Poetry News

Big Reveal: The Marina Abramović / Atlas Review Marathon Reading of Solaris

By Harriet Staff


At the LARB, J.T. Price covers the recent marathon reading of Stanisław Lem’s Solaris, co-sponsored by The Atlas Review and the Marina Abramović Institute, and held at the Wythe Hotel in Brooklyn in early August. The performance artist appeared briefly onscreen; she was soon Skype-suggested by Lady Gaga, who wore "no glitter or face paint, no wig, and barely a visible gaze. Who she resembled was a younger Marina Abramović, black bangs concealing Gaga’s trademark eyes, and the voice in which she read the opening paragraphs of Solaris ranging like a radio signal between a semblance of Abramović’s Serbian accent and Gaga’s own Upper West Side, Italian-American, or whatever other signifier could be used in attempting to pin down the way she speaks. (Good luck.)" More from Price on the "star-studded" event:

Before Gaga, in an introduction, Michael Barron of New Directions Publishing extolled the power of a novel that has received less attention than its filmic offspring, most notably the version by Andrei Tarkovsky. Following Abramović’s appearance via Skype, a short video about the Kickstarter campaign for the proposed MAI cultural center in Hudson, New York (which went on to break the requisite $600,000), and Gaga’s video initiation of the novel proper, the readers succeeded one another at five- to 15-minute intervals, without introduction, in MAI-issued lab coats. Poets, novelists, journalists, playwrights, performance artists, dancers, and one video game designer brought Lem’s Dr. Kelvin along, his arrival to the space station orbiting Solaris, the first upsetting encounters with his crewmates, the ghostly appearance and reappearance of his wife, Hari, who killed herself sometime before he left earth.

“Once the reading started and the blindfolds were on, the theater space became instantly focused, quiet, and unchaotic,” said Oristaglio of MAI. “I found myself completely absorbed and able to sit silently wearing a blindfold for much longer than I had hoped.”

The story carried on as inevitably as an ocean tide. Some people kept their blindfolds on, living with only the cushioning of a folding chair, the air flowing through the Wythe Hotel’s cellar vents, the voice speaking the one on the page. Others sought comfort in beverages procured immediately outside the theater — cocktails, discounted Brooklyn Brewery IPAs. Listeners got up and left. Readers got up and left. Some came back. Some left again. Readers sat down and became listeners. One woman, enacting a “long durational work” of her own — MAI’s overarching label for the reading, expansive enough to describe Jay Z’s recent six-hour gallery rap-a-thon and Abramović’s own work, including The Artist Is Present — remained in her seat hour after hour with a notepad balanced on her knee. Solaris carried on.

Of her personal fashion choice, Eilbert said:

I dreamt of a white dress, with the fantasy of cheesy 1980s sci-fi imagery. I wanted to evoke the suicidal love-object simulacrum, A Clockwork Orange, and gauze. It all pointed to a crisp white dress. A woman complained to Siena that, while it was a beautiful dress, it was “not meant for spotlights.”

Said Morgan:

I almost universally wear the same black jacket every day — Forever 21, with a pin that says, “I have been her kind” — along with a button-down shirt and tie, blue jeans, and terrible sneakers. The demands of the day prompted me to ditch the jacket on a nearby hanger, leaving me stranded, basically naked, in my shirt and tie. If I were to travel to the planet Solaris, my jacket would be the spectral figure that returns to me again and again.

As for dietary considerations: “I did some yoga and cardio before the reading, drank my morning gin and eggs, and didn’t eat anything from the beginning to the end,” said Eilbert.

And Morgan: “I didn’t eat a damn thing all day, and I think I was running on spirit fumes.”

There was Donald Antrim. There, Justin Taylor. There, Nelly Reifler. Neil Gaiman read by video. Lynne Tillman in person. Marco Roth of n+1. Robb Todd. Most put on a lab coat. James Yeh, Lincoln Michel, the Gigantic Worlds team, their anthology of sci-fi shorts to be edited by Michael Barron.

Later, a sum-up: “'The institute is a project unlike anything else in the world,' said Morgan. 'It’s basically insanity, which is what I want from a cultural center.'” Read it all at Los Angeles Review of Books.