It’s been home to some of the UK’s loudest singalongs, most propulsive rap lyrics and most cacophonous guitar solos. But the Pyramid stage at Glastonbury experienced something almost unprecedented in its history on Friday: total silence.

The Serbian artist Marina Abramović, invited by festival organisers Michael and Emily Eavis, led the audience in what she called a “collaboration” called Seven Minutes of Collective Silence, to “see how we can feel positive energy in the entire universe” and act as a bulwark against the horrors of war and violence.

Given it was announced only a day prior, there were understandable fears that the audience would not come along in the spirit of the collaboration, and might end up chattering or even shouting out during the intended silence. But in the end, aside from some very isolated screams and shouts, the only sound moving across the grass of the Pyramid stage field was the wind blowing through the valley, and the distant thump of other stages’ performances.

‘That has made my Glastonbury’ … Lucinda and Lizzy. Photograph: Sarah Phillips/The Guardian

“I thought it was wonderful,” said Lucinda, who was at the festival with her friend Lizzy. “I found out about it 30 seconds before she started. I adored her. That has made my Glastonbury. I thought it was really powerful. Seven minutes went really quickly.”

Abramović wore a garment in the shape of a CND peace symbol, designed by former Burberry head designer Riccardo Tisci. (CND has long maintained a presence at the festival.) She introduced the piece with a speech in which she admitted being “terrified and honoured” at the Eavises’ invitation: “terrified because, as an artist, I never in my entire life saw this type of audience. I’m not singing, I’m not dancing.” She acknowledged that “this is a music festival and you all want to have a fine time, and listen to great music”.

But she situated the collaboration in a visual and performance art career that stretches back to the early 1970s, saying: “In my entire 55 years of my career, I was always doing something with energy – I don’t have any other better place than here right now than to make an intervention of the energy itself.”

She added: “The world is in a really shitty place. There are wars, hunger, protest, killing, violence. But what is happening if we look at the big picture? Violence brings more violence, killing brings more killing, anger brings more anger, demonstration brings more demonstration. Here, we try to do something different: how to be in the present, here and now, and how we can actually all together give unconditional love to each other.”

She invited the audience to put their hands on their neighbours, close their eyes and get comfortable, then invited Emily Eavis to sound a gong to begin the performance.

A couple embrace during the seven-minute silence. Photograph: Jonny Weeks/The Guardian

It strangely had an echo of the work of another Pyramid stage veteran: Beyoncé, whose “mute challenge” on her recent Renaissance tour saw entire stadiums of fans fall briefly silent – though for closer to seven seconds than seven minutes.

In an interview with the Guardian prior to the performance, Abramović acknowledged the performance risked being a failure. “It’s a big risk, that’s why I’m terrified,” she said. “I could completely fail, or people could just sit. I don’t know, but I want to take the risk. Failing is also important, you learn from failing as well as succeeding.” She said she would visit Stonehenge on the way to the Somerset site, to “get all the energy [she] can” prior to the performance, and would also take in other, noisier events at the festival’s various stages. “I’ll be like a child with open eyes,” she said. “Looking at these amazing new groups that I don’t know anything about.”

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