In the fancy setting of a prestigious art gallery with blank walls we are invited to do nothing. Marina Abramovic’s ‘durational performance,’ entitled ‘512 Hours’ is drawing rave reviews from critics and long queues from punters for whom standing still in a bare and quiet room is an exciting counter-cultural experience.
Actually I loved my time at the Serpentine. Phones, headphones, wallets and keys are left in a locker and you instantly realise how these tools we rely on so eagerly draw us away from intimacy, replacing genuine connection with swipes, taps and clicks. We wore noise insulation headphones which cut out all external noise, but allowed me to hear the sound of my own heart, gently doing its miraculous, life-giving and so-easily-overlooked thing. The sense of sight seemed sharper – a fellow visitor was brought to stand directly infront of me and we gazed at each other for far longer than would have been the case had we scuttled by on the street. And in the face of this slightly pudgy man with burst blood vessels around his nose and tufts of hair emerging from his ears, I witnessed the humanity of a stranger and it was utterly beautiful – far more beautiful than even the most delicate oil painting. Abramovic’s coup is to package the experience of carrying, hearing and seeing ‘nothing’ as something more rich and inspiring than the regular day-to-day experiences of carrying this and that and being bombarded by ceaseless sights and sounds. The exhibition at the Serpentine has a week to run and I do recommend it – but compared to Shabbat ....
Imagine a weekly installation with wallets, phones and the like put away. Imagine a time where focus was brought to the faces of our nearest and dearest, freed of the weekday habits of scuttling past as if we were strangers to one another. Imagine a time when our whole relationship to the material world had a reset – where we reconfigure our sense of gratitude for what we have and to whom we should be grateful. Imagine coming together to eat, to pray, to sing. What a work of art that would be. As Abraham Joshua Heschel taught in the last significant interview he gave at the end of his life, ‘Above all remember that the meaning of life it to build a life as if it were a work of art. You are not a machine. And you are young. Start working on this great work of art called your own existence.’ There is no way to self-curate this work of art as perfectly – not even a visit to the Serpentine Gallery – that can touch the power of Shabbat. Best start practicing soon,