Life goes on — with a little help from Marina Abramović

Cards with different photographs and instructions on them.
“The Marina Abramović Method: Instruction Cards to Reboot Your Life” may bring you focus and calm in troubled times.
(Laurence King Publishing)

Artists are speaking out, adding to the growing international uproar over Russia’s attack on Ukraine.

A day before the invasion, Germany’s Deutsche Welle media outlet spoke to a handful of Ukrainian artists. One of them was filmmaker Sergei Loznitsa. “If there is no tough reaction from the EU and NATO countries now, it will end badly for everyone,” he said. “Unfortunately, history repeats itself, and unfortunately, no one learns from it.”

“Where are the voices of artists from France, Germany, the U.S.?” asked writer Andrei Kurkov in the article. “It is up to the artists to shake up their governments. Because the politicians obviously haven’t understood yet how dangerous what’s happening right now is for all of us.”

Hi, I’m arts writer Deborah Vankin filling in for Carolina A. Miranda, and it’s been … a week. And all on the heels of L.A.’s art fair season wrapping up. (Following Super Bowl parties that wrapped up just days earlier.)


In an effort to restore some semblance of calm and balance after covering both the Super Bowl and Frieze (and to quiet war-news-induced anxiety), I turned to the Method — the Marina Abramović Method.

The Serbian performance artist — who recently posted a short video in solidarity with the Ukrainian people — created an interactive deck of cards that comes out this week: “The Marina Abramović Method: Instruction Cards to Reboot Your Life,” co-created with L.A.-based arts and fiction writer Katya Tylevich. The set of 30 cards, featuring photographs from Abramović’s personal life and performances over nearly 50 years, offers mental and physical conditioning exercises “for reaching a higher consciousness and confronting life’s challenges.”

I was in.

I whipped open the box and promptly spilled out the cards, sending them flying across the living room floor. Good: shuffled. I picked up a card: “Blink Your Eyes Rapidly, Looking From Side to Side.” Dizziness ensued.

I chose another: “Listen to Nature” (for one hour, blindfolded). Sublime.

Close-up of a hand holding a card with the words "complain to a tree."
If all else fails, complain to a tree. Marina Abramović has “Instruction Cards to Reboot Your Life.”
(Laurence King Publishing )

The New York-based artist is known for pushing the limits of her mind and body, and often interacting with audiences: In 2002, she turned herself into a living installation at New York’s Sean Kelly Gallery, staying there for 12 days without eating or speaking for “The House With the Ocean View”; in 2010, as part of “The Artist Is Present,” she famously sat silently at a small table inside New York’s Museum of Modern Art, gazing into visitors’ eyes for hours each session. The card deck is the distillation of her own process of readying for performances and art-making; many of the techniques are simple mindfulness exercises. And it’s surprisingly (refreshingly?) earnest. I persisted.

The deck promises to “purge your mind of all unnecessary distractions and anxieties and help you unleash your creativity” — for $19.99. As if on cue: My phone rang (sales call). A package arrived, with the wrong contents. My editor messaged and my dating profile pinged — another “available man wielding a fish” photo. I drew a new card, this time abiding by the instructions and turning off electronics: “Release Static Electricity Through a Strand of Your Hair” (pinching one at a time, repeatedly). Curiously fun.

I ran in “fixed circles” for five minutes; inhaled slowly through alternate nostrils; complained to a tree for 15 minutes. (The latter yielded lemons but no inner peace.) I drew the line at counting each grain of rice and individual lentil in an uncooked, mixed pile.

The deck is supposed to teach “endurance, concentration, perception, self-control and willpower,” among other things.

But, alas, “The Marina Abramović Method” was no match for developing news headlines — and a looming newsletter deadline.


This is by way of saying: Here’s what else is happening across the L.A. arts landscape.

On the stage

Bryan Cranston brings a chameleon-like quality to his performances, says Times theater critic Charles McNulty. In his review of Paul Grellong’s “Power of Sail,” which opened last week at the Geffen Playhouse as directed by Weyni Mengesha, he says Cranston “embodies the weary petulance of a grizzled Harvard history professor whose star is in decline.” The play, also featuring Amy Brenneman, touches on free speech and academic freedom, among other issues.

A man sits at a desk typing on a laptop. A woman stands in the background.
Amy Brenneman and Bryan Cranston in “Power of Sail” at the Geffen Playhouse.
(Jeff Lorch )

McNulty also reviews the Stephen Sondheim musical “Assassins,” which East West Players was scheduled to open when COVID shuttered theaters in March 2020. Sunday’s opening — at long last — “was a celebration of the return to live theater,” McNulty writes, “for the nation’s longest-running Asian American theater company and a testament to an organization’s remarkable resilience.”

