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Seedbed (review)

From: Theatre Journal
Volume 58, Number 2, May 2006
pp. 337-340 | 10.1353/tj.2006.0135

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Theatre Journal 58.2 (2006) 337-340

Seedbed. By Marina Abramovic. Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York. 10 November 2005.

Like the title of her larger project, Seven Easy Pieces, Marina Abramovic's rendition of Vito Acconci's Seedbed (1972) is at once simple and densely ironic. The Guggenheim's program outlines the straightforward aspect of her endeavor: "Abramovic reenacts seminal performance works by her peers dating from the 1960s and 1970s, interpreting them as one would a musical score and documenting their realization." Myriad complexities unfold, however, as soon as one enters the physical space. A musical score is a writtenform of composition, with parts for different instruments appearing on separate staves. By contrast, Abramovic's interpretation is a profoundly embodied engagement, with no easy way to isolate its aesthetic, institutional, and sociopolitical elements.

Inside the Guggenheim's vast rotunda, I immediately noticed how the scene of reenactment looks nothing like existing photographs of Acconci's

Click for larger view
Figure 1
Vito Acconci in Seedbed (1972). Copyright Vito Acconci 1972. Courtesy Gladstone Gallery, New York.

Click for larger view
Figure 2
Marina Abramovic performing Vito Acconci's Seedbed (1972). Photo: Kathryn Carr © Courtesy the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, New York.

original work. Acconci positioned himself beneath a false floor at the Sonnabend Gallery, masturbating six hours a day while vocalizing his fantasies about visitors walking above him. His notorious fusion of performance and installation took place in a starkly confined perimeter. The installation dimensions were roughly six by three feet. The ramp under which he sought to establish an intimate connection with listeners was sharply angled, obliging audiences to move above him on a slant. Apart from a loudspeaker placed level to the floor, no other visual distractions occupied the space.

With its domed ceiling and spiraling ramps, the Guggenheim's towering rotunda feels strangely cathedral-like. Russian Orthodox icons lining the walls add to its highbrow solemnity, whereas the spectators poised on various levels foster a climate of aggressive surveillance. Many viewers take notes, pointing or staring at others below. This sensation of scrutiny seems far more intriguing at first than the circle on the ground floor, beneath which Abramovic lies. The base of that circle is about three feet high and fifteen feet in diameter, with elevated edges around which a more limited number of onlookers stand. At 6:00 P.M., I joined the snaking line to access this interior. A security guard let people upstairs one by one, as others departed. Professionals filmed the action; no one else was allowed to record the event.

After a while, I finally reached the inside. It felt bright under the spotlights, warm in the presence of Marina's luxuriant voice: "I don't want to ask your name, or who you are, or what you want. I recognize you have the same heat, the same desire." Under normal circumstances, such dialogue sounds patently false. Inside the circle, however, it seemed specific and sincere. I sat down and felt the forceful vibrations of Marina's syllables enter my body. She abruptly asked, "Where are the steps? I need to hear steps." Several people stomp or tap their heels. "I'm coming," she replies, "just for you."

Though Abramovic fantasizes about sucking cock, it's oddly unproblematic to imagine that she's coming just for me. Later, I will overhear two young men express disappointment in the content of her fantasies. One says, "They're fairly feminized in a fairly stereotypical, heteronormative way." The other agrees, "Has she made love to a woman yet?" In the moment, however, I was unconcerned with gender politics, content just to be with her. "I'm going to come," Marina promises, "Yes, faster, faster." The next sound I hear is a pleasurable howl, "Ohww! Ohwwww!" Clichés about women as animals enter my mind, yet Marina's orgasm paradoxically disarms my self-consciousness. All around, people smile and seem happy for her. Next is the hollow sound of rattling. We chuckle, astonished to realize it's a toilet flushing. She tells us she always has to pee after coming, and promptly resumes masturbating.

The circle seems a space of true reciprocity. Abramovic...

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