Marina Abramović, The Abramović Method: Chair for Man and His Spirit (2012). All photos © Marina Abramović by SIAE 2012, courtesy Marina Abramović and Galleria Lia Rumma, Milan unless otherwise noted.
Known as the “grandmother of performance art,” Serbian artist Marina Abramović has chosen Milan as the setting for the exhibition of her much anticipated new body of work, titled The Abramović Method. Presented at PAC Padiglione d’Art Contemporanea through June 10, 2012 and complemented by an exhibition at Milan’s Galleria Lia Rumma (through May 12, 2012), this is her first major performance since MoMA’s The Artist is Present in 2010, during which Abramović sat in a gallery for 700 hours, silently and motionlessly interacting with a unending parade of museumgoers exclusively through eye contact. Abramović initiated her performance art practice in the 1970s with physically and emotionally demanding trials, aiming to test the limits of her bodily and psychological endurance. More recently, Abramović’s artistic practice has become preoccupied with the concept of duration and an obligation to the public.
Abramović conceived of the idea for The Abramović Method upon reflecting on three of her performances of the past ten years: The Artist is Present (2010), Seven Easy Pieces (2005), and The House With the Ocean View (2002). These works demonstrate the artist’s more recent interest in the public’s body, rather than her own. In Method, Abramović has created an interactive installation in which visitors engage with different types of minerals (quartz, amethyst, and tourmaline). Encouraged to stand, sit, and lie amongst the gems, which are embedded in furniture, the installation becomes an altered space in which darkness, light, space and time shift according to each mineral’s shimmer.
Guided by the artist, here the public activates the space. According to Abramović, “The performance has no meaning without the public because, as Duchamp said, it is the public that completes the work of art. In the case of performance, I would say that public and performer are not only complementary but almost inseparable.” Seeking to explore the lines between observer/observed and actor/spectator, Abramović has incorporated a series of telescopes in the installation, provided by AURIGA, enabling visitors to examine those who choose to participate in the performance from a unique vantage point.
At their core, Abramović’s works often combine an investigation into ancient wisdom and traditions with a regard for contemporary reality. In Milan, Abramović offers the public an opportunity to expand their senses, to observe, and to listen to themselves and others. In order to deepen the visitors’ understanding of The Abramović Method, the exhibition also includes footage from past performances, like Dozing Consciousness (1997) and Homage to Saint Thérèse (2009), based on a similar “energetic” pursuit of expanded perception.
During the exhibition’s run, Abramović will instruct a selected group of students from the Accademia di Brera to guide the public through the exhibition as keepers of the Abramović Method. The educational component of the exhibition is set to be expanded with Abramović’s planned Center for the Preservation of Performance Art, designed with the help of architect Rem Koolhaas. The Center, to be located in Hudson, New York, will aim to explain and expand Abramović’s model of performance art, with a mission first to teach the public how to see performance art and then to learn the basics of her performance “language”—imparting her “method” onto a new generation.
This spring’s corresponding exhibition With Eyes Closed I See Happiness at Galleria Lia Rumma includes a series of photographs and sculptures that can be viewed as the keys to understanding Abramović’s “Method.” Large, spare photographs of the artist engaged in exercises of contemplative meditation visualize the need to look inside of oneself for happiness. The importance of this method for elevating the spirit and reaching a state of equilibrium is emphasized by 14 sculptures set upon glass pedestals. The sculptures, representing plaster casts of the artist’s head encrusted with quartz crystals, complement Abramović’s installation at PAC with physical manifestations of the artist’s inner knowledge.