I Tried the 'Abramović Method' (And I Think I Passed Out)
Needless to say, my experience at the 'Terra Comunal – Marina Abramović + MAI' exhibit in São Paulo made me feel a lot of things.
Cover shot by Hick Duarte
A version of this post originally appeared on The Creators Project Brazil.
Since the beginning of March, the Terra Comunal – Marina Abramović + MAI exhibit at SESC Pompeia in São Paulo has been presenting a retrospective of the Serbian artist. In partnership with the Marina Abramović Institute (MAI), the show recaps iconic performances such as The Artist Is Present, 512 Hours, The House with the Ocean View, and studies Abramović has been making with Brazilian crystals since the end of the 80s, while offering Meetings With Abramović, seven talks on life and art with the artist herself, and eight performances picked by Marina Abramović, Lynsey Peisinger, and Paula Garcia. But perhaps what's been captivating audiences most is the possibility to engage in the Abramović Method.
Sharing space with the exhibit itself, at SESC’s community center, the Abramović Method is an experience reserved for up to 96 people, wherein a series of meditation and introspection exercises developed over the artist's 40-year career are carried out over the course of two-and-a-half hours. All you have to do to take part in it is fill out a form on the exhibit’s website and confirm it by email.
According to a video Abramović made for the Method's site, her goal for the whole experience is to decelerate the busy rhythms that prevent audiences from fully appreciating art:
After confirming their names at the entrance, many leave their belongings in lockers which are exclusive to participants. Some opt to take off their shoes and accessories before entering the room where it all takes place. I put away my backpack, took off my flats and got together with other 90 people around the entrance, a kind of waiting room with some TVs.
The first 30 minutes consisted of muscle relaxation, eyesight, and breathing exercises. Abramović herself sets the tone in a video shown on every TV in the room, while Lynsey Peisinger is responsible for showing how each and every activity is performed. The group then splits in two, and each participant is given a headphone that serves as insulation from external sounds. Each half is split into two more halves, and from then on, given two hours for four kinds of exercises: standing upright, sitting down, laying down, and walking around in slow-motion—all in total silence. The facilitator, as the Method instructor is called, took us to the area where the sitdown portion of the exercises would take place.
In front of us there were several wooden chairs and benches, each and every one of them embedded with crystals. I sat on a backless bench and soon shared the space with a woman right behind me. I tried to sit straight and loosen up my shoulders as much as I could, which worked out nicely. My mind started clearing out extraneous thoughts, and by the end, I had the feeling of “turning to myself." It's a weird feeling once you realize it, and it’s not as easy as it sounds—especially if you started to think about your breathing, whether or not your posture was comfortable, if it was too hot to be leaning against a stranger or not—you gotta think as little as possible.
After 30 minutes had gone by, the facilitator made a sign for us to stand and move to the back of the room, where there were some stools (all wooden) and some totems, with three crystals strategically positioned to face our heads, chests, and lower abdomens. Half of the group stood up on the totems, while I and the other half sat down on the stools, in pairs, with one person facing the other.
This is one of the harder exercises: it just isn't easy to stare at a stranger for 15 full minutes and control yourself enough to not burst out laughing. That being said (and the desire to laugh gone), I focused on the eyes of the guy in front of me and entered a sort of trance after a while. It was a moment of pure emptiness, and it felt we both had “aligned” in that same feeling. We didn’t heed to anything around us or look around to see what the others were doing.
Then we changed positions with the people standing at the totems. Stretching my legs really helped relaxing my back after spending 45 minutes sitting in the same position, and being able to touch the crystals—with my hands, head and the rest of my body—proved to me that Abramović may be right in theorizing that crystals catalyze and release a lot of energy for those interacting with them. Getting out of the trance of staring a total stranger wasn’t much of a shock when the rose quartz cooled off my forehead and hands—and it wasn’t just a thermal sensation.
The next exercise involved laying down on the wooden beds on the other side of the room. Each bed had a crystal embedded onto its headboard. We each chose our beds and laid down, and for some reason, music started resonating in my head. Then, silence. When I finally came to, I realized I had dozed off and the facilitator was waking me up. It wasn’t like I was sleepy due to exhaustion—I wasn’t even tired—it felt like the result of all that introspection, quite possibly my relaxation hitting a peak.
Finally, we were told to traverse the room in slow-motion. A facilitator led us, guiding the others to walk in the same fashion, almost dragging their feet. It was funny seeing some people in the back getting ahead of the others, but it was difficult keeping a slow walking pace. For those of us who spend our days running up and down the street to get on the subway or catch the bus, it takes total focus. As the majority of the group reached the wall on the other side of the room, the Method ended.
If Marina Abramović's aim was meditation, she ends up with even more than that. A Tumblr created for the exhibit gathers a series of reports from people who've experienced the Method and shared their impressions: beyond the calm, the activities drew out the sensibilities of various participants, an awareness of material and of immaterial existence itself, perhaps the essence of all of the artist’s performances. There are no paintings or sculptures in Terra Comunal or in the Abramović Method—the art goes where the body allows.
Translated by Thiago “Índio” Silva