- An introduction to The Marina Abramović Method. Instruction Cards to Reboot Your Life
- The set’s packaging
- Browsing through the cards
- The difficulties of the tasks
- The tasks undertaken by the author
- The conclusions
This beautifully presented set of 30 cards is described as a way of reaching higher consciousness and confronting life’s challenges. Radical self-help for the seriously artistic, if you will.
Taking the Challenge
I have read reviews of these cards – most seem to be a short cut and paste job from the press release (which is well written, admittedly). But I wanted to do more than a surface investigation of the famous The Marina Abramović Method. With Ian, a fellow art lover (and DailyArt Magazine‘s guest author – you can read his article here), we set ourselves the challenge of carrying out some of the activities described on the cards. Read on to see what happened to us!
30 instructions developed by Marina Abramović with the purpose of teaching endurance, concentration, perception, self control, willpower, and confrontation of mental and physical limits.
The Marina Abramović Method. Instruction Cards to Reboot Your Life, Laurence King Publishing Ltd, 2022.
Opening the package is a pleasure. This is a very tactile set of goodies all contained within a box that will sit nicely next to your easel or on your coffee table. The box contains a book describing the method, plus a set of quality cards with images of work by Marina Abramović on one side and instructions for an activity on the other. Oh, and a blindfold and earplugs – so far, so intriguing!
We scattered the cards across a big table, image side up, and browsed. Some instructions evoked a “wow” or a raised eyebrow. Some seemed preposterous, some resonated. There is something for everyone in here. We ruled out the activities that seemed impossible, and saved a few each that we agreed to carry out across a whole day.
Artists of all kinds use altered states to create great art. Indeed, some say that all great art comes from a place of altered consciousness. How do you transcend your normal, daily mental state? It isn’t so difficult. Drugs, hallucinogens, herbs, and toxic plants can all be used – many illegal, of course. Trance dance, whirling dervishes, and the frenzy of Dionysus or Bacchus are all about altered states. The Method uses kinder (and legal) processes, so let’s dive in.
The fragile passage between one reality and another.
The Marina Abramović Method. Instruction Cards to Reboot Your Life, Laurence King Publishing Ltd, 2022.
The activity cards we discarded were either impractical, way too long, or just didn’t appeal. Some were failures (we’re new to this, forgive us). “Release static electricity through a strand of your hair“ – or hair-pulling as we re-named it, is definitely one for people like Marina with long straight hair. Pulling very short hair, or wiry, curly hair, from root to tip just hurt – a lot.
We also struggled with “find an object you love and an object you hate.” We felt that “hating” objects seemed a bit of an extreme reaction, after all, they are just objects. And if you had something you hated in your home, wouldn’t you just get rid of it or replace it?
“Open and close a door for up to three hours.” Um, just no, thank you. We desperately wanted to “walk backwards with a mirror outside.” But we live in rough, mountainous terrain and neither of us can risk a broken hip at our age. For the same reason, “walk in a straight line for an hour“ was most regretfully put aside.
Write Your Name
We thought “write your name slowly” was an easy one. Oh, how wrong we were. We both failed terribly. We went back to the instructions, thinking we had misinterpreted them, and tried again. Nope, we could not write our names slowly, just once, and have that take one hour. Result – abject failure and some irritated swearing. But remember, many of these activities are about preparing for intense durational performances. Marina Abramović has set herself on fire, and allowed the public to cut, gouge, and harm her body in a six-hour performance piece. We were never going to reach her standards. But we refused to be disheartened, and we continued on, in the search for our well-hidden alter artistic egos.
“Make Five Sounds“ involves repeating a sound whilst focusing on a part of the body. Repeating specific words, phrases or mantras is a common practice throughout many ancient religions and spiritual practices, and it did focus the mind incredibly well. For Ian, this was the process that got a total thumbs up. It started off with a bit of giggling, and a feeling of unease. But from there, it moved to quite an intense experience, with time stretching out in an unusual way. At one point, he was laughing with heady and unrestrained pleasure. He reported that it was an incredibly interesting experience.
