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Life And Death Of Marina Abramovic: MIF 2011

Mark Garner discovers an amazing performance but not - for him - by MIF

Published on July 11th 2011.

Life And Death Of Marina Abramovic: MIF 2011


Confidential's MIF rating: 19/20

Originality 4.5/5; Performances (acting etc) 5/5; Audience delight 4.5/5; Production 5/5

THERE is a lot a man who left school at sixteen can criticise about Manchester International Festival (MIF).

What they need to do now is realise that their job is not only about bringing the art world to Manchester, but equally it should be about educating and entertaining me.

Those criticisms can include the fact that in the (rather brilliant) pavilion on Albert Square, Poots (the festival gaffer) and co demonstrate a lack of empathy with Manchester and Mancunians by allowing only two beers to be sold. One fizzy and one not fizzy. Neither with any taste and neither from the region. This, whilst a local revolution has been taking place with artisan beer producers within a radius of ten square miles.

It’s not difficult to understand this when you realise that 95% of the MIF staff over the past six years, consuming millions of pounds of wages, take those pay packets back to London or elsewhere. They spend as little time as is humanly possible ‘Up North’.

It doesn’t help that the main media MIF partners upped sticks and buggered off to London at the first possible opportunity, fifty or so years ago, taking with them the Scott Trust millions and ditching the Manchester part of their title.

That would be The Manchester Guardian folks. Now the Guardian. It recently dumped the local paper, The Manchester Evening News, having used it as a cash cow for decades, selling it for a quid once the milk dried up to another London firm who promptly moved the paper to some place outside the city that I’ve never even visited. A bunch of very creative people are now expected to do great things in an environment one notch up from an Indian call centre.

An example of MIF’s main media partner’s attitude to Mancunia in general?

They have produced The Guardian Guide to the Manchester International Festival to help MIF apologise to their arty visitors for Mancunia in general using a mask of ‘sarcasm’.  Oh, and it’s handed out free to everyone at the pavilion and, presumably, at all the tourist centres.

This Guardian Guide has a ‘Tribes of Manchester’ section which is supposed to be funny. It is truly cringe-making, a series of half-gags that have been re-told ten thousand times.

Metrolink 005

‘The Scally may permanently have his hands down his pants, that doesn’t necessarily mean he is dealing drugs or carrying a knife. He is probably just scratching his balls.’

The Chorlton Bohos; ‘a real sense of community, but most Mancunians couldn’t afford a house there.'

The Cheshire Set; ‘At MIF? Not unless Colleen Rooney has created a site-specific theatre piece about shoes in Selfridges.’

The Northern Quarter Hipsters; ‘They may get a bit too excited about some crazy T-shirt they’ve just designed, but at least they’re doing something, eh?'

The Hacienda Man; ‘Just don’t ask him what Spike Island was like, unless you have two hours to spare.’

Excellent choice of Media there MIF. The Guardian’s attitude to Mancunia hasn’t changed.  Who the fuck do you think you all are?

Which brings me to The Life and Death of Marina Abramovic.

I didn’t have a clue what this was about and was looking forward to giving it a good kicking. So, who the fuck is Marina Abramovic?

Marina Abramovic is a performance artist.

Like most great artists, she had a childhood which was challenging, uncomfortable and sometimes violent. She wasn’t allowed to stay out after 10pm by a disturbed mother until she was 29.

 When her mother found out that the shy and retiring, later to be known as ‘Grand Dame of Performance Art’, was performing by hanging upside down naked in the local square, Marina was going to get some.

But not a clip round the ear for our heroine. Mummy confronted her dressed in a Stalinist soldier’s uniform.

“I gave you life and therefore, it is my right to take it away from you,” screams mummy, promptly hurling a heavy, cut crystal glass ash tray at Marina’s head.

Marina has had a love-hate relationship with mum until her death a few years ago; looking at her career, which includes suffocating herself, carving a star into her stomach and sitting still on a chair on stage for three months, this writer is not surprised that she has been described as a sadomasochist. Really?

Ma1Arriving late at the bar of The Lowry Theatre, I was about to be offered a drink by my sponsor, Geraldine Vesey from SKV, when one of the attendants came rushing through.

“Ladies and gentlemen, please take your seats; you are missing things on stage already.”

There was a stampede. It seems that Mrs A likes to wrong foot the punters, the show actually started early.

And what a start; it’s Marina’s funeral, only there are three of her lying in coffins, hauntingly lit (by AJ Weissbard, great stuff all the way through) on a stage scattered with large bones. Then three black, hungry-looking Dalmatians come on and wander around, sniffing. For ten minutes. Weird. Finally, some haunting music comes wafting its way to me in the circle, as if born on a wave of bespoke perfume from a shop next door to The Hotel d’Alsace.

