Marina Abramovic tried to take me to bed. 512 Hours at The Serpentine.

Marina Abramovic, 67, Serbian, arguably the most recognised performance artist in the world performs 512 hours in the Serpentine Gallery, London. Marina started her career as a performance artist in the early 70’s since then has become world renowned for her sometimes eccentric, masochistic and unusual methods. Before I share my personal experience of Marina Abramovic, I would like to visit her previous works that differ greatly from her London performance.

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Marina Abramovic. Photograph by Marco Anelli (2014)

Out of her many worldwide performances two particularly stick out to me. Innsbruck, 1975 and Naples, 1974. Innsbruck, 1975, consisted of Marina downing a bottle of red wine, carving a five-pointed communist star onto her stomach with razor blades and laying on an ice modelled crucifix. Personally I’m quite glad I wasn’t around for that one. Naples, 1974, saw Marina offer her visitors 72 items to use in any way that they wish upon her. These ranged from a feather to a loaded pistol. Marina states “I had a pistol with bullets in it, my dear, I was ready to die”. The invitation Marina extended to the audience frightens even me and I wasn’t the one having a pistol waved infront of my face on a daily basis. Although her MoMA performance in 2010 ‘The Artist is Present’ conjured 750,000 people, causing thousands to cry and initiating even Facebook support groups (‘Sitting with Marina’), I find her 1970’s performances as the most riveting.  

Now Marina has taken a far different approach in London, collaborating with the Serpentine Gallery co-director Hans Ulrich Orbist on 512 hours, which she states is the art of doing nothing. Sounds easy enough? Apparently not. The Serbian born has been on a strict diet and fitness regime to get her into shape for the performance. Both mental and physical. She will be walking around the gallery space, Tuesday to Sunday, from 10am to 6pm, allowing herself only toilets breaks for 512 hours (64 days).

I arrived at the Serpentine, 9:40am, in by 10 am along with 120 other curious guests who decided to spend their Tuesday morning exploring the ‘Art of Nothing’. Upon entry I was greeted by Marina herself with a warm good morning. I was then asked politely to surrender my bag, sunglasses, watch and beloved iPhone. After doing so I was handed noise-cancelling headphones for the performance. The space was split into three rooms, one large room leading into two smaller rooms. Much to my surprise there was actually quite a lot to do. In the far left room you could extremely slowly lap the room. In the middle room you could sit on a chair, sit on the floor, sit facing a wall, sit facing a podium, sit on a podium, stand on the podium, stand against a wall etc. The far right room was equipped with camp beds and desks that offered grains of rice for guests to sort, paper and pencil. The opportunities were endless.

I found myself quickly occupying a chair facing a wall, legs crossed, hands in lap. I was soon enough asked to uncross my legs and place my hands on either leg by one of Marina’s assistants and close my eyes. Having my watch stripped from me I assume I sat there for an hour or so. Once I had enough of sitting down I decided to stand, at this point Marina Abramovic herself was approaching me. I don’t know if it was my bright patterned trousers or my inability to stand (I was in fact leaning against a wall) that drew her to me. Nevertheless she had now taken my hand and was leading me to the far right room, towards the camp beds. Luckily all the beds were occupied. Laying in a room full of strangers personally didn't appeal to me. She shook her head at all the occupied beds and smiled. Marina then guided me to the slow-mo room, which consisted of people pacing back and forth at an exceptionally slow pace. Once there she asked me: “What do you do?” I proudly replied: “I'm in the arts” in which she just said “Crazy”. A common response to Art. Marina then gave me the following instructions “Walk the room, very slowly, seven times, after the third time your mind will go to bullshit”. We then walked for a moment or so and she left. I did as instructed by the famous Marina Abramovic, and my mind really did go to bullshit.

512 was an extraordinary experience. It is not often that you can merely do nothing knowing that the outside world have no way of disturbing you. I have read several reviews in which people enclose their experiences and feelings of the performance. I believe mine differed from all of those. This is a performance that purely depends on the individual and how you choose to occupy the space and time offered by Marina. I strongly advise that if you have the time, take advantage of the Serpentine Gallery and meet Marina before the 25th August.