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Absenting the Present or Presenting the Absent?

Performance artist Marina Abramović's mixed-reality performance piece 'The Life' was on view at the Serpentine Galleries, London from 19 – 24 February 2019.

by Sukanya GargPublished on : May 23, 2019

World-renowned performance artist Marina Abramović's latest performance piece The Life was on view at the Serpentine Galleries, London from 19 – 24 February 2019. A fusion of art and latest technologies, her latest performance included a wearable augmented experience. Visitors simultaneously experienced an intimate, digital encounter with the artist in this first, large-scale performance exhibited using Mixed Reality anywhere in the world. The artist, herself, however was not present.

The Life was a new performance piece, lasting 19 minutes, that built on the artist’s long-standing fascination with the notion of material absence. The use of Mixed Reality allowed Abramović to further explore how to use her own body as subject and object, mapping new territory at the intersection of technology and performance. The Life was produced by Tin Drum, a US/UK studio that works exclusively in Mixed Reality.

Marina Abramović Photo Credit: Marina Abramović and Tin Drum

Abramović's use of this new, evolving technology reflects her engagement in the broader social and historical constructs of our times. As a collaborator throughout the creative process, Tin Drum has focused on representing the authenticity of the Abramović’s vision, creating a recurring performance that only this Mixed Reality technology can provide. “The fact that the project can be repeated anywhere in the world while I am not there is mind-blowing. I can be present in any spot on the planet,” said Abramović. The collaboration with Tin Drum has brought Abramović's work to a wider audience. To experience the performance, audience members were provided with Magic Leap One lightweight wearable spatial computing devices, before entering the main gallery space. Unlike Virtual Reality, Mixed Reality allows the gallery and other visitors to be completely visible as part of the experience. A roped, five-metre circle was there at the centre of the gallery where the digital representation of Abramović was made visible through the Magic Leap One device. Visitors were free to explore the movements of the artist as if she were actually in the room. Describing the experience, Abramović said, “When I put the glasses on for the first time, it was a very shocking experience - the feeling that I was there and not there at the same time.”

The Life, Marina Abramović Photo Credit: Marina Abramović and Tin Drum

This performance was the second one by the artist to be held at the Serpentine Galleries, the earlier work being 512 hours performed by the artist for 8 hours, six days a week for 64 days. Each day 160 people at the maximum were allowed entry into the gallery at one time spread out across three empty rooms, where they could interact with Abramović’s presence. The artist spent the hours each day interacting with the visitors and recording the experiences. All extraneities like bags, watches, phones, etc. were banned at the time of entry and the purpose was to inspire a meditative experience by directing the viewers to focus on the white walls surrounding them. More than 100,000 people were believed to have visited the performance.

The Life, Marina Abramović, Photo Credit: Marina Abramović and Tin Drumo

The human body has constantly been the central figure as well as medium of expression throughout Abramović’s practice. The Life extended this fascination by incorporating new technologies to broaden the reach and experience of her art.

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