Then, we have Willem Dafoe appearing on his own little stage at the side of the orchestra pit; at first looking like an homage to Heath Ledger in his role of The Joker in Batman, Dafoe is the narrator of what becomes clear is a biography of Mrs A’s life done as a musical.

It is, readers, mesmeric. And for Dafoe, a tour de force. This guy is worth the ticket price alone.

To underline the fact that Mrs A clearly doesn’t mind being bound and beaten from time to time, she plays her mother. In the horniest black velvet gown you ever did see. It needs to be said that Abramovic at sixty four years of age looks fantastic. I would. Definitely.

Antony, of Antony and The Johnsons fame, has written, and performs, ‘a handful’ of songs throughout the piece, partnering at times with Christopher Nell, a counter tenor who is on line to become a great.

Antony, looking like something out of my imagination when first reading Dune at eighteen, goes shoulder to shoulder with Dafoe for best performance of their life gong. I loved the pet lobster. No doubt my artistic betters will be able to tell me the relevance of this, a nod to the master of surrealism, Dali, perhaps? I just thought it charming and witty.

Which speaks for the whole piece. Charming and witty. With lots of salt and vinegar. Oh. Engaging and HUGELY entertaining. Thought provoking. I could go on…

 It’s a shocking story for most people to discover, as stated, Abramovic had a difficult upbringing.

Most people involved in the arts, certainly on the periphery, with their perfect childhoods full of loving, nut avoiding parents who sent their offspring to do a ‘posh totty’ degree at Oxford and Cambridge will be appalled by the artist’s upbringing. They would never have delivered the slaps endured by Marina at the hand of a clearly loony mother. But, girls and boys, Marina, I am pretty sure, will not regret one sting on the cheek. Because adversity breeds character.

Which Abramovic has in great big steel bucket loads.

The experience has made her what she is, and has brought us Mancunians a spectacle that everyone of us should try and understand. Abramovic is a Grand Dame; we should feel privileged to watch her cut off an ear in front of us.

And this is where I have to quit my moanin’ and a groanin’ about Poots and MIF; for me they have delivered magnificently with just this one piece (and judging by the reviews elsewhere on this site, with most of the other content too).

What they need to do now is realise that their job is not only about bringing the art world to Manchester, but equally it should be about educating people like me, about Marina Abramovic and her strange but fascinating world.

MIF should broaden its remit and promote itself to Mancunia with more than illegible flags down Princess Parkway. You need, for example, to market Doctor Who as Doctor Who, and not The Crash of the Elysium. By not calling it Doctor Who and The Crash of the Elysium they have ensured large numbers of non-art world Manchester punters have missed out on being involved in MIF.

And Marina?

If you are reading this, performance art is one thing, paying the rent is another. Don’t listen to sycophants, call it a musical.

With work like this those money worries mentioned by Dafoe must be a thing of the past for Abramovic. That would have been achieved earlier if the marketing had been right from the beginning and attracted more people like me. 

The Life and Death of Marina Abramovic is at The Lowry until Saturday 16 July. Tickets from £15-£39.50. www.mif.co.uk


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32 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

Fiona MauraJuly 11th 2011.

Great article. Especially compared to the laziness displayed by the Guardian's own Alfred Hickling.

Richard HJJuly 11th 2011.

The whole Tribes thing is fairly excruciating isn't it. Not sure it's ever been a particularly funny format. Did it ever have a heyday? "The Jacobean smoker" was the watershed of Tribes comedy in our house...

Simon TurnerJuly 11th 2011.

MIF's beer/lager offer is poor, this is true. However, I assume MIF have no control over the content of the Guardian Guide. Your beef is with the Guardian, one of their "media partners" and I'm sure this isn't in any way coloured by the fact during MIF09 ManCon were advertising on ManCon (if I remember rightly), which they're not doing this year.

tblzebraJuly 11th 2011.

I am SO glad you've given the Guardian a kicking for the appalling, stereotypical Tribes piece-of-sh*te article.

Why did MIF agree to it being the centrepage spread in a Guide to the festival that they endorse?

And they definitely do endorse it.

Karen HandJuly 11th 2011.

Simon I think if you look at all the reviews and articles on Mancon this year, they're nearly all very very positive. This isn't and that Tribes thing is embarrassing

YawnJuly 11th 2011.

There’s also that bollocks about United fans not being from Manchester in the Guardian booklet thing on tribes. I was on a Haunted Underworld tour with the editor, he asked the people on it whether they were City or United fans to back-up some tale about Bradford Colliery - which stood where the Eithad Stadium now stands. The hands-up were 5-1 in favour of United and the people on the tour were all local.

1 Response: Reply To This...
BaggioJuly 12th 2011.

wow! that proves it then! maybe he should have then asked "and how many of you actually attend matches?"

