A blog of endless curiosity
For me, the most fascinating part of art is storytelling. And the most arresting feature of people is their vulnerability. When a performance and visual artist friend of mine texted me and told me I had to watch ‘The Artist is Present’ I had no idea that it would be such an illuminating experience. Centered around the 700 hour long performance piece ‘The Artist is Present’ in Moma by Marina Abramovic, the documentary also provides an insight into an utterly extraordinary mind. As part of a retrospective of her 40 years of performance art work, Abramovic sat, still and mute for 7 hours a day for 3 months, gazing into the eyes of any viewer who came to sit across from her. As a test of human endurance this is incredible, but looking back over the artist’s works, seems only another step in the radical, herculean path her performances have charted.
Her relationship with her audience during the Moma show is fascinating. Leaving herself vulnerable to audiences gives a moving pathos so great one art-goer strips off her dress before sitting down, to make herself as vulnerable to Marina as Marina makes herself to everyone else. The connection viewers feel with the artist seemed to stem from this vulnerability. Brene Brown, in a TED talk on the subject, suggests that vulnerability is an attribute that allows deeper human connection – ‘The Artist is Present’ seems to be an eloquent example of this.Abramovic is also very open about herself with the documentary makers, speaking about her regimented childhood growing up with two war heroes as parents, and her time with Ulay living in a van. Her lack of subterfuge makes her both intriguing and rare, and makes her ex-husband’s comment about Marina always performing (outside of performance pieces) seem odd. There is a vast separation, however, between acting and performing, which is discussed in the film. The statement raises interesting questions of identity – if someone is always performing, then performance is surely part of their identity, and if they are performing their identity aren’t they simply ‘being’? This reminded me of a brilliant novel I read recently called ‘How Should a Person Be?‘ by Sheila Heti. She says this thing that’s stuck with me: “I admired all the great personalities down through time, like Andy Warhol and Oscar Wilde. They seemed to be so perfectly themselves in every way. I didn’t think, Those are great souls, but I did think, Those are some great personalities for our age. Charles Darwin, Albert Einstein — they did things, but they were things.” Abramovic seems to be so perfectly herself in every way, and that is one of the most profoundly interesting things about her for me. Her vulnerability seems to allow her to be perfectly herself. Long story short, The Artist is Present is a very interesting documentary about a very interesting human being, which raises questions about existence, identity, time and human endurance, and you should watch it! (Trailer here)