could shape an artist’s direction, because I was a concept person. I tried to bring out what they felt. After we worked up an arrangement on the floor, I’d direct the artist as they would sing: ‘Hold up!’ ‘Hit the note high.’ I thought the singer should be above where they should be [in terms of vocal range], because the anxiety of the soul then could come through.

“I wanted to have more of an edge than Motown. Their records sounded so comfortable. On some of our records, you hear me because I inadvertently make a sound. On [Sam & Dave's] ‘Something Is Wrong With My Baby,’ at the very intro of that record I say ‘hmmmn.'” Hayes and Porter speak just about every day, maintaining the friendship that dates back to their teenage days.

*** As a youth, Porter sang with Maurice White at the Rose Hill Baptist Church near what would become the Stax building. Appropriately now, the Stax museum tour begins in a replica African Methodist Episcopal Church (circa 1906) from Duncan, Miss., about 100 miles south of Memphis along Highway 61. The church replica features the original pew and wood from the Delta original.

In this section, the museum recognizes the Rev. C.L. Franklin, who preached at Memphis’ nearby New Salem Missionary Church. His daughter Aretha was born at 406 Lucy Ave., a mile away from Stax. And another Memphis native, Bobby “Blue” Bland, learned his trademark squall from a C.L. Franklin sermon.

Porter said, “On Sam and Dave’s ‘Soul Man’ I told Sam [Moore] to imitate Bobby ‘Blue’ Bland’s squall.” In the Stax Museum, you won’t find an audiotaped tour, in which stories like this are shared with visitors. Nor does the museum have interactive exhibits, except for a dance floor where visitors can shake their stuff to music that ranges from the Stax catalog to Sly and the Family Stone.

But the museum is true to its full name as a museum of “American Soul Music” by giving props to what was going on at Motown, Chicago (including Sam Cooke’s SAR label) and New York (King Curtis), and by paying homage to neglected R&B pioneers like Louis Jordan.

Visitors can check out Roebuck “Pops” Staples’ Gibson guitar as the Staple Singers’ “Respect Yourself” plays in the background. There’s a ragged diary of 1967 tour dates and locations kept by Wayne Jackson of the Memphis Horns and Steve Cropper’s first amplifier (a Fender Princeton). Booker T. Jones donated his Hammond M-3 organ used to record “Green Onions” (the Hammond B-3 was his road organ).

Otis Redding’s wife donated the singer’s favorite suede leather jacket. “If there’s any one person to be given credit for what Stax ultimately became as far as credibility, it is Otis Redding,” Porter said. “His horn riffs were motivation for Isaac and I. We’d try to incorporate those on our records.” But the museum’s big ticket item is Hayes’ 1972 gold-plated Cadillac Eldorado. It is Stax’s answer to Webb Pierce’s ostentatious 1962 Pontiac Bonneville at the Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville.

When Hayes negotiated a new contract, one perk was his $26,000 peacock blue Cadillac. Stax leased the car for Hayes and it was insured by Lloyd’s of London. The car included a refrigerated bar, television set and 24-karat gold exterior parts — including windshield wipers. No wonder Stax went bankrupt.

Porter was most excited at the end of the tour when he stood in the re-created Stax Studio A. The original Stax studio and offices were in the old Capitol Theater. A replica of the theater’s marquee has been built, proudly announcing the destination of “Soulsville, U.S.A.” During our tour, Porter spoke as if he were in the original place. “The drum set would be a little farther down,” Porter said from the middle of the studio. “The baffle is in the right place. The songs Isaac and I wrote would sit on the piano. In the corner, there was a restroom. One time I went to the bathroom, and Isaac was telling me to hurry. I yelled back, ‘Hold on, I’m comin’.’ That’s how we wrote that song. website force factor reviews

“In order to get airplay, Jim Stewart changed the title to ‘Hold on, I’m a-Comin.’ I never heard a phrase like that before. The original title had too much of a sexual connotation.” Stax acts would position themselves on one side of the microphone. Porter would stand on the other side. Sometimes he would grab a pen and pad, taking notes like a reporter to obtain a vocalist’s inner feelings. Porter looked across the empty room and said, “I would communicate by looking at [drummer] Al Jackson first, give him a signal, then look at Isaac.

“To show you how in tune Al was, on [Sam & Dave's] ‘I Thank You,’ I wanted to have a signature pocket for the record. So I said, ‘Al, I want something to sound like horses with horseshoes on.’ That was the clacka-clacka on the record. He could take an idea and create it from a drum perspective. He was the backbone of this company.

“On ‘Hold On, I’m a-Comin’ I asked him to play the drum beat from Lee Dorsey’s ‘Get Out of My Life, Woman’ and speed it up. That’s his interpretation for ‘Hold On, I’m a-Comin’. This was where the energy was. We’d work up all the songs together. The horns would be standing over here. Everyone was in their particular stations. We recorded live.

“And everybody had to get together.” POSTSCRIPT: After completing the tour, I asked Porter to sum up our visit through the Stax Museum of American Soul Music. He stopped to collect his thoughts. “I’m sure you noticed, when we were walking through, we’d be talking, and all of a sudden I was gone,” he said. “I’d go somewhere emotionally.

“The biggest thing that happens to me is that I realize I am walking through my life. As a kid who went to school, who got out of high school and made a mistake in the sense that I got a girl pregnant … how was I going to survive?

“Then to realize through my walking across the street from a grocery store into this place changed my life. It gave me a sense of direction. And now, to see it talked about in this format, on top of being a humbling experience, makes me cognizant of the fact there is a power much greater than we are. If we take the effort to make one step, that power gives us avenues and potential that can impact our lives in a positive and meaningful way. That’s what this has been to me.” And those are the dignified footprints that lead to Stax Records.

Dave Hoekstra