MArina Abramovich Show in New York 2010 The artist is there It made her a global icon, but she’s not personally present in the mystical extravaganza of her new show Gates and Portals. However, she did show up at the press launch to make it clear that since becoming famous she wants to remove herself from her job, to let her speak for herself. This is a long arrangement. As I found at that event, she is an extraordinary presence. She adjusts to magnetic stillness, and when she speaks she appears to be timing her words to some latent breathing and heartbeat. Its attractiveness and wit make you a hypnotist.
Unfortunately, facilitators trained in what she calls the Abramović method cannot reproduce those discovered traits. It’s as if Judi Dench is going to coach a bunch of people in Dench style and get them to play her famous roles: it’s not the same thing. Even worse, it focuses your mind on the ideas behind the art – and they are very weak.
The Abramovich method as practiced here involves a lot of slow walking, gentle compulsion, and sensory deprivation. Just as you wonder how long you will have to stand against a wall with your eyes closed, they are transporting you to another place. It’s as if you’re in The Blair Witch Project, an impression confirmed by a glimpse of Abramović on screen, fantastically interacting with some very elements of Blair Witchy from the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford.
Obsession moves from one place to another and deprives him of strength. Finally, you’ll lead into the largest apocalyptic chamber supposed to have a gate or ‘gate’ in the center: a tall rectangular frame studded with glowing crystals. You are ritually walked through it, and then you are urged to lie down on a mat. To address the spiritual journey you’ve taken, most likely.
It felt like death to me. And just when I thought it was over, they took me to the glowing gate again. Standing at it this time, he absorbs his radiance.
Is this what Abramovich wants to share, his New Age faith reveal? Gates and Portals offers a religious, not an aesthetic, experience. Feeling renewed, purified and transformed through this beating on oneself means accepting her mystical vision. This meaning boils down to believing in the power of the glowing gate to change you from one state to another. To try it, you give up your freedom of thought and work for an hour and a quarter.
Fans of participatory art claim that it subverts the “negativity” of a traditional museum or gallery, but surely this is the truly negative experience, submissiveness without criticism of collective rituals. By contrast, if you’re passive when exploring a museum collection, you’re not doing it right. In fact, a visit to Pete Rivers Museum — where Abramović recently obtained a residency, and the track lets you continue her research — is a reminder of how inspiring an old-fashioned group can be.
Abramović spent her time at the Victorian Anthropology Gallery with his extremely bizarre displays, from masks to coffins to a primitive Ukrainian figure that no one could even date. However, it was English folklore that dominated it. In a video, she’s sitting a sitting session with a 19th-century Somerset witch’s ladder, a rope to which feathers have been tied. Suddenly her eyes open to the vastness of the portals of another universe and she stares at you as if possessed.
You can also find the “witch in a bottle” that I studied. This is allegedly exactly what the label says: a full-bodied, hermetically sealed glass bottle in which the spirit of a witch is imprisoned. It was collected near Hove, Sussex, in 1915 by historian and folklorist Margaret Murray, from an old woman who said to her, “They say there’s a witch in her and if they leave her there it’s going to be a problem.” The museum never opened it.
Also here are the three ring-like Roanne knotted wood rings seen in her video at Modern art Oxford. It was classified in 1893 as coming from a house in Yorkshire where it was placed on a garden railing to ward off witches.
These things are attractive, and I was grateful to Abramovich for leading me to find them. But without her as a performer to bind her together, there does not seem to be any connection between her research and the oppressive and exhausting rituals of her gates and gates. It’s evidence of why art can rely on religion and magic but it’s not the same thing. By trying to be more than just an art, this becomes much less.