Marina Abramović presents …
Manchester International Festival
Whitworth Art Gallery
3 — 19 July 2009
Marina Abramović, Nikhil Chopra, Ivan Civic, Amanda Coogan, Marie Cool Fabio Balducci, Yingmei Duan, Eunhye Hwang, Jamie Isenstein, Terence Koh, Alastair MacLennan, Kira O’Reilly, Fedor Pavlov-Andreevich, Melati Suryodarmo, Nico Vascellari, and Yang Fudong.
I was at Whitworth Gallery Manchester on the final day of fourteen.
We were given white lab coats upon entry and shown to a large room towards the front side of the gallery (where later we would be fed tea, water and biscuits throughout the length of the performances). As part of the ticketing process, each audience member was contracted to spend the entire four hours with the performances/installations.
Abramović presented The Drill (mentioning a brief hierarchy of art with music on top, and performance art a close second, and noting how great we looked in our white coats) with various exercises to tune our senses to alternate ways of noticing. The tasks were familiar (looking at a fellow audience member’s eyes without blinking, drinking a glass of water over 10 minutes with eyes closed, measured walking in time (the clumsiest—and last—of the exercises as we entered the rest of the gallery)) yet it was a provocative way to support our access to the works. I was excited by the care we were given, and the way in which this simple device stretched my initial engagements.
Of the fourteen performances filling the Whitworth (Abramović remarked that this was the first time that an entire gallery’s collection has been removed in order to enable performance artists to fully inhabit a space), I’d like to talk to the two that have stayed with me strongest.
Closest to the main entrance was Terence Koh, in a delicate white costume (with cheap pearls sewn onto it) and legs painted white, shunting every so slowly across the room. His face was dug deep into the floor, and his physical actions were worm-like, drawing his legs slightly towards his centre then shifting his head and torso towards his (unknown) objective. As I left I noticed that two or three pearls had broken off his costume, and later still noticed that these had been (accidentally?) kicked by other audience members, erasing his trail. The white from his legs had marked the floor, and conversely the floor had dirtied his costume (on the upper side) from previous performances. I felt Koh’s travels acutely, the strength and gentility of his presence, the passing of his body through the space.
Nico Vascellari was located at the bottom of the stairwell just to the left of the main entrance, yet the noise he was making was present throughout the entire space. He sat on the floor, covered in the dust of the rock that he was banging with a dented (yet shaped) lump of metal. There were two microphones close to his work, and a speaker at the very top of the two flights of stairs. He simply tapped the bell onto his rock, varying the weight and rhythm of the strikes, obsessively breaking and shaping the rock. At full force, my body felt shocked by the cacophony. It was at once violent, transcendent and beautiful, and I am shaking in memory as I write this (10 days later). It was a deeply affecting work: mysterious, simple, and ‘readable’ on a profoundly visceral level, and I feel changed by it … as if the pelting of my body with this sound has somehow penetrated my skin.