Measuring the Magic of Mutual Gaze
8 October — 4 December 2011
Moscow, the Garage Museum of Contemporary Art

Organized by:
LABORATORIA Art&Science Foundation
The Garage Museum of Contemporary Art

Daria Parkhomenko (Russia)


Marina Abramović (Serbia)

Science advisers:
Aleksander Kaplan (Russia)
Konstantin Anokhin (Russia)

In her work “The Artist is Present” (2010) performed at The Museum of Modern Art, New York, over a three-month period, Marina Abramović confronted a succession of individuals with whom she engaged in mutual gaze. During the performance, she exhibited feelings of pain, happiness and sadness which resonated with those of the person sitting opposite her. On average, people entertain mutual gaze for a maximum of seven to nine seconds; any longer suggests that an act of love or war is about to take place. As a result, scientists were led to wonder whether there was an eventual synchronicity between the artist and the sitters.

Inspired by “The Artist is Present”, Marina Abramović has collaborated with American and Russian scientists on an experimental performance installation that expands our understanding of non-verbal communication. Developing Abramović’s interest in the transfer of energy between performer and public, performer and participant, “Measuring the Magic of Mutual Gaze” (2011) crosses a frontier and makes visible the workings of the human brain – the organ that governs physical and mental activity.

In 2011, a scientific and artistic performance using the latest methods for recording human brain activity was presented by the Laboratoria Art & Science Foundation at the Garage Museum of Contemporary Art.

Using science, “Measuring the Magic of Mutual Gaze” explores such concepts as the creative impulse, the evolution of knowledge and understanding, non-verbal communication, as well as the very moment when works of art are suddenly born out of chaos and new perspectives open up. Abramovich was interested in whether it is possible to scientifically substantiate and explain the intense contact that is established between people who constantly look into each other’s eyes. The experiment involved two people who do not know each other.

“Measuring the Magic of Mutual Gaze” represents a unique, reciprocal collaboration between art and science. It is the first in a series of projects developed during the workshop “Art and Science: Insights into Consciousness”, hosted at The Watermill Center in New York in the summer of 2010 and supported by the Mortimer D. Sackler Family Foundation. This special debut re-stages the lengthy endurance conditions of the works “Nightsea Crossing” (1981-1987) and “The Artist is Present” (2010), in which Abramović engaged in mutual gaze with, respectively, her fellow artist Ulay and successive participants. By applying science to these situations, the performance explores notions of the creative leap, evolutions of cognition and understanding, silent communication, and the moment when forms of chaos give birth to new opportunities and works of art. Abramović was interested in whether there could be a scientific justification and the emergence of an acute contact that is established between people who constantly look into each other’s eyes. The experiment involved two people who did not know each other.

Real-time brain imaging presented by Dr. Susanne Dicker; Matthias Ostryk.

Developed at the workshop “Art and Science: Insights into Consciousness” at The Watermill Center, New York. In collaboration with The Watermill Center; the Sackler Institute for Developmental Psychobiology at the Weill Medical College of Cornell University, New York; and Laboratoria Art and Science Space, Moscow.

Chief technical adviser: Douglas Bemis.

The manual developed in collaboration with Dr. Jason Zevin; Dr. Eva Hals; Dr. Mikhail Burtsev; Olga Gerasimova.

Dr. Hugo Critchley; Dr. Antonio Damasio; Dr. Hanna Damasio; Dr. Andrew Gerber; Dr. Jay Gingrich; Elizabeth Goldring; Dr. Scott Makeig; Chrissy Isles; Matt Mullican; Otto Piene; Robert Wilson.

Technical and artistic consultants:
Dr. Jonathan Brennan; Dr. Gregory Kogan; Eric Foreman; Damon Ginandez; Irene Kotnik; Lauren Silbert.

Support us