Sunday, June 6, 2010


The Artist Is Present, the infamous live performance art by Marina Abramovic that ended this Monday has left a little-black-whole in MoMA's heart as part of the ultimate live art experience for its visitors.  Controversial to the core: complete with a naked couple posing as the doorway to the extension of another room, a real life Leonardo Davinci interpretation of the Universal Man--a woman this time around, and of course the piece de resistance of Marina Abromovic herself--as the live human mirror who had the power to make you look into your own soul--for those who had the courage to wait in the rigorous line to sit across from the master of self-discipline, in her undying artistic melodramatic goal to defy succumbing to human physical limitations. (Check out the blog Marina Abromovic Made Me Cry).  The previously mentioned examples (all happening above the second floor spectacle--situated on the sixth floor of the museum), was part of the retrospective of the artist's entire artistic life.  Although some purists doubted whether or not this would work--reinterpreting live performances from her self-fulfilled art history, while the live performer was still practicing in the same site, it actually became the quintessential combination to attain the full effect of the experience for the willing audience:  Seeing the full stretch of Abramovic's career and understanding her philosophy on her work --thereby a big part of her existence, brought a sort of mythic narrative to the watching table.  If you made the choice to understand the artist's past, the appreciation to her present, became an engulfing experience.  (In fact, too engulfing for some--Paco)

When I conceived this piece I really left it open to what’s going to happen, but the surprises I have are about the participation of the people—how people in New York accepted the piece and started sitting a really long time with me. This was especially interesting because, as we know, the American culture is an extremely materialistic culture and is based on money, and work, and the intensity of moving and living, and going always to the next thing. Here, everything was about stillness and about literally doing nothing and being in the present.  So to expect an American to come to the Museum and sit seven hours, and not only sit for a long time but also to come back again and again, and create a community around this piece, this was very surprising -- Marina Abramovic 
What's also quite intriguing to this very complex puzzle-- as the precondition of these performances, is how Abromovic and the other artists prepared for this powerful ensemble piece.  Have a watch at this video (below)--taped all the way back in 2006 in Brazil, where the artist presented to her original cast on how to prepare for the production: The Artist Is Present.

Marina Abramovic in Fileiro Cultural Sao Paolo (2006)

To do this piece I had to go through really strict training and it took me a long time. Six months before, I became vegetarian. I eat at certain times because of digestion. I never went to the bathroom, and Jerry Saltz (art critic for New York Magazine) made all this effort to find out how I pee. After the second day of the performance, [I realized] it will never happen. I take the last pee at 8 in the morning. In the evening when I sleep, this was really difficult to train. I have to take water every 45 minutes and sleep, and 45 minutes and sleep, because not to dehydrate during the night. But then during the day I didn’t [have to pee]. And then I had this very strict diet with very light food and only eating in the morning very certain things and in the evening. I didn’t engage in any social events. I didn’t talk to my friends, except the curator and the doctor and [a few other] people. I had problems with my eyes.  I went to the eye doctor because it was a real problem and I explained to him what I was doing and he said, “Yes, but why are you doing this?” So he could not help.  --Marina Abramovic  

See the full Marina Abramovic interview post performance HERE and you can go HERE for the Symposium Q&A at the MoMA with all the artists involved with the artist for The Artist Is Present.

In the end, what the artist who was present essentially wanted all of us to take away from this extreme form of artistic impression--both the idea of sitting still in silence for over 700 hours owned solely by one performance artist, and the rest of the crew's turn-taking-reenactment of her retrospective--collectively as a whole, is something that Marina lives by in everything that she does in every aspect of her life: If you only do what you like, there can be no possibility for transformation. 

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