Experiment: This happens when you sit in front of a painting for two hours..

Two weeks ago I watched a very inspiring documentary about the very successful performing artist Marina Abramovic. As a performing artist Marina has always been very extreme in her approach which is why it wasn’t a surprise that for her show ‘the artist is present’ in MoMa New York she decided to take on the extremely difficult (emotionally, physically and mentally) challenge of sitting on a chair, looking into peoples’ eyes and making a connection with every single one of them for 3 months, 7 days a week, 8 hours a day. I can’t even imagine the pain and challenges she’s had to overcome during these three-months of performing..

Around the same time I watched the documentary I also finished the book ‘thrive’ by Arianna Huffington. From this book I took away two main things; first of all I concluded that, once again, I’m running too fast. Arianna writes about ‘slow living’, or in other words being present in the here and now without multi tasking and rushing. This is something I’ve been working on for the last three years and continue to struggle with. Secondly, she mentions one of her daughters’ school assignments, for which she had to visit a gallery and sit in front of a painting for two hours describing her experiences. While reflecting on the book I found myself wanting to slow down in life again and I decided to start my new intentions by going to Tate Modern to sit in front of a painting for two hours, doing nothing else than observing and experiencing.

This was two weeks ago and I decided to do it right there and then. Making my way over to the Tate I thought I was going to to choose one Fahrelnissa Zeid’s painting (an a-ma-zing exhibition that is currently on, please go visit if you are around!), but while strolling through Tate I changed my mind and sat down in front of a beautiful Gerhard Richter. Why? I walked into his room of abstract works from back in the 90’s, in which he began to run his squeegee up and down the canvas in an ordered fashion to produce vertical columns that take on the look of a wall of planks, and I just couldn’t think of any better place to challenge myself. I felt that the predominantly grey calmness in combination with the interesting underlying red colours and movement were exactly what I needed to look at for two hours. I do not want to compare my work to the master himself at all, but whenever I see his work it kind of reminds me of the creative energy I put into my work.

So what happened next?
Let’s start with the ‘result’ – no epiphany. It’s a common expectation for people who do experiments like these to hope for epiphanies, hoping to find themselves or come up with an amazing idea. For me however it was two hours of trying to find the right position, or any possible position at all, while wearing a cozy scarf and my headphones (just noise cancellation, no music) as I wanted to make sure I would not get too distracted by things happening around me.

So if I did not have an epiphany, what were my observations? Well, here it comes:
– Security did not look weird at me at all, which surprised me to some extend(t?), as no one else seemed to stay longer than 5 min.
– People took photos before even looking at the painting properly (or did not look at it at all). Just an observation, no judgment, especially as I do it myself as well. It feels as if the first glance and the actual studying of the painting up close are two completely different things and different experiences. Is this a good thing, I haven’t figured it out. Have you? Would be cool to hear your steps in approaching and photographing a painting in the comments below!
– The grey, red and white painting I had chosen seemed to attract people (or groups of people) wearing clothes in the same color combinations. Interesting to keep in mind the next time I do an experiment like this – see if this theory still holds up!
– It felt like I was back in University. Realising that I’m a new generation kid with an attention span of basically nothing. Despite my daily meditations I still find it hard to focus for a long time, let alone 2 hours.
– Checked my watch 3 times within two hours, after 50 minutes, after 80 minutes and 100 minutes. This I did not want to do.. but it happened, so I observed and accepted.
– The first 50 minutes went by really fast and I felt I was in trance. The last 30 minutes went by very very slow. Not sure keeping track of the time was a good idea after all..
– Sometimes my eyes fell shut (no sleeping, just tired of focussing). As I did not want to be too hard on myself I decided to accept this happening. Whenever I opened my eyes I found the painting to have changed, sometimes for the better sometimes for the worse.

So what did I see? I saw different things each time I looked at it, from spring to autumn, from dark to light, from reflecting water to woods, from Paris in the rain to the Pantheon in Rome and faces and humans both happy and struggling. This is not a joke, I’ve seen all of the above mentioned things. This to me proves once again that not only the creation of and abstract painting, but also looking at it entails so much more than just enjoyable color combinations on a canvas. Abstract paintings can take many forms and shapes as long as you dare to look at it. It will reflect your inner state and your brain will start making associations with both the colours and forms. After looking at the painting for a while you, funny enough, get the feeling that you have a connection with the painting, you feel you understand the painting, you have seen each part of it and linked a certain emotion or feeling to it. Basically it turns from a stranger into a friend, going from feeling uncomfortable to feeling very comfortable.

And how did I feel after these two hours? Great! Usually I’m overwhelmed and tired when walking out of a museum. As I’m highly sensitive, all the sensations, colours, people etc. make me tired but this time was different. I felt great and calm. This proved to me the importance of slowing down, at least for me. It will help me cope with an overwhelm of sensations. So if you feel I’m running too fast, could you please remind me to hit the break once in a while? 🙂

Oh and of course it proved once again that Gerhard Richter is an amazing artist, which I already knew.

So would I do it again? YES! And I would highly recommend you to give it a go as well!

Lots of love,
Anne-Claire xx