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.



The Radical Eye at Tate Modern

I was in London over the school holidays so I was pleased to see that Tate had a photography exhibition on.  Sir Elton John has graciously loaned his photography collection.  And what a collection it is.  A number of the ‘big’ names that I have studied via OCA were represented in his collection.  I didn’t know he was such a photography buff.  It was impressive.

Sadly, I couldn’t take any photographs of the work, so I wrote down the names of some of them that struck me.  One that I was really happy to see in person and up close was Dorothea Lange’s “Migrant Mother.’ Such an iconic image and one I grew up seeing here and there.  The other one, ‘The Damage is Already Done’ is of a young girl living through the Great Depression and she clearly carries it in her eyes.  As I noted in an earlier post, I love Lange and her work, so this was a real treat.

Elton seemed to be the biggest fan of Man Ray, of whose images I did enjoy.  Honestly, it was a really well put together collection and I enjoyed nearly all of it.  The one that stuck out to me the most was ‘My Brother Icarus’ by Kertesz.  It was a jubilant moment caught on film, but the title also I found humorous and a look into the brotherly relationship.

I was inspired by the photograph by Josef Breitenbach titled ‘Child’s World’ and since I couldn’t take a photograph of it, I wrote it down to look up later as I thought I could use it for inspiration for assignment 3, but alas, I cannot now find the image.

The other one I wrote down, was by Edward Weston titled ‘Nude 1936 and 1937.’  I have an idea for assignment 5 that this might work for.  But we will see.

It was an enjoyable exhibition and I recommend seeing it.

Roger Ballen at Istanbul Modern

I took my sons to see this exhibition as we were feeling some cabin fever with the snow days.  I really enjoyed it but one of my sons said it ‘made him feel weird.’ I chalk this up to Ballen’s own word, saying his work is ‘Bellenesque.’ There is definitely a ‘weird’ sense to these images, but I thought they were really interesting and look into the lives of rural people and their relationship with animals. Let me illustrate with some shots of his work:

Ratman, 2000 Roger Ballen
Ratman, 2000
Roger Ballen
Puppy Between Feet, 1999 Roger Ballen
Puppy Between Feet, 1999
Roger Ballen
Brian with Pet Pig, 1998 Roger Ballen
Brian with Pet Pig, 1998
Roger Ballen

It is true that his images conjure other photographers like Arbus and Evans, but he puts his own touch on them that make them unique I think. It has almost Tum Burton feel to some of them as seen in the image below:

Roger Ballen
Roger Ballen

By placing the animals where he does it gives a whimsical feel to these documentary like photographs.  Especially the rats…this exhibition had a number of photographs with rats in them. But he juxtaposes the mostly sweet looking animals with people who seem to have lives of poverty and despair. I am never sure about this.  Is this exploitation?  Like with Salgado’s work, I ask myself, what has the photographer shed light on with this?  With Salgado’s work, he sheds light on the plight of people living in poverty, but I am not sure about these images.  I suppose the context of the country would need to be considered as well.  I am not familiar with the context of rural South Africa but the images do have me thinking and in some way, feeling empathy with the subjects, so he has created something quite engaging.


Foto Istanbul

I finally managed to get to FotoIstanbul today, though it was the last day, so sadly not everything was up still.  I really wanted to see the Malkovich photographs by Sandro Miller, but alas they were gone too.  However, I got to check out the old orphanage and see some great images as well as snap some shots for the poetry photo task coming up in section 2 of the course. Also, a former student of mine was on the creative team for this huge project, so that was also really cool to see something that he was a part of.

But the images I was most interested in were by Shadi Ghadirian.  I have already started thinking about assignment 2 and I have taken a few shots as well. However, when I re-read the brief I kind of thought that maybe I was not on the right track as I was just taking head shots of my students with the scarf, yet it asks us to create a narrative.  But when I saw her work today, essentially all the same shot, but with different fabric and household utensils, I saw a very clear narrative even though they were mostly the same shot.  So I think I will explore this idea of just asking my students to wrap the scarf in whatever way they want and then take the photograph and just see where it goes. I have thought about adding some other shots to create a narrative, but I really liked the clean narrative series that she created, so I am going to aim for that and see where it takes me.