A spiritual journey that will reflect upon the viewer.
Generally speaking, modern Australians are sceptical people. Our childhoods are rarely defined by strict adherence to religion, unlike a Catholic Irish upbringing or an orthodox Jewish American one. I was born to a mother who rebelled against her religious parents and a father who was raised atheist, which put in me, and many others of my generation, a heavy dose of scepticism.
Watching The Space in Between: Marina Abramovic in Brazil, I had to constantly contend with my suspicion of charlatanism and cultism when watching miracle worker João de Deus (John of God) perform surgeries guided by ‘entities’, or curb my disbelief that God and Jesus Christ had anything to do with a woman who lived to 110 years of age. When it comes to medicine, I can’t help but feel more comfortable when I can see the degrees hanging on the wall.
Marina Abramovic is not like me. A famous performance artist, her most iconic work (immortalised in the excellent documentary The Artist is Present) had her sitting in the Museum of Modern Art in New York, eye-to-eye with anyone who wished to be with her. She believes in the power of unspoken, unexplained connection—the perfect candidate for a spiritual journey.
In her latest documentary, Abramovic travels across Brazil in search of rituals and religious practices. She explains that she’s looking to mend her broken heart through some of the more peculiar and isolated practices in the country. In addition to the two cases above, she also downs a cup of ayahuasca. Typical of Abramovic, no stranger to bodily abuse, she downs another after the first batch doesn’t kick in, enduring ‘the worst experience of [her] life.’
Director Marco Del Fiol relies on the charisma and star power of Abramovic to bring in the audience, whose willingness to engage in the odd rituals (she’s unafraid to be naked or recorded moaning in pain during the ayahuasca trip) and lack of cynicism contras with the journalistic approaches of a Jon Ronson or Louis Theroux type. The thing is, the purpose of Abramovic’s journey is so personal and her explanation of it so vague (I had to look it up in another review to jog my memory) that the documentary’s effect depends on how it reflects on you. As Abramovic says, ‘the public is my mirror.’
For a spiritual and religious sceptic like me, I found my foundations a little rattled and my stern beliefs challenged. I have always envied religious devotion and spiritual experiences, and so to see Abramovic embrace them so openly caused me to believe that I might benefit from a little open-mindedness. The film is beautifully shot by cinematographer Caue Ito, and essential viewing for Abramovic fans. For spiritual sceptics, I recommend this journey into the unknown.
Tom Bensley is a freelance writer in Melbourne who reviews anything he attends, watches or reads. It’s a compulsion, really. Follow him @TomAliceBensley.