My First Performance Art – Marina Abramovic’s 512 Hours at the Serpentine Gallery

So while i greatly enjoyed the street art on my recent London trip, as well as visiting the various galleries and museums both for work and leisure, one particular experience i wanted to talk about was my visit to the Serpentine Gallery, specifically to see Marina Abramovic’s 512 Hours.

London Work Trip - Serpentine Gallery
The Serpentine Gallery is pretty small, and named for the Serpentine river that runs through Hyde Park.

You’ve probably seen her videos circulating online at some point – she’s a pretty well-known performance artist, with her most famous piece being her retrospective The Artist is Present at the Museum of Modern Art in 2010 and known to befriend celebs like James Franco and Lady Gaga. This 67-year old lady (!) describes herself as the Grandmother of Performance Art, so now that i had the chance to go see her in person, and for free… why not?

Quite frankly, performance art perhaps is one of the art forms I’m most skeptical about; my personal opinion on art is that a lot of it is actually rubbish, and with performance art it tends to be really weird, abstract, or self indulgent… maybe I just don’t know how to appreciate it most of the time, but I honestly had no real idea whether I was going to like this at all!

London Work Trip - Blue Sky Plane Trails
It was a pretty damn beautiful day to be outside!

My colleagues and I started our day at the Victoria and Albert Museum, before taking a walk to Hyde Park nearby – the Serpentine Galleries are located in Kensington Gardens / Hyde Park – with the Serpentine Gallery on the west side of the Serpentine Gallery (The Serpentine Sackler is across the river on the East bank). We didn’t have too much time to spend as we had another meeting to get to, but since we were in the area, thought it was worth checking out.

London Work Trip - 512 hours entrance
Before entering the inner sanctum

In hindsight, we were pretty lucky – there was no queue at all so we walked straight into the exhibition. What you see above in the picture is the outer gallery. Just inside the doors is a cloakroom of sorts with lockers for you to store all your things away. No phone, no belongings, no cameras, and not even your watch, so unfortunately no pictures for my readers either (after you’re done reading, go here for some idea of what it might have looked like).

Bereft of all our worldly belongings, we walked into the next room and that’s when you can feel the weird vibe in the air. Perhaps because it’s really quiet, people kinda shuffling around the place like you’re in an invisible library. No one was talking to each other – You were supposed to be quiet overall but I don’t think there were any rules about a chitchat, so there was just a lot of gesturing and nervous glances between us as we made our way around the rooms.

In the first room we entered, there were raised wooden platforms and a bunch of people looking all artsy in black just standing on them, kinda staring blankly into space and not moving. Around that room were various foldable chairs which were lined up and facing the wall; each chair faced a different piece of coloured paper, and several people were sitting down in these chairs, staring at the coloured paper in front of them like they were absorbed in a television show. Elsewhere, some people were holding small hand mirrors, gazing intently into the little round mirrors and for some reason, walking backwards. In the adjoining room, a piece of cloth was laid across the backs of some chairs – two people dove beneath the sheets like children in a blanket fort.

Well the short version is – lots of people doing bizarre things in a mostly empty room all around me.

You’ll have to imagine for yourself how you would react upon stumbling across a rather odd scene like this. I was, not unexpectedly, rather perplexed. Mostly, I couldn’t figure out why people were doing what they were doing, and why they seemed to be doing it with such certainty – could it be that when in an empty room, there is some intrinsic nature in all of us to adopt certain behaviours? Like stare in a mirror and walk backwards?! Wow deep thoughts there… I only found out later that there were ‘guides’ in the room who kinda led people to certain activities, and I’ll admit to being a tad disappointed by that!

Sadly, I didn’t actually see Marina herself in the flesh, though she was supposed to have been there – too many artsy people in the room I suppose! Also, we had to rush off for our next meeting, and without a watch to tell the time, we couldn’t afford to dawdle too long. My two companions were both giving me even more perplexed looks by this time, so we left quite quickly – around 10-15 mins after we first arrived.

Perhaps my experience would have been different on my own, or with more time to ‘participate’ – apparently even after the first week, Marina reported that there were regulars who showed up all the time, and people who hang around for hours on end, so apparently some people seem to really get something out of it. Me? Well it’s really just not my cup of tea, but I’m glad I did check it out, so now I can say I’ve officially been a part of performance art!

London Work Trip - 512 hours hand stamp
The only souvenir I took away from 512 hours – this handstamp

If you’re in London or are interested in the project, check out the Marina Abramovic Serpentine Diaries where she gives frequent updates about her experience at the gallery – she’ll be there till 25 August so you still have a little time to pop by! You can also see how people felt about it at the 512 Hours Tumblr where they’ve scanned in the feedback forms left by participants after their experience.

Anyone have a weird arts experience to share?


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