What makes the performing arts so thrilling is also what makes them so elusive—they are, by nature, ephemeral. Any documentation of a performance is only a pale reflection of what it’s like to be there in the moment. So when performance artist Marina Abramovic began to contemplate what her own legacy would be, she thought beyond biographies, retrospectives, or monuments and instead began to develop a method of generating the kind of experiences she valued, one that would allow her kind of performances to continue long after the artist was no longer present.
Starting in late 2014, “long duration” (six hours plus) performance pieces as well as facilities intended to initiate the public into performance art will be housed in the Marina Abramovic Institute for the Preservation of Performance Art (MAI) in Hudson, New York. The institute will occupy an old 20,000 square-foot theater that was purchased by Abramovic in 2007 and whose interior is being redesigned by Shohei Shigematsu and Rem Koolhaas of OMA.
At Monday’s press preview held at MoMA P.S. 1 in Queens, Shigematsu compared the concept for the institute to the experience of attending a baseball game (which, he noted, can be “long and sometimes very boring”), where the main spectacle unfolds below on the field but plenty of equally engaging activities happen at the same time in and around the grandstands. OMA will leave the theater’s 1929 brick facade and colonnaded entry but create a new box inside that functions as a central performance space with 650 seats. Wrapping around it will be a fitness space, a library, and classrooms, along with rooms dedicated to meditation, levitation (powered by magnets), and crystals (which Abramovic believes are “like regenerators for people”). The key feature of OMA’s design is that all these spaces are visually connected back to the center, creating a series of layers that blur the boundaries between audience and performer.
In fact, every visitor to MAI will become a performer of sorts, signing on for a minimum visit of six hours that requires donning a white lab coat and participating in a series of instructive experiences on what Abramovic terms “hard-core performance art.” The artist calls this “The Abramovic Method,”—”I feel like I’ve become a brand,” she said—and through it she has made her evolution into an institution it’s own kind of performance.
Realizing that this level of engagement may require not only an open mind but also some endurance training, Abramovic and OMA have invented a kind of wheeled lounge chair in which visitors can rest, nap, and be rolled by staff to different levels of facility along a giant spiral ramp (a cafe is planned for the rooftop). Given the sanatorium-style atmosphere that is part Magic Mountain and part Eleusinian mysteries some guests may never want their performance to end. But to realize this vision for MAI, Abramovic must first raise at least $15 million and is now beginning a fundraising tour.