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Art of the moment: Experience Marina Abramović and Laurie Anderson on the Adelaide Festival

Ruth Mackenzie is the brand new artistic director of the Adelaide Festival of Arts and has brought two heavyweights together with her for her first performance in Adelaide: performance artist Marina Abramović and avant-garde artist and musician Laurie Anderson. Both were major events that were very current.

The Marina Abramović Institute's Takeover featured nine performance artists over three days.

To begin, viewers are instructed to reach at 11 a.m. every day. We are led right into a charming virtual presentation wherein Abramović introduces us to a participatory community.

She tells us that performance is essentially the most difficult of all art forms, that you’ve to present up time and give up to the moment. She then leads the audience through a series of Tibetan respiratory exercises to organize us for reading the secrets and private language of performance artists.

Continuous performance

Mike Parr's portrait of Marina Abramović is essentially the most extreme. When painting blindly, his eyes remain closed for the complete 12 hours. His goal was to color 4 black squares, one on all sides of a constructed white cube gallery space, as a tribute to the Russian constructivist painter Kazimir Malevich's Black Square from 1915.

Like Malevich, Parr says that his blind painting is the creation of nothingness with a view to rebirth. But he departs from Malevich: Parr is currently driven by the truth of the shocking events in Gaza, as specified by the painted text that begins on the exhibition's partitions: “Free Palestine” and “Gaza is a Warsaw Ghetto.”

Mike Parr's work began with words concerning the war in Gaza.
Andrew Beveridge/Adelaide Festival

These sentiments are further reinforced in his “vision” statement that he distributed on the performance. His passionate text states:

The Jewish diaspora is rising to unite to desert the obscene policies of its political leadership (…) and to demand justice, freedom, prosperity for the Palestinian people and an end to the oppression and anti-Semitism of apartheid.

Over the following 12 hours, Parr paints 4 black squares—sometimes from perilously high on a ladder—covering them with red paint after which covering them again with black in homage to Abramović's former Yugoslav communist origins. The painted squares, complete with drops of red paint spilling onto the ground, were left after the performance for viewers to reflect on their meaning, together with a video of the complete event.

Place and country

Less sensational but equally difficult was the continued performance of Collective Absentia, a Bangkok-based group, in a piece entitled “Our Glorious Past, Our Glorious Present, Our Glorious Future: Our Glorious Spring.”

A man sits with his head covered.
A performer meditated on non-violent types of resistance to current political events in Myanmar.
Andrew Beveridge/Adelaide Festival

A member of her collective sat in the course of an alleyway, head covered and motionless, meditating on nonviolent types of resistance to current political events in Myanmar.

All participants within the event were required to walk past and around this performance. Most paused and connected with the sensation of non-violent types of resistance. One person even sat directly across from the performer and meditated.

Christian Thomson's postcolonial performance “Wait in Gold” involved him slowly and methodically attaching native daisies painted gold to every bit of his outer clothing, transforming him from a human right into a larger floral form connected to the land. With this moving performance he responds to the denial of a vote because of the results of the 2023 referendum and seeks refuge in the protection of the country.

A man covered in golden flowers.
Christian Thomson seeks refuge in the protection of the country.
Andrew Beveridge/Adelaide Festival

In Indonesian performance artist Melati Suryodarmo's charming everlasting work Amnesia, she slowly covers a big blackboard with chalk markings. Every time she says “I’m sorry.”

The marking is interrupted by her taking off her black shirt, placing it with other discarded shirts, and sewing a brand new one to wear. Another time she gives up marking and moves across the ground, writhing as if feeling deep remorse, and says “I'm sorry” again.

A woman paints counting marks on a wall.
The charming long-term work Amnesia by the Indonesian performance artist Melati Suryodarmo.
Andrew Beveridge/Adelaide Festival

The promotional material accompanying her performance indicates that the work is an inner exploration of “untold narratives and forgotten realities of the past.” The emotions she feels within the performance are deeply compelling, but I kept wondering concerning the amnesia that Suryodarmo recoils from: is it a deeply personal journey or something more?

Encounters with AI

In one other sense, Laurie Anderson's exhibition “I'll be your Mirror” is an encounter with AI. Using phrases from her song “O Superman” and her late husband Lou Reed's song “I'll be your Mirror,” Anderson has created an enchanting text that hangs in five panels within the Adelaide Circulated Library, the town's original lending library.

A large text and two portrait photos in a library.
“I'll Be Your Mirror” uses AI based on songs by Laurie Anderson and Lou Reed.
Roy VanDerVegt/Adelaide Festival

The AI-generated conversations between Anderson and Reed, who died in 2013, fluctuate between the surreal and the uncanny with sentences like “

There is a mirror within the room
And once I look into the night
It gives me nothing in return.

The Bible is on display and open below Psalms 84-88but hanging over the Bible is an AI-generated text based on biblical phrases, displayed as Genesis 1:26-31.

A passage from this text reads:

Some nights Noah dreams that he sees his boat leaving the harbor
It's just one other day on planet Earth
Only this time with an animal friend.

Complementing the exhibition of twenty first century textual artefacts amid nineteenth century texts, Anderson held a virtual public conversation with the machine generation gurus she worked with in Adelaide – the take-home message: what machines produce is dependent upon the input.

The exhibition is completely fascinating, but inexperienced viewers need an introduction to what to anticipate.


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