Images Festival 2007
By Linda Feesey
Seven Easy Pieces by Marina Abramovic – Images Festival Gala
In November 2005, Yugoslavian performance artist Marina Abramovic transfixed New York City for a week. At the Guggenheim Museum, she resurrected seven seminal art performances for 7 solid hours on seven consecutive days. Babette Mangolte’s 90 minute documentary, in its simple elegance, conveys the overall shape of performances as well their essential details. But more importantly, ‘Seven Easy Pieces by Marina Abramovic’ distills the event so the audience can feel what it was like to witness Abramovic’s seven day offering.
Performance art by its nature is ephemeral. It is meant to be a unique transitory experience shared between the artist and the audience. Abramovic had to rely on photographs and audience recollections to reconstruct this selection of legendary performances from the late 1960’s and early 70’s by such luminaries as Bruce Nauman, Vito Acconci, Valie Export and Joseph Beuys. For the uninitiated, it is a Performance Art 101 class and a greatest hits package.
Born in 1946, Abramovic long ago established herself as a seminal performance artist. As her bio states, she is known for” exploring the physical and mental limits of her being. She has withstood pain, exhaustion, and danger in the quest for emotional and spiritual transformation.” Looking well over a decade younger than her age, she has the strength, endurance and concentration of a trained athlete. And in fact, she did prepare with the help of a physical trainer.
Over the course of the week, Abramovic is continually on display in a variety of arduous ordeals. Performing Vito Acconci’s Seedbed Marina pleads with the audience from under the floor, ” I need to know you’re there for me. I need to know your fantasies.” to help her reach her eighth orgasm of the day. One man lies face down on the floor in response. In Valie Export’s Action Pants: Genital Panic, Marina, a dark haired beauty in red lipstick and black leather jacket, cradles an AK-47, one hand on the trigger and the other under the barrel. She is transformed by the submachine gun into an ever watchful, ever wary guerrilla fighter face bathed in perspiration and sometimes tears. For Gina Pane’s The Conditioning, Marina lies on an open metal frame over a bed of burning candles. During the day, the fabric of her blue jumpsuit deteriorates to a transparent brown. She moans as her body slowly cooks. On another day, she replicates Joseph Beuys’ gestures from How to Explain Pictures to a Dead Hare cradling and reanimating the dead hare and sucking on its ears evoking all the poignancy of this strange drama. And performing her own work Lips of Thomas, Marina, naked and voluptuous, repeats a ritualized series of acts that include cutting a six sided star into her belly, lying on a cross made of ice and flagellating herself. Her resolve and her agony increase as the day progresses. By the end, she is noticeably slimmer as well. The documentary like the performances themselves possess all the rigour of a slow chemical reaction.
Many of the same faces show up day after day. As filmmaker Babette Mangolte observed, “It is as if a monastic urge attracted the mystic among us viewers that were there to participate. And the film, by focusing on Marina’s minute changes and strains along the long seven hours of each piece, explores in a systematic way a body without limit and increases the awareness of how participatory body art is.” But for those of us who did not have the privilege of being there for every exquisite minute and every minute gesture, viewing ‘Seven Easy Pieces by Marina Abramovic’ captures the inexplicable power of great performance art to provoke its audience into feeling and questioning.
A New Style Documentary: S.P.I.R.A.W.L.. on the Web – www.batteryopearted.net/spirawl
S.P.I.R.A.W.L.. (Sound Proofed Institute Researching Acoustic Weapons Logistics) is a researched-based internet documentary created by Battery Operated, a collective of 4 artists working together since 2000. It was presented to a sparse crowd at this year’s Images Festival in Toronto. Eschewing the familiar Powerpoint presentation, it was projected directly from the website onto a large screen behind two of the artists and their controlling laptops. They explained the genesis of the project and the science necessary to understand sound waves as well as pointing out a few of the shocking highlights.
S.P.I.R.A.W.L.. is set up on the Battery Operated site as series of virtual rooms and turntables that play spoken word essays on the history, research, theoretical potential and deployment of sound-based weapons. Battery Operated have teased out the facts from the conspiracy theories on acoustic weaponry. Play the turntables forward to listen to their verifiable findings and backwards to hear the rumors. Switch rooms to find what interests you.
Humans only hear part of the sound spectrum, from 20-20,000 hertz. Ultra and infra sound frequencies, sounds above and below the range of the human ear, have the potential to maim and even kill. Infra sound waves, less than 16 hz can cause nausea, disorientation, loosening of the internal organs and death. These slow vibrations can also shatter glass and cause walls to tumble down. Professor Vladimir Gavreau, a French government research scientist, claimed in the 1960’s to have constructed an infrasound device powerful enough to level Marseilles. In 1999, Maxwell Technologies of San Diego patented a highly directional ultrasound device. Using frequencies above the threshold of human hearing, “it can cause eardrum rupture at 185 decibels (dB), pulmonary (lung) injury at 200dB and death at 220dB.”
The barrage of frightening and sometimes contradictory information on the S.P.I.R.A.W.L.. site is overwhelming. But the benefit of this kind of nonlinear documentary is that you control the content flow. You can take it in at your leisure in big chunks or little bites. My only real criticism of S.P.I.R.A.W.L.. is its rather lacklustre visual content and design. The information is important. Sound is potentially fatal but factual accounts of its deployment are limited. There are fears that sonic devices are already being used in black-ops for psychological torture and mind control. While there are many patented devices, there is only speculation about their effectiveness on the battlefield. Like chemical and biological weapons, it is difficult to protect the user. They can easily incapacitate the operating force as well as their targets. Research and development continues under the auspices of the US Department of Defense Joint Non-Lethal Weapons Program. Sound Waves are the newest silent killer. Clean, invisible and deadly, sound leaves no exterior wounds. Relatively innocuous, tweeters and woofers are the newest addition to the military arsenal. Yet, reports in the news of the US military blasting pop music at enemy forces and detainees have generated little concern in the general public. Find out more by going through the documentary at www.batteryopearted.net/spirawl.