Simon TurnerJuly 11th 2011.

Karen - Simon Binns writing that "Who's It For?" piece wasn't very positive. The reviews have been though, granted.

tblzebra - Did they "endorse it" though??

Someone's just told me the guy who wrote the Tribes piece is from Urmston. Not sure if this is true. He's obv some Man City fan, but not a Londoner.

CBBBBDJuly 11th 2011.

It's Tony Naylor and he is local. And he should have known better. It's a reworked and tired formula. That United thing is plain silly. Back to the point though: this show was magnificent and is heartily recommended.

AsonJuly 11th 2011.

Mgnificent piece of work caught by Garner. I think he may have overstated the case against MIF though.

tblzebraJuly 11th 2011.

@Simon Turner, the Guardian MIF Guide states in the small print at the front that it was produced in collaboration with MIF.

Plus MIF distributed it to information points that ran out of their official guide.

Simon TurnerJuly 11th 2011.

In collaboration doesn't mean that MIF got final say over the contents though? Although as you say, if they were as horrified by that cartoon of the tribes as much as Mark Garner appears to be they wouldn't have distributed it.

tblzebraJuly 11th 2011.

So do you think the article was OK Simon? And the cartoon - why are there two blokes in drag behind the Cheshire Set label?

Simon TurnerJuly 12th 2011.

The article and the cartoon are two pages in the Guardian Guide MIF special and are supposed to be funny I guess, and aren't accurate or very clever or subtle, or funny. I don't think they undo the good work of MIF tho.

Jonathan Schofield - editorJuly 12th 2011.

Simon who does think do that? We don't. Out of the c8000 words (at least ten articles) we've put up about MIF, very very few have contained nasty stuff about the Festival. Mark makes points here that he's entitled to make given the editorial freedom of Confidential. Surely there shouldn't be a Soviet of Acceptance about all MIF does?

We've supported the Festival unequivocally since its inception in 2007. The ratings we've given the shows this time around - and the coach outing we are about to promote to Thursday's show at the Whitworth - prove this. But the Festival has got some things wrong, these are worth pointing out so it can improve next time around.

Simon TurnerJuly 12th 2011.

Ooops, sorry obviously hit a raw nerve. Like I say, the big Simon Binns 'Who's it For' article appeared to go out of its way to be critical but the reviews have been very positive and where have I said all is good and perfect with MIF? I was just making a point that berating MIF for a silly two page thing in a Guide produced by the Guardian is a bit daft, and I mischievously suggesting that ManCon may have been irked by being sidelined this year when it came to 'media partner' or advertising. But you're probably right, Mark spending half a Marina review having a go at the Guardian was not only great journalism but coincidental too.

Jonathan Schofield - editorJuly 12th 2011.

Simon. We like to interact with our magnificent readership.

Richard HJJuly 12th 2011.

Surely MIF will be judged in the end on the quality of the work delivered. And judging by The Life and Death of Marina Abramovic which I had the pleasure of seeing last night that legacy is going to be pretty damn impressive. Again.

SKBJuly 12th 2011.

I feel I must point out that in my experience the notion that: "95% of the MIF staff over the past six years, consuming millions of pounds of wages, take those pay packets back to London or elsewhere.." is frankly codswallop. The vast majority of staff that I've had the pleasure of meeting (no, I don't work there) are local (either in origin or permanent base) and if they aren't, are freelancers who have returned to the festival year after year and are dedicated to bringing the best of the arts world to somewhere that ISN'T London for a change.

AnonymousJuly 12th 2011.

I hate to put some Mancunian noses out of joint, but as a frequent visitor and one-time resident of your great city, there are plenty of people who fit into those 'Tribes' categories! But then every city has its types, so I wouldn't be too touchy about it...

Tom HilesJuly 12th 2011.

I loved the tribes thing when it appeared in the Guardian a few weeks ago - though it does slightly out of place to see MIF reprint it themselves - and enjoyed trying to find my place in the tribes. Ended up deciding I sit halfway between the scallies and the Chorlton set - grow my own veg, ride a pushbike, go to MIF events, on the dole, wear a hoody. So like any stereotypes they're not meant to be taken seriously.

I actually think it gives outsiders a bit of light-hearted and affectionate insight into some of the scenes in Manchester, which in some cases are dead on. To say it's The Guardian's attitude at fault is balls, as only a local could put this together.

1 Response: Reply To This...
Tom HilesJuly 12th 2011.

*does SEEM slightly...

ljmpoolJuly 13th 2011.

great article and write up about Marina. Couldn't you just put the criticisms of MIF and the pavillion in another article (not that i don't agree with most of them). This takes away from the actual review, and what was a very good review of a very interesting piece. Hard work at times, and frankly no idea what the hell i was looking at, but stunning stuff.

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