The Cleaner: Marina Abramovic

I didn’t snap one photo other than one of the line to get in and one of me freezing with a hour so or more to go in the 0 degree weather at the Moderna Museet in Stockholm. Cameras, phones, shoes, jackets, watches–all forbidden in the performance space. But my philosophy is that photography isn’t always about taking images.  It is also about the art of seeing and experiencing, and in this case, being in the present moment. This weekend provided me with little jewels of inspiration that I will always carry with me.

Upon seeing that Marina would be in Stockholm giving a performance–as well as the museum hosting her first retrospective exhibition–I booked a flight and two weeks later was on my way.

Engagement in the performance started earlier in the week.  Me sat in my office getting updates about wait times, and reminders to dress warmly, and people gushing about how amazing it was. Looking back on it now, I wonder if this was intentional on Marina’s part.

When I finally arrived in Sweden, I was ready to embrace the cold weather.  The doors to the Eric Ericssen hall opened at 2, so I thought I would wander over to the museum at 11:30 just to suss out the situation.  It was a stroke of luck because people were already lining up.  Even though I hadn’t gotten a snack or used the loo, I immediately jumped in line. There were probably about 100 people before me.

It was in a way like descending into Dante’s levels of hell, though with cold slowly seeping in as minutes turned into hours. Armed with layers of clothing, I donned the gloves and hat and woolen scarf I had tucked away in my bag and whiled away the time by reading Marina’s latest memoir.  But soon my hands, while gloved, began to stiffen from the creeping in of the cold.  So with one hand warming at a time, I continued on reading.  Soon though, the cold had taken over and all I could do was stand there, watching the crowds of people heading into the regular museum looking at us like we were mad while I shifted from foot to foot–a feeble attempt to keep my blood moving.

Speculation started in the line about numbers of people being let in.  We were told finally that 250 people would get in at first, then it was a one in one out situation.  We chortled and finally admitted how bloody cold we all were.  The end was in sight.

Then at 5 minutes to 2 another museum worker came by and said we probably had another hour. I swear my toes froze up even more and I thought I wouldn’t make it.  But then the line started to move and slowly slowly, 10 people by 1o people were admitted into the hall. What happened after that is nothing but magical and actually, difficult to describe.

We entered the room one by one.  The excitement of finally getting in to the building–as well as the warm environment–channeled my high energy forward into the center of the room, but this was quickly interrupted by the grasping of a soft, gentle, but firm hand that literally appeared by my side.  This movement directed my energy back into myself, and into the hand of the man who slowly guided me to my spot in the room.  Walking in meditative steps, I was brought to one of the designated areas where people were just there, being in the moment. Some people were sitting in chairs, some standing as I was, and some laying on the floor.  All the while, singers sang songs that transcended any genre, but what it did do was to create this womb like experience that I will never forget.

After standing for about 30 minutes, Marina walked in.  It was clear this was not the time to crank my head around trying to catch a glimpse of her so I just followed her with my eyes–feeling very stalkerish– until she left my sight.  When she did, I closed my eyes with everybody else and just basked in the amazing, warm, nourishing environment that she had created using only energy, humans, and song.  It was amazing.

Eventually I was moved to the area on the floor where I laid in a savasana like trance, thinking I could stay there all day.  But alas, I recalled that people were only being let in as someone went out, so I decided to soak in the good vibes as much as possible in those final moments and slowly made my way out.  When I finally had my earthly possessions back in hand, I noticed that I had been in there for 2.5 hours.  What an experience.

As I said, when I was waiting in line I was reading her memoir and she was explicit in saying that her mother’s treatment of her is a significant part of the art she makes.  After seeing the retrospective in the museum, it seems to me that her earlier work was in a way exorcising the demons out of her and now, in her 70’s she is recreating that loving feeling that she says she constantly searches for as a result of never having felt love from her mother.

I can say first hand that The Cleaner was a success.  Never have I felt so loved, embraced, and nurtured amidst a room full of strangers.

I also got some ideas for the Assignment 3 re-shoot.  The image below is actually a film still from one of her performances.  I love the grand beauty of the Banyan tree and Abramovic’s vulnerable presence in front of it.



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