Marina Abramovic in Palma: challenging or chic?18th August 2017

The work of Yugoslavian performance artist Marina Abramovic  provokes strong reactions. This I guess, is one of the reasons why the exhibition of her Freeing Series of three films at Galeria Horrach Moya in Placa Drassanes, Palma has been extended to 14 September. 

Like most of the women I know, my partner admires Abramovic and her work. I’m not so sure. I can’t decide what is performance and what’s genuine. But I do find her and what she does fascinating.

An introduction to Marina Abramovic

Marina Abramovic is 71 and routinely described as ‘the grandmother of performance art’. Her work, which explores the limits of physical and psychic pain and is often somewhat unnerving to watch, must be exhausting to perform. Which is, of course, the point.

Perhaps Abramovic’s best-known work is The Artist is Present, which lasted for 736 hours and 30 minutes at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Abramovic sat at a table without moving while visitors to the exhibition sat down opposite her and made eye contact.

This performance is particularly famous because Abramovic’s former collaborator and lover, Ulay, showed up. The reunion between the two was truly moving, despite the fact that their love affair and artistic relationship had ended badly.

For what it’s worth, Lady Gaga is an enormous admirer of Marina Abramovic.

The Freeing Series

A filmed record of three historical performances from 1975, Freeing the Memory, Freeing the Body and Freeing the Voice are, apparently, ‘works of immense importance for the artist and the unfolding of her career’.

In Freeing the Memory, Marina Abramovic attempts to free herself of acquired language by reciting all the words she can remember for 90 minutes. For Freeing the Body she dances naked with her head covered by a black scarf to a drum beat played by an African percussionist. With Freeing the Body, Abramovic screams until she loses her voice.

The films are screened in a bare room, with nowhere to sit. This, I assume, is designed to make the viewer feel uncomfortable enough to appreciate what Abramovic is going through. At Galeria Horrach Moya, we lasted 15 minutes and that included a trip to the bathroom.

Galeria Horrach Moya

There are two Galeria Horrach Moyas in Palma. The first has been on Carrer de Catalunya for years. I’ve always thought it to be the most interesting independent gallery in Palma. The second Galeria Horrach Moya, where the Abramovic films are being shown, is a far more ambitious affair.

The new Galeria includes a restaurant-cocktail bar called Sadrassana which is, apparently, ‘a meeting place for film directors, actors, musicians, writers, artists and designers’. It featured in the BBC series The Night Manager and has been used as a location for commercials.

Think glam, glossy, pseudo-boho chic and you have Sadrassana. When we visited, the restaurant and bar were good and busy, so someone’s no doubt substantial investment is probably paying off.

Which made it all the more bizarre a venue for the raw, confrontational performance art of Abramovic.

From lowlife to highbrow

After I’d watched Marina Abramovic scream herself sick for a few seconds, I wandered over to the window and looked down on Placa Drassanes.

There was a time when this was a place where you could tap dance on the wild side. I remember being in Bar Arenas, on the opposite side of the square to the burnt umber facade of the Galeria, when a tornado hit Mallorca and flooded the bar, much to the surprise of us barflies.

Drunk, stoned and otherwise chemically altered as we were, we formed a human chain and passed buckets of water out of the door until the patron could mop the floor. Just as we were finishing and were going back to our drinks or whatever, the brilliant junkie flamenco guitarist who sometimes played in the bar staggered out of the bathroom. He, and his guitar, were completely drenched. His eyes were wide with shock.

I always wondered if he’d believed the tornado to be the wrath of God descending on him because of his toxic habits. He vanished not long after.

If there’s lowlife in La Llonja today, I have no idea where it is. But I like to think it’s still there, hidden away down one of those twisting, dark alleyways. Waiting.

Leaving my nostalgia for long-gone lowlife La Llonja aside, I would recommend you see the Freeing Series before the exhibition closes on 14 September. Even if it’s a bit too slick for my tastes, Sadrassana is beautifully done and probably a pleasant – and safe – place to hang out.

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