Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Marina Abramovic Presents......

On Sunday I dodged the rain drops to catch the train up to Manchester and after a little meandering randomly through the streets of the city centre found my way to the Whitworth Gallery for Marina Abramovic Presents.... part of this year's Manchester International festival. My friend, co-worker and current artist in residence Kira O'Reilly was one of the innovative artists selected by Marina to perform in this exhibition. The show will take place over the next 2weeks, with the artists all preforming for 4hours each day.
When I arrived I was given a white lab coat, containing a small paper cup in the pocket, and I wandered into a large gallery, the walls nude of the regular hanging and lit by the enormous picture windows down one wall, it felt a little like a gymnasium. Along the window lined wall there was a dais, putting me in mind of a catwalk/runway. Milling around were my fellow participants, all clad in white lab coats too. This uniform was good, it made me feel part of the crowd even though I had come on my own, as it seemed many others had, though there was also a large party of teenagers, most likely on an 'A' level art trip, who giggled nervously. A gong rang out and we were all instructed to take one of the camping stools from the back wall and line up in rows facing the windows. I was quite surprised to see that there must have been something like 200 people in the gallery and eagerly awaiting the start. Marina and 4 helpers, all clad in the lab coats, stood on the dais before us and Marina started to explain the ideas behind her exhibition. The idea of body or performance art had started in the 70's and she wanted to use it to get us to appreciate the little things and to become comfortable with our boredom. She talked eloquently for a while and then we got out our little cups to be filled with water and then took 10min to drink the water, not just snatching at it as may be what happens in our busy every day lives. Staring out into the park beyond the windows, allowing thoughts to drain away, I felt very relaxed in a 'yoga-esque' way. Then we looked into the faces of 3 strangers, appreciating their features and trying to remember them. I first looked at a young girl with lots of freckles, then an older lady with wrinkles and finally another young girl with her fringe in her eyes. Finally, we walked from the room, considering each movement as Marina chanted lift, stretch, touch, move, which to start with was very fluid but as time passed took on a weird quality that put me in mind of dictatorship, quite peculiar.
As we were released from the room an irregular pounding started up and an occasional scream/screech could be hear from somewhere else in the building, and these continued throughout the rest of the exhibition. We all dispersed into the surrounding areas and galleries of the exhibition. I first encountered Terence Koh dressed in white sitting on his heels staring out into the foyer, he moved very slowly and different emotions rippled across his face. I spent some time watching him and then moved on into the adjacent room where Nikhil Chopra stood in a pair of white baggy pants scribbled arcs of charcoal onto the wall. Through all of his movements he drew a charcoal line on the wall or floor. The floor and surfaces but not the walls were wrapped in brown paper, meaning as we walked through the gallery there was an audible rustling. At one end he had scribbled six foot high letters reading Sir Raja III, and around the room with brown paper parcels and a table with an opened parcel of charcoal sticks. He moved with purpose but also in a slightly frenzied manner. By the end he had covered much of the space and I wondered if the room would be set back to its untouched state or would continue on from here for the next day's performance.
The screaming sound was louder here, and as I passed into the next area by one set of stairs I came across Amanda Coogan in a yellow dress, poised on the banisters above a large 'haystack' which I found out must be made of crash mats or mattresses, for she screamed and then threw herself on to these. Then slid down from them and walked up the stairs again and to her perch. Through a glass door, I came into a room that smelled a little unpleasant, as the few people in front of me moved to the side, I could see a large triangle of shoes, singularly pointing towards the rear of the room, down the diagonal was a long long trestle table laden with earth, and my initial thoughts were that this is where the smell was coming from, but then I saw that atop the dirt was a pig's head at each end. Not that this was offensive in any way but it lent the air that smell of a butcher's shop, which I happen not to like very much. Rounding the table there were more shoes and a chair holding a pile of shredded paper. Walking on I found Alistair MacLennan sitting, dressed all in black, with a large black boot balanced on his head and two pairs of spectacles on his nose in front of closed eyes. He never moved, and when I returned later it seemed that he had stayed this way for the entire exhibition. The collection of objects and the stillness didn't connect with me as other elements of the day did, and I wonder what I couldn't feel/see.
