Marina Abramović came to the attention of many in The Artist is Present, the 2012 documentary that chronicled her retrospective exhibition at MoMA in 2010. The Space in Between is a very different work and functions as a travel companion piece of Abramović’s sensibilities as she returns to Brazil and travels across the country to meet healers of different varieties. Both documentaries share a focus on Abramović’s life’s work and passion – the exploration of the human condition and the role of art as a transformative experience.
At the start of the documentary, Abramović notes the words of a Brazilian shaman that once told her that she’d never feel at home because she is not of this earth and has no home. An apt description, as many times during her Brazilian travels, Abramović recalls her childish excitement when exploring the world, demonstrating the privilege and joy of being a global citizen.
Abramović’s purpose in life, and this documentary, is to learn about humans. She is all about the experience, exhibited when trying the mind-altering drug Ayahuasca on camera (a device that Chelsea Handler explored on her Netflix docu-series Chelsea Does…). She is as obsessed with rituals, seeing the similarity of transformation with performance. Each step Abramović takes is a performance, detailed in quick scenes where she is starkly positioned against some of the earth’s elements, be it a waterfall or a foreboding sky. O Grivo’s uses sound design to highlight these moments, as does Cauê Ito with the cinematography and Marco Del Fiol with the stillness of direction. These elements allow the film to transcend towards hypnotic serenity.
The Space in Between makes a large connection between healing and spirituality. Abramović separates spirituality from religion and explores the healing properties of dance, food, rituals, medicines, hallucinogens, music, and surgery through interviews and experiences amongst healers while performing the act of healing.
Not all these visits are pleasant, with the most gruesome being the first meeting with surgical healer John of God. Abramović witnesses surgeries performed with fascination (note: these scenes are not for the faint of heart). Shielding your eyes may be useful as Abramović learns that John of God completes his surgeries often with eyes closed, channelling spirits to do his work.
The Space in Between casts Abramović as a tour guide to spiritual healing through many different levels. The effect is severe, captivating and enlightening. Abramović’s message is transparent and straightforward – healing requires spirituality and art is a journey that involves communication and keeping an open mind. The Space in Between is, without a doubt, high art and will prove less accessible to those who enjoyed the typical documentary style of The Artist is Present.
Marina Abramović in Brazil: The Space in Between is in selected cinemas from March 9 through Potential Films.