Last Wednesday I went to see the artist Marina Abramovic at the Serpentine Gallery where she is staging ‘512 Hours’. For three months Marina Abramovic is at the gallery from 10am to 6pm, six days a week. Everyone is invited to come. She greets you at the door. Then you walk into three empty rooms. Throughout the day she approaches her visitors and talks to them. A young assistant tells you to do things, such as standing with a face against a wall or walking in a room blind-folded. But you don’t have to. You can just sit on the floor and observe.
My visit made me think a lot about private versus public, and our individual body – and emotions – as part of a public performance. It also made me think about the role and power of a hostess. Because that is precisely what I explore with the Peirene Salons.
Four times a year total strangers enter our house. We wine and dine them. We provide literary entertainment. We offer our private, personal space for public encounters and conversation.
Strangers drop their coats on our bed, glimpse our family photos on the wall and see the books that we are reading. For an entire evening our personal refuge – our home – turns into a public arena.
It’s by far the most stressful thing I do.
Traditionally, a Salon has always taken place in a woman’s house. Two hundred years ago that might have been a necessity. Women were not part of public life. However, the connection between women and Salons goes deeper. A Salon is an exploration of what happens when private and public spheres collide, interact and fuse.
I went with a friend to Mariana Abromovic’s 512 Hours. My friend left the gallery angry. In her view, Marina Abranovic didn’t do anything. I, on the other hand, felt exhilarated. As far as I could tell, she had done a lot – she provoked feelings which we were forced to carry with us to the outside. And apparently she provoked these feelings without doing much. Or did she?
What I suddenly realized last Wednesday: Abramovic in her function as the hostess created a fusion of the private and the public and so offered her guests – and herself – a chance to participate in a communal performance.
I attend a lot of public literary events. Often they are completely disconnected from the actual creative source of literature which is the private. I.e. Good literature, in my view, always stems from a personal space or preoccupation. However, many literary events stand in stark contrast to that. The environment has no connection to the book presented and the author is interested in selling the work rather than talking about it and inviting the guests on a journey of discovery.
I have now finally understood why the Peirene Salon is so important to me – and why, despite of all the stress, I am looking forward to each one of them: The Salon not only brings together hosts and guests and fuses private and public, but it also offers a platform where the story is linked back to the private place from where it originated. Thank you Marina Abramovic for giving me these insights.
Image by David Lombardia.