The connection between faith and art may seem distant but Marina Abramović proves otherwise. Her embrace of strange, convincing beliefs is warm-hearted, engaging and feeds your curiosity.
Who are these people who let a mysterious man slice their eyes in order to “cure” them? The enormous crowds that flock to a ceremony where symbols from all faiths are showcased, why are they here? This Serbian artist becomes one of them and realises that they’re simply people convinced there’s more to life than this.
Abramović has connections to Brazil. In love with the mammoth-size cave crystals, she has even performed in one particular cave, as the physical space became an area to lay within, with small noises and curious stones surrounding her. The Space in Between: Marina Abramović and Brazil charts her return to the country in 2012, as mediums and psychics become her guide. Her first visit is to John of God, in Abadiânia, where he runs a healing centre named Casa Dom Inácio de Loyola. João de Deus pulls bloodied chunks from the noses of his subjects and scrapes the eyeballs of others. People are convinced of his skills and Abramović is in awe of their composure. This shocking beginning shifts as she travels to Bahia, Paraná and Minas Gerais and speaks to spiritual people and submerges herself in their faith, culminating in digesting the trendy drug of Ayahuasca – and vomiting her demons out.
As costumes are worn and rehearsed rituals take place, a connection between performance art and faith is formed. But, Abramović has had a tough four years following a divorce from her husband in 2009. He left her for another woman, leaving her broken hearted and turning her to faith. “Happiness doesn’t come from outside – it comes from you” she says. In the many shots from behind her head, we follow her through this wilderness. Abramović has a distinction between faith and religion: “I don’t like religion because religion reminds me of institutions – I like spirituality”. As she stands beneath an enormous waterfall, we are aware of the power and force of nature. How, as a conscious species, faith is inextricably linked to our humanity.
In an off-topic interlude, she explains her garlic and onion cure to keep you healthy. She bites into the garlic and it’s unexpectedly bitter. When I think of my own mother’s garlic mixture to chase away a cold, it reiterates how rituals and healing potions are passed down by generation. Food is a ritual too, with the throwaway line “it’s done with love” resonating that much more in the UK after Val left the The Great British Bake Off with a similar sentiment. It doesn’t matter whether you are in Goia or Salvador, people are the same. There is chanting to a drum beat, candles in the temples and madrigal singers on the soundtrack. Director Marco Del Fiol and Gustavo Almeida create a collaged film that pulls on religious conventions of all shapes and forms to strike meaning. They are all part of the same human need.
An artist has to be open to new ideas. This creative necessity is what makes an artist vulnerable. She’s told that “the egg absorbs this negative energy” while it’s dragged across her skin. Plants cover her naked body and she squeezes mud through her wet feet. Comfortable with her form, after years of performance art, Abramović can see that these men and women of faith are open to these new experiences. They try them, to save themselves, in a manner that an artist might trial an idea to see if it works. The Space in Between: Marina Abramović connects God with art via the beauty of nature.
This was part of the London Film Festival 2016 coverage for Culturefly