Over the course of the past two years, Marina Abramovic’s work has shifted towards the meditative, and the participatory simultaneously, a seemingly dissonant set of parameters that have resulted in a range of peculiar performances experimenting with sensory deprivation, mediated experiences of space, and gentle brushes with the artist’s person, as she acts as a guide through her own created environments. Her practice continues this month at the Park Avenue Armory, where the the artist has partnered with pianist Igor Levit for Goldberg, a meditative concert of J.S. Bach’s Goldberg Variations.
Upon entering the space, viewers deposit their valuables in lockers, and enter a subdued, darkened Drill Hall before donning headphones that pull the viewer out of their environment in an attempt at deep inner calm. After several minutes of quiet meditation, the concert begins soon after, swirling around listeners and up to the ceiling of the massive room. The result is a work that slowly creeps over the viewer, as a gradual encounter with the space itself gives way to a focused experience with the music. While some visitors could not help drifting off to sleep in the gentle ambience of the Armory’s cavernous Drill Hall, the performance rewarded others’ focus and concentration with a remarkably unique listening opportunity, one in which the the preceding silence emphasized each of Levit’s keystrokes and inflections, and pushed the washes of reverberations along the walls of the room to the forefront of the listener’s attention.
The piece itself is a complexly layered, delicate series of scale exercises and iterations of a melodic line, each time growing and swelling with chordal accompaniments and decorations of the melody. Skirting piano lines dart in and out of the progression, or teeter back and forth as they push the work’s main line through its negative space. Given the time and space to experience and digest the work, Bach’s masterwork takes on an increasingly sculptural quality, one that winds around itself and creates a reassuring, ever-evolving path that the listener finds themselves increasingly embedded within.
Clearing out the compounded visual and sonic distractors of modernity before exposing the visitor to this historically resonant keyboard work, Abramovic operates a peculiar exchange with history here, attempting a return to a less mediated era, pushing for a deep personal encounter with the work within rigidly delineated bounds. The result is a piece that feels reserved and enthusiastic simultaneously, a quiet moment to reflect on the history and progression of Western music, moving forward much in the same way as does Goldberg, a thematic line unified by its variants and interpretations.
The performance runs through December 19th.
— D. Creahan
Goldberg at the Park Ave Armory [Exhibition Site]