18 hours. She lived here for a long time in the 1970s and 1980s. And the film about her legendary appearance at the Museum of Modern Art in New York – The artist is present – is known among many Dutch people. But the applause when Marina Abramović (75) enters the stage at Amsterdam’s Carré Theater is remarkably boisterous and warm.
Why is she giving this lecture here? To prepare the public for the ‘prolonged performances’ of ten artists invited by her, which can be seen throughout the building until midnight. We must first become one with each other, says her philosophy, without the distinction between artist and visitor. And then we get meditation practice. We all breathe in and out at the same time, keep our eyes closed or look at the neighbor for a long time and hum as one body from step to crown. It flows effortlessly around the room. Another ovation followed.
19:10 Finally, Abramović asks if we want to leave the hall ‘slow motion’ to look for the performances. “Also look at the toilet.” On stage, one of the artists, the Spaniard Abel Azcona, takes place on a tall white chair. It seems to be the beginning of the most boring performance ever: he sits still. In the hallway and entrance, the public is covering the carpet with the vowels that the Serbian Maria Stamenkovic has placed there. In the lodges, typewriters rattle, on which everyone can express their views on the ‘morality’ of this society, which the Greek Yiannis Pappas will read. At the bottom of the building, mostly female visitors embroider white cloths that Danta Buu from Montenegro has hung from the ceiling.
19:55. A lot of female audience also in the neoclassical ballroom. Understandably: There are three scantily clad, dark Chippendales standing under a dripping chandelier holding a piece of mineral. Artist Miles Greenberg is the brilliant centerpiece. The trio sees each other for a long time.
20.45. On the way to the second floor. Behind a toilet door, the Turk Anthony Hüseyin appears to have conversations with visitors about their gender and toilet visits, in response to a questionnaire. In the long queue I get information about the Spaniard Azcona below. He has medicated himself, has become unconscious and is lying on a bed awaiting recovery. The public is allowed to touch and care for him and has carried him around on a stretcher.
21.15. For twenty minutes I stand in line in front of the toilet door. There is no movement in it. An employee casually says it could take another 45 minutes. On earlier advice from Abramović, I go to a restaurant for a fragrant mushroom soup with baguette and butter. Along the way, the Chinese Yingmei Duan skips by as a defunct Clown Pipo, including red nose. My annoyance at waiting for the toilet is over in one fell swoop.
22 hours. The most poignant contribution is shown behind the scenes: Azcona’s filmed confession about his mother. As a 17-year-old heroin addict and prostitute, she gave birth to him. An event from which he derives his own drug and sex addiction. With the dramatic video, Azcona says goodbye to her. “Goodbye, Mom.” Suddenly you understand why he stuns himself. I run down to see how he is. Azcona has just regained consciousness and, unsteady on his feet and accompanied by staff, is taken away via the elevator to recover elsewhere.
22:05. The entrance and the corridor along the cloakroom are now largely paved. It turns out that not every audience houses a performance artist. I take the elevator back to the second floor. The Hüseyin toilet is still occupied. ‘One hour’ indicates the employee’s waiting time.
10.30 p.m. The Canadian-French Carla Adra gives a performance in one of the aisles. It turns out to be the smallest wardrobe, for clothes number 57-96. On headphones, I first learn that one of her parents was also addicted to drugs. The intention is to start a conversation with Adra, dressed in a white suit with checkered covers (‘like an envelope; I want to send messages to people’), about my experiences with stepparents. It lasts very briefly: I don’t have that experience.
22:45. The mood in the audience is starting to get a little somber. Only the Chinese clown has a few new batteries. Just as excited as before, she skips through the halls.
23:05. The Spaniard is fully conscious again and walks around as if nothing had happened. Back in the room, he says he took some kind of anesthetic. “No, no, I don’t usually take that.” The secret to his recovery? ‘Chocolate.’
23.15. Back on the second floor. The queue has not shortened at the toilet show. I fill out the questionnaire. What gender I am (‘male’), how do I know (‘none of your business’), whether I’ve ever wet my pants (‘probably as a child’) and whether I can always find the men’s toilet (‘yes, and otherwise a tree’)? That seems sufficient.
11:30 p.m. The job is done. In the ballroom, the three naked Adonisses lay their mineral blocks on the floor. The sausage stand in the restaurant is closing. In the hall, the voice of the Greek Yiannis Pappas slowly fades out: “The freedom and pluralism of the media must be respected.” A true word. In the scene below, some of the main characters embrace each other. They performed for more than 4.5 hours. A battle of attrition. This is also how it feels to your journalist.
For six evenings and one whole day, Marina Abramović wants to transform the Carré theater into a ‘living theater museum’. For this, she has invited ten long-standing performance artists. Abramović has become world famous for it: performances that were physically demanding and usually lasted for hours. Sometimes even months, such as the walk she took with her then-husband Ulay on the Great Wall of China.