Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Marina Abramovic is Present (or, was).

Last year, in the spring, I went to the Tim Burton exhibit at the MOMA by myself --- my second attempt, actually, after it was sold out the day I had planned to go with a friend. That exhibit, although crowded, showcased Burton's talent as an original artist and creator, beyond the more recent CGI Alice in Wonderland with which I'd had major qualms. But more importantly, the two hours between scoring my Burton ticket and my admittance time allowed me to explore the Marina Abramovic exhibit upstairs, which interested me far more than Burton's. Her performance art caused quite a stir --- between the naked people forming a doorway, the two women sitting with their hair tied together, and the inappropriate interactions between MOMA members and all of the naked "actors," not to mention her interactive exhibition, "The Artist is Present." In line her own history of physically demanding (and sometimes destructive) performances, Marina sat in a hard-backed chair staring at whoever dared sit on the other side of the table, for the duration of their choosing --- from March 14-May 31, 2010. Every single day.

I loved the idea of "The Artist Is Present" and I loved sitting there on the sidelines surreptitiously capturing photos on my phone while watching brave souls stride up to the chair. I also love looking through the portraits of each participant, taken by Marco Anelli. You'll notice that some people keep turning up again and again, obviously addicted and benefiting from the act of sitting silently and staring into Marina's eyes...or perhaps they were waiting for something to happen. In some pictures, people are wiping away tears; in others, the tears flow freely. Brooklyn performance artist Anya Liftig dressed exactly like Marina (who wore plain, floor-length dresses in various solid colors) and sat across her for the entirety of one day. On the last day of the performance, filmmaker Josephine Decker stripped nude and had to be removed from the building (despite the rampant nudity in Marina's exhibit on the upper floor). For The New York Press, Josephine wrote: 
After waiting for 31 hours, I was the first to be seated with Abramovic on Monday morning. I thought hard about what I wanted to bring to that experience. Seeing her retrospective had been a turning point for me. As a filmmaker, I spend a lot of time alone in a room writing and editing—and fearing failure. All of Abramovic’s work is about failing: It’s about discovering when her body will fail, when her mind will fail, when her voice will fail, when her relationship will fail. When she knows and understands this failure, however, she has nothing to fear. By failing, she doesn’t fail; she learns. She uses and pushes her body in ways many find masochistic, but, in exploring the spaces where she is weak, where her body and her mind break down, she reveals her incredible strength. The incredible strength of a human being.
I wanted to thank her. I wanted to tell her, before she even looked all the way up into my face, that I was awed, inspired, terrified and opened by her work. I wonder now if I was misguided—if I could have said and shared everything I wanted to with my eyes—since I didn’t get to sit with her at all.
All because I tried to sit naked.
Many celebrities, both inside and outside the conceptual art world, looked into Marina's eyes and soul and heart. Among them were Lou Reed, Sharon Stone, Isabella Rossellini, James Franco, Rufus Wainwright, and her former partner Ulay (one of the first people to sit with her). Bjork, along with her husband Matthew Barney and daughter Isadora, also sat across from Marina. In some ways, I wish I had too.  

(photos of exhibit by a.dupcak, portraits by Anelli)

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