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Review: MARINA ABRAMOVIĆ INSTITUTE: TAKEOVER at The Space Theatre and surrounds

Review by Lisa Lanzi

Marina Abramović Institute began this global communal participatory project in São Paulo (2015), then moving to Athens (2016), Kyiv (2017), Bangkok (2018), Istanbul (2020), Amsterdam (2022) and London (2023).  This year, the Adelaide Festival is hosting the durational, performance art event.  Nine artists are listed however not all are part of the entire four day event.  I attended on Friday March 1st and Li Binyuan was not appearing that day - hence this review only mentions eight of the nine participants.

Not physically present in Adelaide (the 77 year old artist suffered a near fatal pulmonary embolism last year), Abramović was represented by a specially made video on repeat each half hour.  During this address to attendees she speaks of her connection to Australia forged during a trip here in 1980, with then partner ULay, and five months spent living in the central desert among Pintjantjara and Pintupi people; this led to a consecutive 16 day, seven hours per day, durational work staged at the Art Gallery of NSW: Gold Found By The Artists.  In her Takeover video the most enduring moment for me was her statement: “The present moment is the only reality we will ever have”.  The main point of the address was to induce viewers to grant the works our time and attention.  She also led a meditation based on her The Abramović Method to assist our ability be present in both time and space.

Collective Absentia is the alias of a Myanmar artist working anonymously due to risks associated with making art that explores political violence in that country.  Since 2011 Our Glorious Past Our Glorious Present Our Glorious Future: Our Glorious Spring has developed as a durational work meditating on “the agency and potency of non-violence actions as a form of resistance”.  In a long, black curtained corridor, a black-clothed figure in black ‘torture’ hood, sporting bare hands and feet.  The sit in chilling stillness on a simple chair lit from above by a harsh white spotlight.  This performance is dedicated to the ‘ungrievable’ deaths due to ongoing political violence in Burma/Myanmar since 1948.

Working as a painter for many years in the legendary art district Beijing’s East Village, Yingmei Duan is part of the Chinese avant-garde movement.  In 1995 she participated in the famed collaboration To Add One Meter to an Anonymous Mountain, considered a highpoint in Chinese modern art. She shifted to the exploration of pure performance art under the influence of Marina Abramović after studying with her at the HBK Braunschweig from 2000 to 2004.  In Adelaide, Yingmei in Wonderland is a roaming performance work.  Interacting with audiences, other artists, and the theatre space, Duan changes her appearance and character multiple times a day portraying a sense of innocence, nostalgia, absurdity, and humour.  Encountering the artist a number of times in different spaces was delightful, if sometimes a little confronting - nudity was one facet - but always the encounter had an aura of placid generosity, whimsy, and kindness.

Performed by Eric Avery (Ngyiampaa/Yuin/Gumbangirr musician and composer) in the airy Artspace, Ngiyawaygunhanha is a devised musical work by Wiradjuri/Ngyiampaa artist SJ Norman.  Made for amplified violin, layered looping tracks and live vocals, the work was developed in consultation with molecular biologist Dr Mark Temple of Western Sydney University and brings to ‘sonic life’ the DNA sequences of various Australian bird species.  The science behind the music is fascinating, but in no way detracts from the haunting, complex compositions and the exquisite playing by Avery. I had not read any notes prior so didn’t grasp the fauna connection, preferring as usual to experience performance pieces without any preconceptions.

One of the more powerful works during Takeover is from artist Mike Parr.  The description in the Adelaide Festival Program (which I did not read until after the fact) calls this work Portrait of Marina Abramović.  What I observed however, and the passionate ‘manifesto’ proffered by a roaming, elegantly clad young woman holding a silver tray with the printed, signed and numbered hand-out thereon, does not mesh with that title.  Rather, the ‘vision’ and the daubed phrases upon the walls of the installation refer to the catastrophe unfolding presently in Gaza.  Parr’s broad-ranging and often highly political practice covers performance, printmaking and drawing since the early 1970s.  On this day Parr paints ‘blind’.  From start to finish, twelve hours later, the artist works with closed eyes and a team (Gotaro Uematsu, Zan Wimbley, Timothy Vernon Moore, Rebecca Anne Khoury, Lauren Brincat) who film, photograph, manoeuvre ladders, mop his brow, and hold aloft buckets of red or black paint.  The live filming process is projected on a screen outside the enclosed cube of space where the artist labours - live viewing is only possible from above.

Indigo Perry roams the entire space, documenting Takeover with her writing and performance I will write you out of water.  Observing, journaling, drafting, Perry is a quiet, dignified but pervasive presence drifting through, or seated in, the various spaces or appearing behind a spotlighted microphone to speak her material, an “ongoing story of loss, grief, tropes of water and drowning, and the deeply elongated swirls of mourning”.

Indonesian-born Melati Suryodarmo occupies the large rehearsal room area beside the Space Theatre with Amnesia (2016).  Clad in a long, shapeless red dress and black top she is scribing a chalked tally mark each time she utters the phrase “I am sorry”, on repeat.  Within the large space, a small white ladder rests on the wall painted entirely with blackboard paint.  One lamp hangs low which is draped intermittently with Suryodarmo’s black top as she removes it from her body.  In one corner sits a platform with table and sewing machine upon it - each time one top is removed, the artists sews a new one taken from a pile of black fabric.  The immersive, almost ecclesiastical environment allows audiences to sit and absorb the work where Suryodarmo intends to “confront the fragmented remnants of human experience” by creating this “testament to the resilience of the human spirit and the fundamental right to self-determination”.

Dr Christian Thompson AO (Bidjara) was formally trained as a sculptor but his multidisciplinary practice uses mediums such as photography, video, sculpture, performance & sound. Thompson’s work focuses on the exploration of cultural hybridity, sexuality, gender, race, and memory.  His performance piece for Takeover is Wait in Gold which expands on the floral motif pervading his other work.  The artists slowly pins tiny gold flowers to himself all over his black clothing and black balaclava.  The connection to his Aboriginal heritage is palpable as the human figure transforms to opulent flora form referencing enduring cultural connection to land and story.

All in all, an affecting, memorable, unique experience.  Bravo Adelaide Festival.

Image Supplied


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