The Artist Is Present

Yesterday I watched a programme on BBC Four called “The Goddess of Art: Marina Abramovic”. The programme followed the tense build up to Marinas new exhibition in the MoMA (Museum of Modern Art) New York City.  The exhibition carried on through March 14 until May 31, 2010. Marina is a famous performance artist from Yugoslavia. She has participated in over 50 works including video, installation, sound pieces, solo performance, photography and collaborative performances made with Ulay (Uwe Laysiepen). The exhibition consisted of Marinas past performances recreated within a museum space. Here are some of her most famous works….

Ulay & Abramović “Imponderabilia”  [1977]

Marina and then partner Ulay performed together on many occasions. In this performance they are standing naked between two art galleries. By standing a small distance apart this forces people to squeeze between them to get through. This would cause the viewer to interact with the performance and become part of the work itself. By watching the video above you can see the different reactions from different people. Being totally honest I’ve never really been a fan of performance art, it reminds me of people seeking attention and trying to drag you into their embarrassment, but by looking into Marina’s work I was curious to see the different reactions she managed to provoke from the same art work. Some people are shocked, worried, uncomfortable and others completely unfazed!

Recreated at MoMA, This performance was recreated at Marinas exhibit with male to female and same-sex couples.

Marina Abramović – “Art Must be Beautiful, Artists Must Be Beautiful” [1975]

This portrays not just physical pain by brushing her more aggressively but the mental state that can be reached in the way of pain. By repeating “Art must be beautiful, Artists must be beautiful” Abramovic claims to show the release of the soul from restrictions imposed by western culture and also the fear of death and pain. In the video you can see she is in some pain during the performance which makes the video more imposing, she then falls into a trance inflicted by the pain. Marina often endures physical pain in her art; from being slapped in the face, being barged into, back and neck aches from withholding stances for long periods of time to fasting before performances. Ulay, who has worked with Abramovic on many occasions revealed in the BBC Four programme that during many shows both him and Marina were left in pain and black and blue from some of the physical contact.

Marina Abramović- “Self Portrait With Skeleton” [2003]

By placing the skeleton on top of the performer, the rhythms of breathing can be seen, from inhales to exhales the movement is connected with the skeleton which could be seen as a dead figure to the breathing alive figure. Marina often appears nude, devoting herself to the viewer with no holds barred. She also displays a vulnerable side bearing all to show the arts true intention.

Here is the trailer for the awaited

“The Artist Is Present”

This performance shows Marina presenting herself to the viewer whole heartedly. She sits down with each person for a set amount of time staring directly at them. The viewer is involved in the work by their own reaction to her and the audience. Some people cried, laughed, frowned, everyone’s reaction was different and awaited. After each person was replaced Marina would close her eyes and reset her mind to give her full attention to the next person absorbed in the performance. She showed no distractions with background noise or goings on, she maintained focus to each individual. The show was amazing to watch, people sat at the museum witnessing the event for hours. There were a few interruptions with many people trying to get their own art into the spotlight, a girl stripped off her dress claiming to “Be as vulnerable to Marina as she is to the world” by revealing her naked body. Abramovic unsurprisingly kept her cool and awaited the next participant while the girl was removed.

Marina continued this performance piece everyday for three months, this is her longest solo piece to date so far. Many celebrities came to see her work and some even sat down with her including actor James Franco. The ticket que to get in line for your own personal sit down with Marina Abramovic soared, some people claimed that she had escalated to a rock star status with people camping outside GoMA to get a ticket.

There is also a scene where her old lover and fellow performance partner Ulay awaits his five minutes with Abramovic, the facial expression of Marina is caught when the camera zooms into her face. You can see her opening with a slight flicker from her eyes. From viewing strangers faces for hours on end she sees a very familiar face. Watching this scene I felt like I was almost intruding an intimate moment. The straight faced Abramovic then began to cry with tears falling down her face. The whole room went silent, everyone in the audience obviously knew their history together. Marina then broke her seated pose and leaned across the table grabbing Ulays hands. The crowd applauded and cheered, it was a eerie and intimate moment viewed by many which could have been a performance in itself.

I have to confess I have now been whipped into the world of Marina Abramovic and cant wait to see what she comes up with next.