Marina Abramovic selects 12 Australian artists for Kaldor project residence
Marina Abramovic selects 12 Australian artists for Kaldor project residence

Marina Abramovic selects 12 Australian artists for Kaldor project residence.
By Joel Meares SMH 4 May 2015

Sydney artists Frances Barrett (left) and George Khut have been selected by Marina Abramovic to participate in her in residence program when her exhibition opens at Pier 2/3 in June 2015, curated by Emma Pike (centre). Photo: Dallas Kilponen.

In the past, Sydney artist George (Poonkhin) Khut has made art you can control with your heartbeat and with your breath – with a little help from acclaimed performance artist Marina Abramovic, he will next make art you can control with your brain.

Khut is one of 12 Australian artists that Abramovic has selected for an 11-day live-in residency on the top floor of Pier 2/3 this winter, part of the New York artist's major takeover of the venue for the 30th Kaldor Public Art Project, a project set to be bigger than Kaldor's previous 13 Rooms.  

While visitors to Marina Abramovic: In Residence move through various meditative 'Abramovic' experiences (silently, having checked their mobile phones in at entry), the artists upstairs will hold workshops, talks and develop their projects. They will also work privately with Abramovic every morning in their home and work space, which will be designed by Harry Seidler &Associates.

In an extension of Khut's exploration of 'biofeedback' – he worked with Westmead Children's Hospital on an app that wirelessly sensed heart rates and rewarded restfulness with bright colours and sounds – he will use his time to develop a project that utilises brainwaves.

"People will wear brainwave sensors that measure alpha brainwaves," says Khut, a lecturer at UNSW Art and Design (formerly COFA). So equipped, they will lie on beds fitted with large motors and speakers. "The brainwaves get stronger the calmer you are – the more open and present you are, the more sound and vibrations you will hear and feel."

"It's how the immaterial conscious state becomes tangible."

The interest in being present, in restfulness and openness, is something that resonates with Abramovic's own art – after confrontational early works (in one she invited the audience to whip and harm her), the artist has more recently focused on performance that less violently blurs the line between artist and audience, and on fully experiencing the present moment. In 2010 Abramovic famously sat at a table in New York's Museum of Modern Art and invited visitors to sit opposite her in silence.

Kaldor Public Art Projects (KPAP) director John Kaldor says the chance to be mentored by Abramovic will have "an immediate impact on the artists involved as well as a lasting legacy for the wider Australian arts industry".

KPAP curator Emma Pike worked with Sophie O'Brien (who curated Abramovic's 512 Hours exhibition in London in 2014) on selecting 65 candidates for the residency positions; Abramovic then whittled them down to the final 12. They include performance artist Frances Barrett, artist and writer Sarah Jane Norman, medium-blending artist Sarah Rodigari and Zin – artists Harriet Gillies and Roslyn Helper – all from Sydney. Acclaimed London-based Australian photographic and performance artist Christian Thompson is also among the group, along with Melbourne artists Nat Abbott and Nicola Gunn.

Performance artist Gunn, who is working on a show called Piece for Person and Ghetto Blaster, at Sydney's Performance Space in November (it will later tour to Melbourne and other state capitals) says she hopes Abramovic can help her create conflict on stage, and figure out how to use the audience to resolve it. "She creates situations in her work where there is a lot of conflict and resistance," says Gunn. "They transform into quite profound and ritualistic experiences."

Pike says the artists come from a number of disciplines – from dance to theatre and visual art – representing the "melting pot" that is 'performance art' today. And for those who find the words 'performance art' daunting she says the key is to relax.

"I think that question, 'What if I don't get it?' is the problem," says Pike. "The expectation of having an answer to something every time we go to a show is not the right approach. Go, spend time, don't try to solve the problem while you're there. Let it dilute over time. It might be several months before you see the poignancy."

Marina Abramovic: In Residence is at Pier 2/3, Walsh Bay, June 24-July 5 2015. Entry is free and restricted to ages 12 and up.

To read more about Kaldor's Marina Abramovic project click here.