(This text was originally published at The International Museum of Women, March 2013)
The artist is present is an excellent documentary about the powerful and controversial performance by the charming, courageous and outrageous, Yugoslavian artist Marina Abramovic.
For nearly three decades Abramovic’s work redefined what art is and Marina is now considered one of the most compelling artists of our time. The use of her own body as a vehicle, embracing to the limits of pain and physical and mental endurance, confer her the title of grandmother of performance art.
The performance took place in 2010 in one of the most important art venue in the world the New York’s Museum of Modern Art. For three months, from the beginning of March through the end of May the daughter of two national heroes of General Tito’s Yugoslavia, is sat solemnly and silently for seven and half hours, every day, without food or water, in a wood chair, still, emotionless and gazing into the eyes of hundreds of visitors who sat opposite her only for the opportunity to see Ms. Abramovic face to face. This exchange of glances for some induces tears, for others, a smile.
While she performs on one floor of MoMA, on another floor utilizing both videos and photos of her old works, a group of 30 young artists, disciplinary trained for endurance and concentration, by the same Abramovic, during a rural workshop based on yoga, zen, breathing, and all this sort, recreate 5 performance pieces that characterized the artist’s career. The documentary, evidences the genesis of that work and also provides, through interviews and archival clips, a synopsis of Abramovic’s career.
In the retrospective there is a fashinating section about her love and artistic collaboration with the German performance artist Ulay, that unbeknownst to her takes part in the performance.
A powerful moment, in which the artist left the place to the woman, in which either her recognized stamina has raised the white flag.This sublime and touching moment in which her tears gently slipped down her face made this performance even more real, the artist herself stated that “performance is always a state of mind.” And, forgive me the romanticism, I would add: “the state of mind is always driven by heart”.
The whole retrospective and the performance itself revolve around the obsessive question that the artist has been covered in all the years of her career : “Why is this art?” And the answer is veiled in the events and experiences she creates with her presence – as the title itself expresses – a live self portrait, rather than paintings and sculptures we are used to recognize as art.
Performance art emerged in the 60s as a result to painting, and whatever it was, was not something you can hang on the wall. And Marina Abramovic knows pretty well how to use the human body. A medium, to make statements, to be directly provocative and sometimes violent and sharing the experience with the audience make her works unique.
The Artist is present destroys the Barthes’ statement that in his famous essay supports the tendency towards the ‘desacrilization of the image of the Author’. He argues that the author is a modern figure, created by society, and that the author, in relation to the text, is a closure. He considers the work as a place where the multiplicity meets, and that place is not the author, so far as has been stated, but the reader. On the contrary Abramovich’s performance is based on her presence, even better her presence is the performance itself. Her emotional approach is a directory, a kind of dialogue with the public that receive and partecipate to it. Abramovich with her performance unifies in a single work Barthes’ thought: the unity of a text (artwork) is not in its origin but in its destination.
“Artist has to be warrior, has to have this determination and has to have the stamina to conquer not only new territory but also to conquer himself and his weaknesses. “