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This article was written on 19 Apr 2015, and is filed under Guest Writers.

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Faith and Doubt in Experience: Thoughts on Marina Abramović’s “Generator”

Map of GENERATOR by Marina Abramović at Sean Kelly Gallery

Map of GENERATOR by Marina Abramović at Sean Kelly Gallery

 

By Diana Crum

 

Being there is different than being at home. The lights are really bright in the white room. It’s quiet and still except for the muffled noise of distant construction, the electrical system, the air vents and the office on the other side of the wall. It’s a cold space; yet I witness so much compassion and contentment—or dropping into states like contentment.

One woman found the hand of her daughter (or who I assume was her teenage daughter) outstretched and open to touch. The daughter had on spaghetti straps, boots and a frilly skirt. The woman wore a sweater and jeans. She held her daughter’s hand to her heart, and for a sustained period, they stood like that together. She looked like she might be crying. I couldn’t tell as the blindfold blocked her eyes from my view, but her face wrinkled in a way that made me think she felt like crying.

Visiting Marina Abramović’s Generator creates a space in which visitors have no option but to understand and evaluate the work according to their unique experiences of it.

I’m skeptical of the experience. Marina’s a celebrity. We use her first name. Members of the cult of Marina come out. Some times, like on Halloween, they wear costumes. The adoration of the artist and her status surround the work. They have become the context in which she creates.

Opening night is a zoo. Heels, lipstick, cologne. The din of voices.

Closing week, the shaman who has come every day spends one morning wailing on the floor like a grieving mother. After lunch, she gets stepped on and cries again, but this time like a toddler, sniffling and wanting candy.

In a workshop for the facilitators (that’s what I am), the 80 eyes focused on her, Marina. If she says it, it must hold truth. Silly.

I like to think that the whole work, Generator, is actually for me. The comings and goings and laughter and crying and taking off coats and putting them back on. I see it all and I sense the touches, sweaty palms, perfumes, body odors, dry paint, audible huffs, cackles, sniffles, sighs, gasps, hums, footsteps, changing temperatures and air currents inside the frame of the opening and closing of the gallery. The work is defined by my eyes and my senses and me.

Experience may be overrated. Or not overrated, but so subjective that there’s no way for us to really share and value its shared-ness. Mine is so different from yours. So when you look at me with that look—the look that says, “Wow, wasn’t that amazing?” with big, bright eyes and a speechless mouth, I sometimes have a reckless urge to say, “No. It wasn’t.” And to leave it at that.

Other times, I want to nod and smile—in essence, to pat you on the back without having to touch you. And then I want to recede into passivity.

But then I see that woman with her daughter’s hand on her heart. And I think that I’m sharing their experience. I want to participate in the work.

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Diana Crum is a Brooklyn-based dance artist. She has an upcoming show, May 1 and 2, 2015 at Gallim Dance (520 Clinton Ave, Brooklyn). 

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