On Not Seeing Marina Abramović’s 512 Hours

By Bryony White 

We had every intention of going, yet it began in the queue, or in fact, with the very idea of the queue. You see I found the queue exasperating and then felt troubled that you thought it was typical.  It started with – ‘Free of charge but on a strictly first come, first served basis’. This, I guess, was the kernel of why – it was free, a tourist attraction: drones of cameras flashing the vacant doorframe of a gallery, because ‘it’s you’. Perhaps you might appear waving, like the Queen, who living all of about 1 mile away, is predisposed to waving nonchalantly from an empty doorframe.

Or, waiting patiently in line, with the idea of being in line having got the tube, having decided to flock, having decided perhaps this was the perfect photo opportunity. “Her last one was”. An encounter where photographing pure presence, pure immersion comes before the encounter. As if you are a heritage site, or dressed in the holiest of colours, a temple. Readying yourself for the gift shop, for this moment, before you had ever even begun.

“We can’t take photographs inside, so we’ll take photographs of the queue instead”. Perhaps the security guard? Susan Stewart writes that ‘the souvenir is by definition always incomplete. And this incompleteness works on two levels. First, the object is metonymic to the scene of its original appropriation in the sense that it is a sample.’[1] You are yet to experience the scene that you wish to draw into your own realm of experience, into your own realm of immersion; if that was ever your intention, as if perhaps you didn’t read the website before your arrival.

  • ‘You will be required to leave all bags, coats and electronic items in the lockers (including cameras, recording devices and mobile phones).’

Taking photographs outside is like taking photographs inside. It is what is implied that makes the family album. Today, Marina Abramovic will not be permitting you to transform history into private time, it shall not be yours, it will remain with the gallery, but at least you got the entrance, and an accidental shot of a security guard’s ear, always-already ready for the click of a camera.

  • ‘The public will become the performing body, participating in the delivery of an unprecedented moment in the history of performance art.’

Delivery, noun.[2]

– The action of setting free; release, rescue, deliverance.
– The fact of being delivered of, or act of bringing forth, offspring; childbirth
– The action of handing over, or conveying into the hands of another; the action of a carrier in delivering letters or goods entrusted to him for conveyance to a person at a distance.

You have been amazing today. You helped to make this moment. You are a part of art history (or the history of performance art). You delivered the goods, labouring in Abramović time. Handing over your time into the hands of Abramović’s time. You were marvellous.

Or, the simple, slight-handed delivery of performance art’s capitulation to the hungry jaws of the art market.

Yes, you had me at the queue. You had me before I was made marvellous in 512 hours. You had me at the queue with the The Artist is Present. My tutor was right: this could be the death of our field, the death of a field. Did that death begin in the queue or on the website? Or did it begin before, with the Guggenheim? Should I really have given my time (because you thought it might seem good against a nation of supposed twitter-fanatics) or was falling at the first hurdle enough time?

As counterpoint, I heard you put people to bed, that you tucked them up, reassuring them by giving them time that they purportedly lack. Outside, as I ran my hand across a droughted patch of grass, I wondered whether I wanted to be put to sleep. Perhaps I did because it would be nice to get of the sun for a minute, to take the heat off the black of this t-shirt. To walk away from this conversation – we both know that you are more than substance, or sinew.

In a moment of a commitment, which was usual for us, we walked to the entrance. As if a conduit to a theme park, the detritus of a queue, an empty water bottle basket. A humming, a missing and there, there you were, a talisman, masman, in white, clasping the hands of awe-filled visitors. And I wanted to get out of there but I kept wondering if you knew, if you could tell, if you would be able to tell us. Maybe it was the sagacity of you clasping the hand of the visitor, or the pallidity of your face but I thought you might have the foresight to tell us. Maybe you would tell me that I am pedantic. Nonetheless, I begin the self-evaluation process through having not-seen, typing ‘I am easily exasperated’ into Google.


[1] Susan Stewart, ‘Objects of Desire’, in On Longing Narratives of the Miniature, the Gigantic, the Souvenir, the Collection, (Durham and London: Duke University Press, 1993) pp. 132-171, p. 136

[2] ‘Delivery’, Oxford English Dictionary Online, accessed 13/08/2014

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