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The Artist is Present

Marina Abramovic is a perfomance artist. She was born in 1946 in Belgrad, a daughter of partisans in the army of Tito. She was raised to be like a soldier. Her mother never hugged or kissed her in order not to spoil her. Her performances often put her body in the center and are shocking, because they come so close and/or they put the audience in a position to participate, to cross borders. In her performance Rythm 10 she plays with knives and actually hurts herself. In her performance Rythm 0 she gave among others a gun and a bullet to the audience. 6 hours long, the audience could please, torture, ignore her, they were free to use the different objects on her. In the end she was naked and full of blood. Interesting how fast a crowd of people can turn into a mob. For me this is what Abramovic among other things wanted to show with this performance. "She is directly and boldly challenging the audience." In a way she challenges peoples very optimistic view on themselves.

The Artist is Present is a performance she made during her MoMA retrospective with the same title. It was like destiny, she said, that she would have to do this performance. She knew it right away after Klaus Biesenbach told her the name of the retrospective. The Artist is Present was in the beginning just thought as the claiming of the pure fact that a performance artist is present. Without him, no performance. But Marina Abramovic, maybe the most radical artist right now, took this literally and decided to be present for the entire time the exhibition would be open. For three months, for 721 hours she sat in the atrium of the museum on a simple chair, across from her was another chair, and visitors could come and sit across from her, and they indeed did come.When the exhebition came to its end people would just spend all night in front of the MoMA hoping to get a number and thus the chance to sit across from her. Abramovic did rarely move, she just looked every visitor in the eyes. Clear and open. Did you ever try to sit motionless for, say 10 minutes? Did you ever try to sit motionless and have other people sit across from you, looking into your eyes and not look away but let everything pass between you and the other person, complete openness?
I was very impressed by her courage. For many years now I am interested in buddhism, I meditate, I am intrigued by the idea to find stillness, quietude (btw if you watch any piece about the performance you will instantly hear how loud it was inside the MoMA and she was an island of concentration and stillness). Watching Marina Abramovic, she reminded me of great buddhist masters, who become totally empty thus being a perfect blank space for everybody elses projections. She says it at one point in the movie, that it was not about her but that people saw their own projections in her face. I think this is true. "She slows everybodys brain down."
I asked myself: "Could I do this?" and the answer is, I am not even sure I would have had the courage to go and sit across from her at MoMA. I would have loved though to be there, the entire three months, in this charismatic space she created and kept alive despite her exhaustion, despite her pain, (my knees and back start aching when I sit for 15 minutes on my meditation cushion, just the idea of sitting still for 7 hours is unthinkable and yet, of course it holds some magnetic fascination) I would have been one of the girls sitting cross-legged, all day, every day, absorbing the whole situation. Watching the movie I thought: "Would it not  truly be enough to be just still for the rest of my life? Would that not catch everything our human existence could possibly be about?

Just as a funny sidenote: Fox News has a small appearance in the movie, :-) one of my favourites!!!


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