Abramovic Draws Art from Mysticism

By Zuzia Czemier-Wolonciej, Staff Writer

Marina Abramovic, the 70-year-old Yugoslavian performance artist, is undeniably one of the most important visionaries of our time. She has been furthering the boundaries of physical and emotional endurance through her work for over four decades. However, even the most extraordinary artist can certainly be doubted when she recalls in her new film “The Space In Between” the words of a shaman and describes herself as “not from this earth,” but coming “from the faraway stars.” Sounds absurd, doesn’t it? Somehow, we can be sure to trust Abramovic.

Returning to Brazil after nearly 20 years, the film takes viewers on a journey of rediscovery and shows us the origins of her spiritual and artistic inspiration. Traveling through places of worship, healing havens and spiritual hermitages, the audience finds her in the spaces between the real and the fantastic; the physical and the mystical. Her goal is to transcend physical and emotional pain and reach the intangible states of being. It’s an intimate journey, triggered by what Abramovic admits to be “emotional and personal troubles,” but also one that reveals the wonders of human determination and faith.

At first, the movie may feel a little like spiritual tourism. Abramovic and her film crew travel from Abadiania, where they witness the live surgeries of The Medium John of God, to Chapada dos Veadeiros to learn his secrets of herbal healing, to Chapada Diamantina to try Ayahuasca and many more such remote locations. In each place, Abramovic goes through a particular ritual and experiences a spiritual awakening.

However, it soon becomes clear that this is not simply a mysticism-filled vacation. It requires an emotional investment and equal appreciation for all beliefs and superstitions. Abramovic’s enthusiasm toward the people she encounters and the ways in which they seek physical, mental and emotional purification is contagious. She marvels at the craftsmanship of religious icons, a homemade meal, a black-and-white photograph and the song of a solitary trumpet player with equal intensity. Watching her observe each phenomena, it becomes easy to believe that spiritual energy can indeed be found anywhere and in anyone.

Still, even for the skeptics out there, the film has another point of interest. Through the journey taken and the resulting art exhibition, the film is a kind of performance act in itself. It is structured and stylized as an art piece, worthy of Abramovic’s impressive body of work. The images are astounding in their beauty, carrying the viewer beyond the cinema screen and into a realm of reverie. It is the sort of experience that needs to be allowed, despite one’s own particular beliefs — whatever they may be.

“The Space in Between” is best enjoyed without any convictions and thoughts at all, for, in Abramovic’s own words, “the moment [you] think experience is not there anymore.”

Email Zuzia Czemier-Wolonciej at film@nyunews.com.

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