Marina Abramovic celebrates art of doing nothing in her latest performance 512 Hours

Chris Blackhurst thought he would leave the Serpentine Gallery quickly, hooting with derision at the sheer madness of it all. In fact, he was in a meditative state, akin to being hypnotised

They were queuing at 2am at the Serpentine Gallery in London's Kensington Gardens yesterday. They were still forming an orderly line in the middle of the afternoon, shuffling forward every so often, to have their hand stamped and be admitted inside.

For what, exactly? For the opportunity to take part in the latest work by the performance artist Marina Abramovic . That entails leaving your mobile and other belongings behind in a locker, joining 159 other people and entering a bare, white-walled room.

What you do after that is up to you. Or up to Abramovic and her black-clad assistants. You can stand, sit, or lie down. You can keep your eyes open or closed. What you tend not to do is to talk, shout or act the goat – peer pressure and the silent artist see to that.

There are two rooms off the main room, and you can walk around. There are some plain, wooden folding chairs and that's it. Every so often, Abramovic or one of her staff will go up to someone, hold out a hand in an invitation to join them. They take them over to a wall, murmur an instruction, and leave them. There they might remain, staring at the wall, for as long as they like.

In my case, I was led to the middle of a side room. I was told to close my eyes and listen to my breathing and the sounds around me. It was a profoundly relaxing, reductive experience. Trance-like. In the middle of London on a weekday afternoon.

Everybody moved around quietly. Eyes were met and averted. There was the intimacy of the party, the train carriage, of souls knowing each other but not knowing each other. There was submission, too. Nobody refused the request of Abramovic or her team.

Read more: Review: Marina Abramovic: 512 Hours
Marina Abramovic takes on 'cynical, drunken' Brits
Marina Abramović: The grandmother of performance art

I admit, I found myself thinking that this is how it will end: in a home; sitting and staring, but not looking; abandoned in my thoughts; folk coming and going; occasionally being walked by a nurse.

Blinds were pulled down at all the windows, except one. There, people on the outside were gazing in, adding to the sense of exhibition and separation, of us being confined but lost in our own space. Abramovic might add some objects or remove the chairs. She might guide the crowd to do different things. She might dance, scream. It's up to her.

Abramovic was born in Belgrade in 1946. As a young artist, she began exploring the relationship between artist and audience. She developed the "Abramovic Method", a series of simple exercises, such as separating seeds from a pile of rice, to increase physical and mental awareness. She stayed in Eastern Europe until she met the German artist Ulay. They lived and worked together – they once walked from opposite ends of the Great Wall of China, meeting in the middle. Since 1989, she's performed solo, basing herself first in Amsterdam and then, from 2001, in New York.

Now she concentrates on pushing the limits of her being. And of her audience – it was strangely exhausting, doing nothing.

Waiting patiently: Chris Blackhurst in the queue outside the Serpentine Gallery (Justin Sutcliffe) Waiting patiently: Chris Blackhurst in the queue outside the Serpentine Gallery (Justin Sutcliffe)
I'd arrived, I confess, supposing that I would leave quickly, hooting with derision at the sheer madness of standing in a room with my eyes closed or focusing on a wall for hours on end in the company of strangers who would all be doing something similar. In fact, I was in a meditative state, akin to being hypnotised (the feeling afterwards was uncannily similar) or deep in contemplation.

When I looked around the room, at the 159 other people, I was reminded of Antony Gormley's figures. That was my impression; others will have had their own.

This is the first time that Abramovic has staged a "durational" performance at a UK public gallery. Called 512 Hours, it lasts just that: from 10am to 6pm for 64 days. It's also her first major performance since her piece The Artist is Present at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, in 2010. Then, visitors were invited to sit in silence opposite her and gaze into her eyes for an unspecified length of time. She did this every day for three months.

The work was a sensation, with some people breaking down in tears, others proclaiming their elation, still others maintaining it was rubbish. Some went repeatedly, day after day, and a club was even formed for Marina Abramovic regulars. That, though, was formulaic.

The Serpentine installation is entirely unstructured and simple, with no rules, no formula. All that's guaranteed is that Abramovic will be there the whole time.

The voice of her assistant had whispered in my ear that I could stand with my eyes shut for as long as I wanted. That in itself was a challenge to our sensibilities. Was that five minutes or 10? Or an hour or more? What if I stayed all afternoon, until 6pm?

When I opened my eyes, after about 20 minutes or so, my fellow audience had changed. The woman who was lying flat out on the floor had gone. Two people who hadn't been there before were in front of me, facing the wall. A different man was sitting on a chair, his eyes closed.

As I left, those in the queue were standing patiently, waiting their turn. They appeared exactly like the people I'd left behind.

'Marina Abramovic : 512 Hours' is at the Serpentine Gallery until 25 August.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
The Great British Bake Off contestants line-up behind Sue and Mel in the Bake Off tent

Arts and Entertainment
Mitch Winehouse is releasing a new album

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Beast would strip to his underpants and take to the stage with a slogan scrawled on his bare chest whilst fans shouted “you fat bastard” at him

Arts and Entertainment
On set of the Secret Cinema's Back to the Future event

Arts and Entertainment
Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman

Arts and Entertainment
Pedro Pascal gives a weird look at the camera in the blooper reel

Arts and Entertainment
Public vote: Art Everywhere poster in a bus shelter featuring John Hoyland
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Griffin holds forth in The Simpsons Family Guy crossover episode

Arts and Entertainment
Judd Apatow’s make-it-up-as-you-go-along approach is ideal for comedies about stoners and slackers slouching towards adulthood
filmWith comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
Arts and Entertainment
booksForget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Arts and Entertainment
Off set: Bab El Hara
tvTV series are being filmed outside the country, but the influence of the regime is still being felt
Arts and Entertainment
Red Bastard: Where self-realisation is delivered through monstrous clowning and audience interaction
Arts and Entertainment
O'Shaughnessy pictured at the Unicorn Theatre in London
tvFiona O'Shaughnessy explains where she ends and her strange and wonderful character begins
Arts and Entertainment
The new characters were announced yesterday at San Diego Comic Con

Arts and Entertainment
Rhino Doodle by Jim Carter (Downton Abbey)

Arts and Entertainment
No Devotion's Geoff Rickly and Stuart Richardson
musicReview: No Devotion, O2 Academy Islington, London
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film

Arts and Entertainment
Comedian 'Weird Al' Yankovic

Is the comedy album making a comeback?

Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
    Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

    How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

    As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
    We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

    We will remember them

    Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
    Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
    Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

    Acting in video games gets a makeover

    David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
    Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

    Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

    Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
    Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

    Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

    Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
    Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

    Spanx launches range of jeans

    The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
    10 best over-ear headphones

    Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

    Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel
    Commonwealth Games 2014: David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end

    Commonwealth Games

    David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end
    UCI Mountain Bike World Cup 2014: Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings

    UCI Mountain Bike World Cup

    Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings
    Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

    The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

    The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
    A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

    A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

    Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
    Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

    Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

    How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
    Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

    From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

    He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star