McNulty has been busy: He also reviews “Detained,” France-Luce Benson’s play, conceived and co-created by ACLU immigration attorney Judy Rabinovitz, premiering at the Fountain Theatre. The documentary drama, directed by Mark Valdez, “moves us from highly partisan debates about immigration policies,” McNulty writes, “to the destructive fallout on families and individuals who considered America not just their home but their safe haven.”

A woman standing amid a line of men and women in orange jumpsuits speaks onstage.
A scene from “Detained,” at the Fountain Theatre.
(Jenny Graham)

Classical notes

Times classical music critic Mark Swed reviews Wayne Shorter’s “... (Iphigenia),” which he calls “100 minutes of gripping music for orchestra, jazz trio and a good-sized cast of singers.” The opera — which stars bassist and singer Esperanza Spalding, who also wrote the libretto, and whose set was designed by architect Frank Gehry — had its Southern California premiere at the Broad Stage in Santa Monica. It’s “the magnificent capstone,” Swed writes, of 88-year-old Shorter’s career — “one of the all-time great jazz careers.”

During the pandemic, composers have tended toward making new music about either loneliness and isolation or an appreciation for being alive and making art during troubled times, Swed points out. But not Icelandic composer Daníel Bjarnason. “FEAST,” his piano concerto that premiered at Walt Disney Concert Hall, “is a darkly luminous dance of death,” Swed says in his review. The piece was inspired by an Edgar Allan Poe story, “The Masque of the Red Death.”

Four costumed performers on a stage; one is gagged and kneeling on a platform.
A scene from the opera “... (Iphigenia),” which opened at the Broad Stage.
(Ben Gibbs)

Architecturally speaking

On Thursday, USC announced that it had finalized the sale of Frank Lloyd Wright’s dilapidated albeit iconic Freeman House to Richard E. Weintraub. But the deal “comes with plenty of conditions,” reports Times arts and urban design columnist Carolina A. Miranda, “in the form of a conservation easement held by the Los Angeles Conservancy that prohibits Weintraub or any future buyer from demolishing the building or making unsympathetic additions. Moreover, as part of the deal, the public — in the form of educational groups or architectural tours — will have access to the home four times a year.” The house needs significant repairs, though, so don’t expect to be able to go anytime soon.

The facade of a house made up of concrete blocks, some of them with designs.
Frank Lloyd Wright’s Freeman House.
(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

Museum news

Painting prodigy and Baroque icon Artemisia Gentileschi is finally getting her due: The J. Paul Getty Museum last year acquired her “Lucretia” (circa 1627). But, asks Times art critic Christopher Knight, why has it taken so long for the Italian Baroque painter to be recognized as the 17th century feminist heroine she is? Put simply, Knight says in his commentary, “Gentileschi is the Frida Kahlo of European art.”

Artemisia Gentileschi, "Lucretia" (circa 1627).
Artemisia Gentileschi, “Lucretia,” circa 1627, oil on canvas.
(J. Paul Getty Museum)

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Essential happenings

Matt Cooper’s event picks this week are all about alliteration: Ballet BC and Herbie Hancock, among other best bets. The Vancouver-based Ballet BC will appear at the Younes and Soraya Nazarian Center for the Performing Arts; Hancock will perform at Walt Disney Concert Hall; and the New York-based Heartbeat Opera will stage a BLM re-imagining of Beethoven’s only opera, “Fidelio,” at the Broad Stage.


Sculptor De Wain Valentine, an influential figure in the 1960s and 1970s Light & Space movement, has died at 85. The artist, Knight notes, worked primarily with resin, fiberglass-reinforced polyester and other synthetic materials. “L.A. is the city of the modern world so far,” he told UCLA art historian Kurt von Meier in a 1966 interview in Artforum, “and that world is going to be plastic.”

A man in a suit and cowboy hat stands with a woman in a pastel gown with frills.
Artist De Wain Valentine and Almine Ruiz-Picasso, owner of art galleries including New York’s Almine Rech Gallery, in front of his “Red Concave Circle” at a LACMA event in 2015.
(Charley Gallay / Getty Images for LACMA)

In other news

— Russian conductor Valery Gergiev, a supporter of Vladimir Putin, will no longer be taking the stage at Carnegie Hall to lead the Vienna Philharmonic in a series of concerts. The cancellation illuminates the global condemnation of Russia’s attack on Ukraine.

— For ongoing coverage of the crisis in Ukraine, follow the Los Angeles Times’ updates.

— Here’s what Times foreign correspondents Nabih Bulos and Marcus Yam were seeing on the ground there earlier this week.

— And Washington, D.C.-based photographer Melissa Lyttle has created a Twitter list of photojournalists on the ground in Ukraine.

Yes, the world feels especially scary right now. “Drink a glass of water as slowly as you can,” says Marina Abramović in her Method. Note the sensory experience. Repeat throughout the day. The Zen-like exercise is meant to ground you and promote letting go: “Water will never flow the same way twice,” she says, “and neither will you.”