Marina Abramovic: 512 Hours

It seems as though Marina Abramovic’s fame, as of late, has increased somewhat sharply. Although those interested and/or involved in the arts have known of her work since the 1970s, watched as she has flourished into one of the foremost performance artists of her generation and beyond, her celebrity today has crossed over to the mainstream.
Not that it particularly matters to Abramovic, to be well-known that is. Fame is so transient anyway, so feverish in the moment of course, but fleeting in a historical context – i.e. lacking a substantial cultural legacy.
Nevertheless, for now, this growing awareness helps extend her reach to segments of people with no interest in art as a whole (past and present), let alone niche offshoots where there is no physical example of a work. That is a welcome development.
How then to broach someone so enigmatic, whose art reflects her exhilaratingly unshackled ideas about what it is to be a sentient creature, where one’s body lies between a relatively knowable reality and the unknowable great beyond and how time is best utilised?
Well, you can’t really, unless of course she explicitly outlines the purpose behind every work, a somewhat administrative approach to art if ever there was one. Who is to say that even she truly knows what she is doing, compelled as artists are to write, paint and score words, paintings and music compositions.
Not being sure of anything, is quite extraordinary, and this is certainly how one must feel when experiencing her latest show 512 Hours at the Serpentine Gallery. Until August 24th 2014, between the hours of 10am-4pm, six days a week, she will engage with audience members in an empty space in whatever way she sees fit.
Abramovic considers it an experiment. The outcome is ambiguous with the only certainty being that everyone is present for extended periods of time. Everything else – the distraction of existence – remains outside the gallery. And so begins a journey somewhere. At the end, there’s either something or nothing.
“Today, our attention is less than the television advertisement,” she once said. “We’re looking at six or seven problems constantly. We’re living in the disturbed societies of cities. I think modern technology is one of the worst things human beings have invented.”
512 comes across as a philosophical meditation of what can happen when aesthetics and materials are made to disappear. It is therefore a Socratic exercise in reflection, an opportunity to think and wonder without reason – arguably a luxury for most people.
If it all sounds rather opaque, consider what Pablo Picasso once said when asked what the meaning was behind his art – a story that has been recounted by Abramovic. His reply was: “Do you ever know what the birds are singing? You don’t. But you listen to them anyway.”
With art, she has said, it is not essential to understand, to construct meaning. Sometimes it is important just to look, to experience, to be part of something, even if there seems to be no lucidity in what that is. The secret is there doesn’t have to be. Nobody knows what they’re doing anyway. Just go with it.
Cadogan Tate specialises in art transportation, fine art storage and art logistics, helping galleries, museums and collectors manage their collections.