The next room, also entered via a glass door, was full of the sound of untuned radios. Eunhye Hwang, with her long dark hair falling into her eyes, dressed in a peculiar combination of dark blue shirt, creamy stripy skirt and white kitten heels, was moving four radios emitting static noise around her body, allowing them to open up so that she was making changes in the depth of the noise. It was brilliant to watch and she moved with deliberate actions, involving the audience in her performance too. There was also a fridge in the room, with a plate of green jelly on top and a large radio, which I presumed wasn't on. Later on there was a large piece of the green jelly on the floor and a man was eating jelly from a plate and the artist continued to make her noise music.
I then went in search of the source of the clanging, finding muscly Nico Vascellari in black t-shirt and jeans at the bottom of a stairwell bringing a large gold coloured rock/piece of metal down on to a smooth stone. He was sat in a pool of dust, and had remarkably beautiful feet, coated in the dust. Behind him were a couple of microphones, and as he brought the rocks together a reverberation was heard and felt through out the building. The banging was incredibly loud, and I felt the need to put my fingers in my ears, but he had no protection. I couldn't linger too long as it did hurt my ears, but the feeling of the vibrations through the floor were good. In the stair well at the other end of the building I found Kira, slowly falling in a very controlled manner down the stairs. When I got there, she had made it down about a quarter of the staircase and was upside down sprawled across the hard stone stairs, wearing just a pair of black driving gloves and a bruise across her shoulder. From being upside down her face was a deep purple and she was deeply concentrating on her slow slow movement. The deep purple colouration really made it look like she had been falling down the stairs, in perhaps a nasty accident, but as she righted herself, still lying across the steps her face returned to a more normal colour. Then upside down again, I moved closer and she opened her eyes to look at me and I felt a great connection, that she was observing me too.
Going past Ivan Civic clad in black climbing a wall displaying a video of his return to Sarajevo after ten years, I went upstairs and came across Marie Cool moving from table to table and other areas of the gallery, where she was re-enacting sculptural pieces, rhythmically moving string or papers or piles of salt, or walking past a line of folded paper so that her movement caused it to wave in the eddies of the air. The light here was beautiful, filtering through high windows onto the white walls. This was a very tranquil exhibit, and in great contrast to the dark room I next visited. Here, I was first read the 'rules of engagement' by a lab-coated assistant, I was to go in and 'worship at the alter' or words to that effect. Inside was an auditorium in the dark, with only lighting around a plywood construction on the stage. There were several other people inside in a cue before this, and one at the top of the steps feeding a mouth through a small 'glory hole', this was all we could see of Fedor Pavolv-Andreevich, who was making a homage to Vitaly Titov who had lived for twenty days attached to someone else's body. There was a mechanical voice-over too. I felt uneasy, whether this was because of the language used to describe what was to happen or whether there was something more I don't know, but I made myself stay and was instructed to wash my hands and then given a price of card that indicated I should feed the mouth a piece of cheese and tell it a nursery rhyme. Never one to remember nursery rhymes I eventually dredged up hickory dickory dock and felt particularly foolish reciting it. Not a comfortable experience all round, whereas all the others were so.
Jamie Isentein was barely visible beneath a pile of sheep and bears skins, playing and Melati Suryodarmo had yet to make it through the visa system so this left one artist to see, Yingmei Duan, naked moved in a vulnerable way around a darkened gallery. May be because I had already seen many things I spent just a few minutes with her and then seeing I only had half an hour left made another circuit of the performers, until a gong sounded again and we were all gently ushered towards the exit. Relieved of my lab coat I wandered out into bright day light and hot footed it back to the train station feeling contemplative and relaxed. All the artists had looked weary by the end of the 3hours we had been observing them, and I wondered how they would fair over the next two weeks as the exhibition continues.

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