Marina Abramović’s Gates and Portals overview – why give up your liberty to those wafer-thin concepts? | Artwork

Marina Abramović’s 2010 New York present The Artist Is Current made her a world icon, however she shouldn’t be personally current within the mystical extravaganza of her new present Gates and Portals. She did flip up on the press launch, nevertheless, to elucidate that since turning into a star she needs to take away herself from her work, to permit it to talk for itself. It is a tall order. As I discovered at that occasion, she’s a rare presence. She composes herself with magnetic stillness, and when she speaks she appears to time her phrases to some underlying rhythm of breath and heartbeat. Her charisma and uncanny agelessness maintain you hypnotised.

Volunteers skilled in what she calls the Abramović Methodology sadly can’t reproduce these unearthly qualities. It’s as if Judi Dench have been to coach a bunch of individuals within the Dench Methodology and get them to carry out her well-known roles: simply not the identical. Worse, it focuses your thoughts on the concepts behind the artwork – and they’re wafer-thin.

Contemplation in a Gates and Portals installation.
Contemplation in a Gates and Portals set up. {Photograph}: Thierry Bal/Trendy Artwork Oxford

The Abramović Methodology as practised right here includes a number of gradual strolling, mild coercion and sensory deprivation. Simply as you’re questioning how lengthy you’ll have to stand by the wall together with your eyes closed, they transfer you to a different spot. It’s like being in The Blair Witch Venture, an impression confirmed by a glimpse of Abramović on display screen, reacting in reverie to some very Blair Witchy objects from Oxford’s Pitt Rivers Museum.

The fussy strikes from one house to a different deprive it of energy. Lastly you’re led to the grandest, supposedly climactic chamber, in the midst of which is a gate or “portal”: a tall rectangular body studded with glowing crystals. You’re ritualistically walked via it, then urged to lie down on a mat. To course of the religious journey you’ve taken, presumably.

It felt like dying to me. And simply after I thought it was over, they took me to the glowing gate once more. To face in it this time, absorbing its radiance.

Is that what Abramović needs to share, a revelation of New Age perception? Gates and Portals is providing a spiritual, not an aesthetic expertise. To really feel renewed, cleansed and reworked by this beating down of the self could be to just accept its mystical perception. And that that means boils right down to believing within the energy of a glowing portal to vary you from one state to a different. To expertise it you surrender your liberty of thought and motion for an hour and 1 / 4.

Followers of participatory artwork declare it subverts the “passivity” of the normal museum or gallery, however certainly that is the really passive expertise, uncritically submitting to the collective ceremony. In contrast, if you’re passive if you discover a museum assortment, you aren’t doing it correctly. In actual fact, a go to to the Pitt Rivers Museum – the place Abramović just lately held a residency, and a path helps you to comply with her analysis – is a reminder of simply how inspiring an old school assortment might be.

Abramović spent her time in its atmospheric Victorian anthropology gallery with its stupendously unusual shows, from masks to coffins to a primeval Ukrainian determine nobody may even date. But it was the English folklore that gripped her. On a video she’s conducting a seance with a witch’s ladder from Nineteenth-century Somerset, a rope into which feathers have been knotted. Abruptly her eyes open as broad as portals to a different universe and he or she stares at you as if possessed.

Revelation … Marina Abramović with a 19th-century witch’s ladder.
Revelation … Marina Abramović with a Nineteenth-century witch’s ladder. {Photograph}: Tim Hand/Marina Abramovic/Royal Academy

You too can discover the “witch in a bottle” she studied. That is, purportedly, precisely what it says on the label: a plump, tightly stoppered glass bottle inside which the spirit of a witch is imprisoned. It was collected close to Hove, Sussex, in 1915 by the historian and folklorist Margaret Murray, from an previous girl who advised her: “They do say there be a witch in it and if let un on the market it’s a peck o’ bother.” The museum has by no means opened it.

Right here too are the three ring-like loops of knotted rowan wooden that characteristic in her video at Trendy Artwork Oxford. These have been catalogued in 1893 as coming from a home in Yorkshire the place they have been placed on the backyard railings to ward away witches.

These objects are entrancing, and I felt grateful to Abramović for main me to seek out them. However with out her as performer to hyperlink all of it collectively, there doesn’t appear any connection between her analysis and the oppressive, laborious ritual of her Gates and Portals. It’s all an indication of why artwork can draw on faith and magic however shouldn’t be the identical factor. By attempting to be greater than artwork, this turns into a lot much less.

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