In the opening moments of Marina Abramović In Brazil: The Space In Between, performance artist Marina Abramović recalls a Brazilian shaman telling her that her continual sense of not belonging stems from the fact that she is not from this earth. In fact, she tells Abramović, her DNA is intergalactic and her purpose in life is to learn how to be human and transcend from pain. Telling the tale, Abramović seems fairly relaxed about being told she’s an alien. She doesn’t dismiss the Shaman’s diagnosis, but instead appears to embrace the idea in this documentary directed by Marco Del Fiol (Cravos). All of which is a merely a taster of what we’re about to witness.
The film follows Abramović as she travels Brazil looking for ways to spiritually heal herself and, hopefully along the way, artistically inspire her. First up, there’s João de Deus, a controversial faith healer whose followers see nothing problematic about the untrained man taking scalpels to their stomachs to remove ulcers and grazing their eyeballs with a steak knife to cure high blood pressure. There’s also Vale do Amanhecer, a religious community of 10,000 people whose beliefs take in Christianity, Spiritism, UFOs and the pyramids. Also throw in elderly herb healers, 110-year-old women and a forest-based aura cleanse that involves you stripping naked and crushing eggs, and you’re on your way to the kind of documentary Louis Theroux used to make back in the day for the BBC.
However, in Abramović’s empathetic arms those she encounters are never ridiculed or poked fun at. The performance artist truly wants to learn and understand why they do what they do and how it benefits them in the long run. (It’s only once that her composure waivers, when she compares roaming around the Vale do Amanhecer temple to being in a David Lynch movie.) For Abramović, the fascination appears to come from a direct link she makes from the rituals she encounters to that of the art that she performs. Both require you to throw yourself in fully, she argues, to become one with what’s happening, and it is only in doing so you come out of the other end a changed person, hopefully having learnt something new about yourself.
Along the way, she opens herself up to her audience, taking us through the day-to-day rituals that we all undertake to some extent. Whether it be dancing, cooking with and for our friends, prayer and, in Abramović’s case, eating an onion like Tony Abbott to aid travel fatigue. The upshot is that for all the unusual things being presented to us during her journey, we are slaves to our systematic behaviour, often in the hopes that we make us feel better about ourselves.
The Space in Between is a gorgeous-looking film and, suitably enough, there are single frames you would happily have on your wall. Abramović’s enthusiasm for her work and for the people she meets is infectious. She truly does seem to love simply being alive and finding art and beauty wherever she can. In one instance, she makes the film crew go in search of a trumpet player who she can hear in the distance, simply so she can get them to play on camera. Even the traumatic experience of taking ‘a horse’s dose’ of the hallucinogen, Ayahuasca, replete with vomiting and uncontrollable defecating is greeted by Abramović with a shrug and a crack at a second round. It kind of makes you think that perhaps you’re not embracing life as much as you should.
Admittedly, with such a short running time, it often feels like we’re not given enough time to truly understand the people she meets, and, in the end, there’s no real concrete conclusion given; merely a metaphor that ties in to the film’s opening, turning the whole affair into an ouroboros. Ultimately though, this is a fascinating journey in lifestyles we likely don’t see too much, regardless of how well travelled we see ourselves.