Where’s Marina Abramović?

Three times I tried queuing for Marina Abramović: 512 Hours, a performance art piece at the Serpentine. The first was just after a heavy rain, only to be told the wait was still 40 minutes. That didn’t sound unbearable, but I had to leave to meet my friend B at the British Museum for the Mummies exhibition. The second time was last Saturday, when I woke up at 2pm (long week!) and showed up at the Serpentine at 5pm, which turned out to be an inadequately short 30 minutes before the close. 3rd time lucky: after a run through St James Park, Green Park and Hyde Park last Sunday, I decided to brave the two-hour long queue. It turned out to be 2h30 but it was not as horrible as it sounds. At least it gave me time for me to cool down from my run.

As I neared the wrist stampers at the entrance, I realised that I didn’t really know what to expect from the show. My friend A told me that Marina took her aside and gave her some tips on how to experience it. I was expecting something similar – a close encounter with performance art goddess Marina. But it was not to be. Maybe it was because I went on the penultimate day of the 512-hour performance and the artist had to take long breaks.

After donning one of the noise cancelling headsets, I entered and discovered a plain white room with a slightly raised platform in the middle. People were sitting and standing on the walls, some eyes closed, some eyes open watching the middle of the room where a group of people formed a circle. I had barely begun observing when a young woman with short hair took my hand and led me to the platform and suggested I close my eyes. I did, with my hand still clasped in hers. I felt the quietness and a conscious sense of balance, helped by the stillness of the room.

I am not the type to meditate so after what felt like five minutes (we had to leave our watches and phones), I looked around. No Marina Abramović. Where was she? After peering around for a while I caught a glimpse of her guiding a man towards the exit. I continued on to the next room where people walked, eyes closed, in different directions. I assume Marina gave them directions – if not, who creates the performance? The audience itself? I slowly made my way to the third room where chairs were randomly arranged, some facing out the window. On them were people seated with closed eyes. I did the same, reflecting again on the silent surroundings.

Eventually I returned to the main room but with no Marina after an estimated 30 minutes, I started thinking. Would we, as a group of visitors, have been able to create the same performance in another surrounding and without Marina Abramović? We were mostly strangers, and took our own paths as we entered each room. I suppose it would be a different experience for each visitor. I was expecting to be guided by Marina and to see a unique performance by her. Instead we were guided by a few people, who may have been her assistants or gallery attendants. I felt that we created our own experience and it would have been the same with or without Marina. On my way to the exit I saw Marina greeting some VIP guests. It felt like end of her performance as she saluted a few friends and forced herself back to the raised platform. I observed for a while then called my own end to the performance.

Marina Abramović: 512 Hours, a new durational performance by Marina Abramović at the Serpentine ended on August 25.

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