How the queen Marina Abramovic made me count a heap of rice and lentils

 

“Look, what I want is to be fully present in my life – to be really where you are,

contemporary with yourself in your life, giving full attention to the world, which includes you”

Susan Sontag            

 

Last Sunday I took part of the last Marina Abramovic performance 512 hours at the Serpentine Gallery. We arrived before the opening time. At 10 am she was there, at the entrance, welcoming  us: quiet and smiling as a queen or as a retired dominatrix. Not sure if 512 hours is a great piece of art, probably it isn’t.  However Abramovic has still something to say, as an experienced artist, as a wise person.  She asks us to be fully present, to forget smartphones, technologies, to forget past and future.  It has been like an atheist pray session. She took me twice, the first time to stand on a platform, wearing impenetrable headphones, leaving me on thinking in the present. I can’t deny that it was not so easy for me  to think about nothing. Thoughts of food to buy, bills to pay and my uncomfortable wet boots. Not easy to be fully present in the moment, however nice to give a try. Later she took me again, maybe because I was a bit anarchist, behaving more as a spectator, than an actor.  She gently made me to seat on a school table, where a pile of mixed lentils and rice was waiting to be divided in 2 groups. Actually she also asked me to count them, but I disobeyed. Dear teacher Marina, it was clearly too much!   I guess that I spent more than an hour to diligently conclude my task. I thought about my hate to clean vegetable as beans or potatoes, and that I was there, gathering lentils and rice, just because Abramovic told me! A guy close to me, it was doing the same stuff, but actually he was aligning each grain. O my god! Probably he is still there, probably Marina (gently) pushed him out  at 6 o’ clock. Anyway to be honest, rather than in a mindfulness session, I felt more in an assembly line!

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After that I moved to the other room, full of camp beds. Some participants were actually sleeping (as a friend of mine – not really mindfulness) ! A raining Sunday morning, a slight hangover, more than an hour gathering grain… I was really happy to lie down for a while, and so I felt sleeping. What can I say? Marina Abramovic made me relaxed, so relaxed to sleep in an art venue full of strangers. That is really TRENDY! My sister told me that she had never seen me so quiet, suggesting to gather rice and lentils every morning instead of my daily running. 

Abramovic has been a great artist, in all her contradictions, all her idiosyncrasies.  After the performance, I ended up to buy Susan Sontag: The Complete Rolling Stones Interview  at the Serpentine Library. While I was reading that book, I realized how much Sontag and Abramovic are similar, in 2 totally different ways. They want to be fully present, they want to embrace everything, they both say that they don’t want to be leaders, however they are ended to be a sort of prophets for many people. That is most caused by their magnetism, along with a particular bravery to give their –often contrarian-  opinion.

I do not like prophets. I watched some interview videos taken out of the Serpentine. Many people spoke about that experience as incredibly illuminating. A girl said that she had never realized before how much lentils are beautiful. Maybe I am a cynic, maybe just dumber, but my opinion on lentils is not changed: they are cheap and quite good to make a soup.

 

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