Curiosity can lead in many different directions, and for artist Marina Abramovic, the quest to sample the full range of human experience found her tripping out on ayahuasca in the forests of Brazil. “I felt like there was a bomb inside me,” she says, after willingly taking a second heavy dose.
Ultimately, a sense of calm clarity emerged, offering Abramovic the sort of inner awakening she had gone to Brazil to find. The journey is the subject of the new documentary The Space In Between, which premiered at the South by Southwest Film Festival last weekend and is directed by Marco del Fiol. From traditional healers to a pantheistic compound and the medium / charlatan John of God, Abramovic sought spiritual sustenance wherever she could find it, jumping into the moment in the borderline reckless style that has marked her fascinating, varied career.
“I just want to know everything,” she says matter-of-factly. “Going in search of the unknown, this is the most inspiring thing for an artist.” But Abramovic’s way of knowing is not the objective, replicable strategy of modern science – it’s a more personal, inward-looking effort that seeks to probe the messy swirl of personal experience rather than generalize objective truths. This approach makes it difficult to engage a wider audience in a meaningful way and demands much of the artist as an emotional translator. Turning invisible, internal transformations into relatable morsels of wisdom is a complicated communications task; much of The Space In Between features Abramovic motionless with her eyes closed, a mask of presumptive profundity.
But empiricism and artistry frequently start from the same place – an irrepressible urge to know more about the world. “I’m really old school,” Abramovic explains; “I’ve always been incredibly inspired by the early explorers, people who go to unknowns to take these journeys where they don’t know where it ends.” She recalls the baggage of a hermetically sealed childhood in Belgrade, where her mother would strictly regulate Marina’s social contacts out of fear of infection. Relief came in the form of a well-traveled anthropologist’s occasional presentations at the university: seeing these lectures about far-off lands and the tribes that inhabited them, Abramovic resolved to expand her horizons.
The Space In Between exposes such exotic worlds; it’s a love letter to personal exploration that functions best as an idiosyncratic travelogue. But to Abramovic, travel is less a physical journey than a state of mind. “If you don’t travel with your body, you can travel with your mind,” she says, noting that the revolutionary German philosopher Immanual Kant never left his hometown during his 79-year life. “I’m always trying to find a different way to go to the grocery store to buy milk.”
Of course, Abramovic isn’t ruling out more adventurous travel. She’s found a kindred spirit in SpaceX founder Elon Musk, who aspires to make humanity an interplanetary species and travel to Mars himself. “I totally understand him,” she says. “If they would tell me that I could take a rocket now and I will be taken to Mars never to return, I would do it.”
“What a way to at least get a little closer to the truth.”