Abramovic covering a visitor at the nap booth with a blanket.

In some museums, sleeping is discouraged. I remember when a friend and I visited the Louvre; we had already been to another museum in the morning, and we found ourselves going through the artworks like a checklist. After braving the crowds for the Mona Lisa, we both sat down on a couch in the hallway, closed our eyes, and took a nap. We were woken up by a security guard who asked us to “Please not sleep here.” He then woke up the young man on the next couch over, who had apparently followed our example. It’s a fact that too much stimulation is exhausting, even for the best art lovers. And there is nowhere that’s as inundated with art events and gallery openings than at Art Basel Miami.

Marina Abramovic, arguably the most well-known performance artist of our time, set up a place for visitors to nap as they please, during their time at Art Basel Miami last week. With beds, noise-canceling headphones, and colored blankets, visitors were encouraged to lay down and rest – on one condition: visitors had to leave all their belongings and electronic devices inside a locker before cozying up. This exercise was similar to Abramovic’s Generator, which showed in various museums this past year. Visitors were introduced to a room of nothingness with as little sensory stimulation as possible to promote introspection: blank walls, blindfolds, and again, noise-canceling headphones. Just like Abramovic’s project at Art Basel, visitors were asked to leave cellphones, watches, and bags in a locker before entering the gallery to experience Generator. At a fair like Art Basel Miami Beach, there comes a saturation point where some introspection is needed to internalize what one is looking at and experiencing; otherwise, the art begins to loose its effect.

The proposed Marina Abramovic Institute.
The proposed Marina Abramovic Institute

The Marina Abramovic Institute (MAI) did several rounds at Miami Art Week 2014, in part to promote the building of its new site in Hudson, New York. Until now, it has operated as a transitory institution, holding seminars and producing events and exercises in locations all over the world. The Art Basel Miami, a Slow Motion Walk exercise took place from December 4 through December 7 at the YoungArts Jewel Box. The exercise was facilitated by Abramovic collaborator Lynsey Peisinger and performance artist Brittany Bailey, and presented in collaboration with the National YoungArts Foundation. A similar exercise called Walking Slow was a part of the Marina Abramovic Institute’s “Cleaning the House” Workshop in collaboration with the MoMA Teens In the Making “Under The Spell of Mysterious Forces” class held in July 2014.

Teens Walk Slow
Teens “walking slow” in Central Park

The third event MAI held at Art Basel Miami was at the Design Miami fair called Counting the Rice. As the name suggests, people were invited to sit and count rice. This was a long durational exercise where participants separated grains of rice from lentils, counting and recording them. The rice counting tables were designed by architect Daniel Libeskind in collaboration with Moroso, the Italian design company. And the chairs people sat on while counting the rice? The Portal chair by Patricia Urquiola. In early May this year, Counting the Rice was performed at the Centre d’Art Contemporain Genève, Switzerland. In Geneva, participants were specifically asked to sit and continuously separate and count the rice for six hours. A simple task, but one that becomes difficult due to endurance. Participants realized it was not about the act of counting itself, but their own self-control and willpower in continuing to carry out the task over a long period of time.

Counting the Rice in Geneva.
Counting the Rice in Geneva

On the MAI website, they describe themselves as “a platform for immaterial and long durational works,” and that they are “devoted to presenting and preserving such works.” Most of these works have to do with mindfulness. We experience so much of the world now; we can travel anywhere, our voices can reach people all over the world, and material things can easily be replaced. Abramovic wants people to return to their own bodies, and to their own immediate experiences.

Abramovic’s work has a sense of self-irony. While she is part of the art world — collecting funds for her foundation through donations, producing exhibitions and participating in art fairs — she also sees the commercialization of art as something meaningless. As she’s said, when people saw a Francis Bacon painting go for 145 million, no one could look at art anymore without seeing money. Art Basel Miami Beach is what she called a “madness,” where visitors are commodified and art is always accompanied by a price tag. Thankfully, it still doesn’t cost anything to take a nap.

– Article by Lydia Snyder for The Untitled Magazine

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