We tree-huggers are quite comfortable getting out into the wilderness and having a bit of cuddle. The sight, smell and sound of a forest is scientifically proven to improve your well-being. So I headed out, found a tree, put my arms around it, and tried to “complain to a tree”. But I couldn’t. It felt wrong to breathe in the scent of resin, to be present with this incredible and ancient life-form, and then moan at it about my silly, human hang-ups. It was a learning experience though. Turns out that hanging out with the trees makes my problems seem smaller, and not worth bothering the forest giants with.
Ian bravely volunteered to “explore a space without use of sight or sound”. With the eye-mask on and earplugs in, he tried to navigate my small dining room. This was intriguing. It’s a space he knows well, but even within a moment of losing sensory input, he couldn’t work out where he was in the space. He also realized that without a timer or access to his watch, he couldn’t know how long to continue. He found that feeling unsure of what might be in front of him, he used his feet to test the space, much more than his hands. The Method recommends to go further with this and try moving through a space with other people in it. That could be very interesting.
I have done the “hold a mutual gaze“ exercise within a women’s group. In a safe space, this can be an incredibly moving and transformative experience. But to do it for such a prolonged period (an hour) was excruciating. “Look at your reflection” was similarly strange and unsettling. That says volumes about my state of mind, I imagine. And as a warning, if you have anxiety or depression, or other mental health issues, think carefully about doing the Method, and choose your exercises wisely.
The “inhale and exhale forcefully” exercise left Ian dizzy with a pulsing heartbeat still discernible even after some time. He said holding breath in had a physical tension that felt like anxiety. But the out-breath held such relief. The focus on the breath felt profoundly soothing to him, but for me, I quickly veered into hyperventilation. The words for spirit and breath often share the same root word in many languages. Breath is one of the simplest ways to move energy through the body. You need no tools or props, no special training. You simply focus on and consciously alter your breathing.
The feminist in me got immediately pumped with anger at being instructed to “clean a floor on my hands and knees”. I’ll be honest, my floors are not my pride and joy. Neither are my knees. Cleaning tends to be a quick, thoughtless activity in this house, operating on an ‘only when absolutely necessary’ basis. But, I recognized and acknowledged my irritation, and prepared the hot soapy water. And what a surprise. Doing a task carefully, mindfully and slowly created such a feeling of calm. I wasn’t being witnessed cleaning on my knees, so I could throw away the patriarchal shackles of what it looked like, and concentrate on what it felt like. Perhaps the opposite of the work of American Mierle Laderman Ukele in the 1960s. Her Maintenance Art explored the life-sustaining work involved in mothering. She argued that her work as a woman and a parent was the material from which her art was made. Ukele makes clear the essential role of invisible and underpaid work in a culture that views the production of art in a deeply gendered way.
If the grandmother of performance art has a new project to share with the world, then you need to take a look. We thoroughly enjoyed our immersion in The Method. Many of these practices are inspired by rituals and practices that already exist across the world. Breathwork, chanting, sensory deprivation, etc. have been used by spiritual practitioners for millennia – they work! Ian pointed out that some were also very similar to warm-up exercises used in the theatre. Some of the activities seemed preposterous – fitting them into a normal day or a normal life seems out of the question. If you have a job or kids, then much of this is going to sound like wishful thinking. But, we still got something out of it. We took a pause, we tried something new.
In a secular society, The Method offers us spiritual resonance without the oppressive misogyny of organized religion. There is no doubt that Marina Abramović is a charismatic and complicated artist. Such people can bend towards narcissism, they can be dangerous to the people around them, and Marina Abramović is not without her critics. But such artists can also open windows to other worlds. Whether we want to look through that window is up to us.
Our final conclusion is that The Marina Abramović Method is a disarming combination of genuine and fascinating artistic process, mixed in with a liberal sprinkling of straight out nonsense. But one woman’s nonsense is another woman’s genius. And The Abramović Institute is visited by the rich and famous, including Lady Gaga. To strive, to experiment, to reach for higher consciousness can seem foolish and silly. But why not? Isn’t folly and error a vital part of the human experience? We encourage children to play, have fun and experiment, but maybe we adults need a daily dose of that too. Ian wants you to know he will carry on breathing (and laughing). I won’t be counting every grain of rice I put in the curry tonight. But I may well run in a fixed circle when I get up tomorrow. Well, maybe.
The Marina Abramović Method. Instruction Cards to Reboot Your Life by Laurence King Publishing Ltd is available here for purchase!