Many of you will have noticed that the performance artist Marina Abramovic has lately flown out of the bounds of the art world to be embraced by the larger public. I saw my first Abramovic performance in 2002, when she moved for 12 days into minimally furnished cubes (one of which was the bathroom) in Manhattan’s Sean Kelly Gallery. They were cutaway, so she was entirely exposed to visitors for long hours. She fasted and had no screens or books. I stood for an hour in a shoulder-to-shoulder crowd turned voluntarily quiet as she brushed her long, shiny brunette hair, and stared at us and at the wall.
While I was not surprised that by relentlessly pushing her body and society’s boundaries her already considerable artistic impact grew, I never would have predicted the string of events that turned Abramovic (I think we just call her Marina now) into a pop culture heroine. Lady Gaga would have to become huge, then bring mass-media attention to Marina by visiting her at her 2010 Museum of Modern Art retrospective and performing naked in a video for the artist’s Kickstarter fund for a long-duration performance art centre (she’s raised $600,000). Independent force Riccardo Tisci would have to take over Givenchy and put the 66-year-old Marina in his ad campaigns, and Jay Z (RIP “-”) would have to ask her to help launch his new album.
Whether this signifies the death of performance art (as some lamented) or a fantastic post–TED talk intergenerational synergy, it’s fun to watch it happen and I’m glad I saw her back then. This is a small example of one of the most unexpected upsides of getting old. (Fifty-year-olds, feel free to laugh, but 42 feels ancient.) All the random experiences you’ve acquired begin to come together. You can pluck from this arsenal of knowledge to make sense of the world, while also, in a minor but satisfying way, feeling laced into the fabric of your culture and time.
When I was in university I told a professor that I was cancelling a trip to Malaysia and Hong Kong to stay home and work on a paper. He discouraged me, saying, “Don’t give up an experience.” Now I know why.
In this issue of FLARE, Maureen Halushak interviews Amanda Lindhout, who survived brutality at the hands of Somali kidnappers. Lindhout tells her she doesn’t regret going to Somalia, and has travelled alone since then. This perspective made me uncomfortable: “Protect yourself!” I yelled in my head, still shaking at what she’d endured. But I realized it’s because she, like Marina, lives and breathes this idea more fully than most of us are able to. Years later my wise sister-in-law phrased the philosophy perfectly, when I was balking about making it to some event I can’t remember because I didn’t go: “Always do the thing.”
To shift to a more minor key, my wardrobe has also benefitted from this advice. I’ve far more often regretted what I didn’t buy than what I did, and every splurge has become a reliable staple—the Junya Watanabe mohair Fair Isle sweater, the wide, cropped Marc Jacobs trousers, the vintage toggle cape (oh yes!) that looked a little quirky and costumey six years ago when I bought it but couldn’t be more right now. Like Marina, you can never predict what’s going to rise, or when. This summer, she was in Toronto to perform as part of the Luminato Festival and I met her at the fundraising gala. The known fashion savant complimented me on a neon-pink A Détacher cardigan I’d considered not wearing because it was too sincere an interpretation of the pink-and-black theme. Always do the thing. Get the piece. Wear it.