Marina Abramovic, the iconoclastic performance artist (aren’t they all?) was in Queens today to talk about her “legacy” in Hudson, N.Y., a project that it turns out was nearly built in Brooklyn. “It was impossible to find the right location,” she explained to a crowd of nearly a hundred arts journalists assembled inside the giant Kraftwerk dome in the MoMA PS1 courtyard.
Instead, she settled on the upstate town along the river with which it shares a name, for the new Marina Abramovic Institute, the embodiment of her life’s work, but also more, she insisted. “Why I didn’t want to make a foundation?” she asked herself. “Because a foundation shows only your own art. For me, it was important to create a situation for other forms, as well.”
“Why my name?” she continued. “I feel like I could become a brand, like Coca-Cola, or Levis for jeans. My names is now about performing art.”
But will crowds truly flock to Hudson to engage in long-duration art, as Ms. Abramovic characterizes the work to take place at her institute, where “who is the performer and who is the audience is impossible to tell,” Serge Le Borgne, the institute’s director, said.
To achieve this, she is taking an old tennis court that was a theater before that and given it to equally iconoclastic architect Rem Koolhaas and his New York partner Shohei Shigematsu to transform. They have inserted a “white box” into the space, with room for up to 650. Around this is arrayed a series of “towers” containing different parts of the building’s program.
The experience will be built around The Abramovic Method, a series of “experiments”/installations traveling the world, currently at the PAC in Milan, to be followed by an installation in Prague, then elsewhere, as they make their way toward a final resting place in Hudson.
It all begins with lab coats, headphones that block all sound and a contract that commits participants to stay for 2.5 hours. (Ms. Abramovic talked about six, 10-, 18-, even 360-hour non-stop performances at the institute, though the latter would likely be a film piece). Then the audience will be divided into two groups, one that watches a traditional performance (Audience A) and another that watches the first audience from bleachers and viewing platforms (Audience B), sometimes with the aid of binoculars. “Like bird-watching,” Ms. Abramovic said.
There will be seven chairs “for human use and spirit use,” which from what we can surmise involves a set of chairs each with a smaller chair placed next to it, for a spirit. “If you don’t see the spirit,” said Ms. Abramovic, “It’s your problem. But it’s there.”
Then there are 21 “standing, sitting and lying objects,” that people will interact with—for example, a person sitting in a chair with a canopy that had a cluster of quartz crystals hanging overhead. “The object with the person,” said Ms. Abramovic, “is the work.” She showed slides of people lying on beds, standing and sitting in all manner of contraptions made of wood, copper and quartz. These materials are a recurring theme within the institute, as well, which has a Crystal Chamber and a Levitation Room—where magnets will be employed to suspend guests with no support—all meant for meditation and performance.
Apart from a lot of sitting, standing, lying and watching, it does not yet appear that much is actually going to happen. Maybe that’s why they designed the special viewing chairs—something between a wheel chair and a massage chair—so that viewers who fall asleep can be wheeled away into a special sleep chamber.
The entire project is planned not only as a catalyst for performance art—and the Abramovic brand—but also Hudson, a still slightly down-on-its-luck Victorian town two hours from New York. This is a fact Ms. Abramovic and her team kept stressing: the distance was perhaps a challenge, but also critical to the process. “It’s the right place, the right location, it’s really comfortable,” she said. “There is less stress.” She pointed to the long tradition of performance art in the town, where Martha Graham often took up residence.
The hope is to turn surrounding open spaces into art fairs (the town is now home to the NADA fair each summer) and film festivals, satellites of this bigger project. The city as performance. “This place will be unique in the world, there will be nothing else like it,” Ms. Abramovic said.
She emphasized the needs to raise funds, as well as the possibility of a hotel-type venue nearby, for all her pilgrims. “Optimistic point of view is we raise the money next year, open at the end of 2014, that is Plan A,” Ms. Abramovic said. “Plan B is whenever we find the money, we will open.” There is the possibility for creating an interim space, with some performance without all the separate spaces.
So wouldn’t this all be easier in Brooklyn—the fundraising, the hotels, all of it? “Hudson rocks,” Ms. Abramovic responded when Gallerist inquired after the press conference. “We’re fed up with big, urban areas and shit.”
“What’s very special about Brooklyn, for me, I was very interested in Bushwick,” Ms. Abramovic continued. “But when we came to Hudson, we liked what we found. A practical reason that we didn’t, though, is if you wanted to do something, you had to clean it up, everything was so contaminated, it would have cost as much to clean up the building as to buy it.”
“In the end, it was not worth it. We like Hudson.”