“I was really concerned that she was going to die”, says Marco Del Fiol, director of ‘The Space in Between: Marina Abramovic and Brazil’. The documentary follows the Serbian Performance artist on a spiritual journey through Brazil. In her search for personal healing she is as fearless as in her extreme performances.
In the 1970s Abramovic did a series of performances, ‘Rhythms’, that nearly cost her her life. In ‘Rhythm 5’ she lost consciousness when she was laying at the centre of a burning star and two audience members removed her from the flames as she nearly suffocated. In ‘Rhythm 0’, the most extreme in the series, she wanted to find out how far the public would go. On a table Abramovic placed 72 objects (including a loaded gun) and the audience was invited to use these objects to their wishes on her. Towards the end of the performance someone actually placed the gun to her head.
These performances made her well known in the art world. In 2010, she became known to a wide audience with a heartbreaking scene in ‘The Artist Is Present’, a documentary on her life and work. It features a moving reunion moment which has more than 25 million views on YouTube. For her MoMA retrospective, during a period of three months, Abramovic shared a moment of silence with each stranger who sat in front of her. Abramovic breaks into tears when an old acquaintance takes a seat in front of her. It is Ulay. In 1988, they ended their 12 years work and love relationship with a riviting, epic last performance: ‘The Lovers: The Great Wall Walk’. They walked the Great Wall of China each from one end to meet in the middle to break up. Their reunion seems like a life-flashes-before-your-eyes moment where they relive all the joyful and painful episodes in their lives.
In her performances Abramovic dealt with excruciating physical pain. Now, in this documentary, she is determined to deal with emotional pain. She reveals that she had two big loves in her life and the second one really broke her heart.
The documentary has some arresting scenes. In one shamanistic ceremony she nearly loses control over herself when she drinks Ayahuasca, an entheogenic brew used as a traditional spiritual medicine. In a voice-over Abramovic describes the purgative effects of Ayahuasca resulting in uncontrollable vomiting, urinating and diarrhoea. Another gripping scene, but less extreme, is when she struggles to break an egg with her two bare hands.
At the London Film Festival 200% spoke with Del Fiol on Abramovic’s spiritual quest.
200%: How much time did you spend with Marina making the documentary?
Marco del Fiol: We started shooting at the end of 2012. We shot the biggest part of the film in 40 days. Then we took a pause for a year. Marina came back to Brazil to shoot the part in Curitiba. In the middle of the shooting the film producers suggested to Marina to do an exhibition, ‘Terra Comunal’, in March 2015 in São Paulo. We included the exhibition in the film as the end of the journey.
200%: Did you also go to a journey yourself in making this documentary?
MF: To reach this level of intimacy with Marina you have to expose yourself. I had to put myself in the movie, even though I am behind the camera.
200%: How did you do that?
MF: In so many ways. To make this kind of film you have to be generous and have complete dedication and trust in each other. You have to enter the physical space of the rituals and the inner space of Marina. One of my favourite quotes in the documentary is when Mãe Filhinha, this 110 years old lady from Bahia, says: “One of the main things in life is that you must learn how to enter and how to leave places”. This is the main thing that a documentary maker should know how to do. You are entering someone’s life and you have to sense when you interact with your subject and when to leave them alone.
200%: The egg scene with Denise Maia is quite memorable. She developed a technique for man to become in natural contact with his spirituality. She rolls two eggs over Abramovic naked body and asks her to break them with her bare hands to ‘break’ her problems. The first one goes quite easy but she struggles to break the second one – even with two hands.
MF: Yes, this is the craziness about spirituality [laughs]. Denise explains that the egg pushes out all the negativity or certain issues that you have. It turns out really hard for Marina to break the egg. It is a physical manifestation of a trauma. If you cannot pass through it emotionally, you are not able to break the egg.
200%: Do you think the Brazilian experience has transformed Marina?
MF: Totally. At the time we started filming the documentary, ‘The Artist Is Present’, had been released and she had become a celebrity. Also she was included by Time magazine on their list of ‘100 Most Influential People in the World’. When she arrived in Brazil, she was still in this buffer zone of decompression. In the beginning of the film you can see she is very concerned with her looks. Throughout the journey you experience, not her deconstruction, but her self exposure. She becomes more free, let’s go of her vanity and shows her vulnerability and insecurities.
200%: How did you experience the Ayahuasca ceremony? Were you concerned about Marina’s health?
MF: Oh yes, I was really concerned that she was going to die. If she dies here, what am I going to do? The Shaman, though, told me not to worry “This is Peia, a state of cleansing that people pass through. Nobody dies from Peia”.
200%: In the documentary Marina says she can deal with physical pain but emotional pain gives her trouble. Do you think she healed her emotional pain?
MF: Yes, I believe with this spiritual journey Marina’s emotional pain, her wounds have been healed, not all of them because we always have to re-enter in our caves to face our fears and wounds. It is like peeling an onion. Marina is full of drama and talks about Maria Callas who died from a broken heart. I don’t believe that Marina will die from a broken heart.
Interview conducted by Thierry Somers
Photographs: Fernando Lima, Marco Anelli