I parked my car outside the Benaki Museum's Pireos Street annex and turned off the radio after listening to a news bulletin on the ongoing refugee crisis. I wondered whether my mind would succeed in isolating itself from the morose reality, even just for an hour.
That is precisely the aim of the Abramovic Method, taught to visitors attending “As One,” an exhibition co-organized by the NEON cultural organization and the Marina Abramovic Institute (MAI). So what is the method? In a nutshell, world renowned performance artist Abramovic has developed a series of exercises for the body and mind aimed at reconnecting with our lost selves which have been crushed beneath the pressure of contemporary Western life.
“Do you know what we're suffering from today? We rush to work and spend hours watching television. It's as if we're holding a remote control and change channel every now and then. We have never really tried to take a good look at what our needs are. Our life is a zapping process and we have yet to realize it. We don't live our lives, we consume them,” Abramovic told me in a past interview.
Journalists and artists were invited to try the method before the project's official opening. “As One” is considered to be Athens's visual arts event of the year, including a rich program of happenings dedicated to performance.
At the Benaki's Pireos Street annex, visitors are obliged to leave all personal items, including mobile phones and watches at the cloakroom and are not allowed to speak while inside the museum. We were greeted by black-clad “facilitators” (as Abramovic refers to them), who showed us a series of breathing and stretching exercises to relax the body and mind. We were then given noise-canceling headphones (also obligatory) and proceeded to the exhibition's main part.
The facilitators held our hands, leading us to walk more slowly, something which was already starting to have an effect. The first thing I was asked to do was sit on a chair and stare at a red surface on the wall for as long as I wanted. As soon as I stood up, I was led onto a small podium along with other visitors and asked to close my eyes and take deep breaths. Again, I was free to stand there for as long as I wished for.
I was then led to a small area where I sat facing a facilitator. We stared at each other for a long time – I believe I could sketch his face rather accurately. Then I joined a group of other people at a table, where a facilitator placed a mix of uncooked rice and lentils in front of me. I was asked to separate and count the beans – I did not count them all. The next step was to lie down on a bed where I was tenderly covered with a blanket. In the final phase of the process I was blindfolded and walked slowly so as not to bump into other people.
So how did I find my experience as an Abramovic Method guinea pig? To begin with, the sound insulation forced me to listen to my heartbeat, which was fast to start with, clearly a sign of stress. Gradually, it slowed down, leading to a strange sense of tranquillity and slower pace in movement. I started feeling my body in its entirety and realized that I tend to grind my teeth without realizing it and that my back is completely hunched from spending too much time working at a computer. Pains from past surgeries and injuries resurfaced. In the space of an hour my mind left the migrant issue and I realized something quite serious: I'm a refugee in my own body, as if it's hosting me temporarily and does not belong to me. Well done, Marina. Thank you.
"As One" runs at the Benaki Museum Pireos Street annex through April 24. For more information, go to www.benaki.gr