Marina Abramović: The Artist is Present

     |    Friday, der 14. February 2014

For almost forty years, Marina Abramović has used her body as a medium of expression, testing her own physical and physiological limits, flowing between fiction and reality. She is known for taking the idea of artistic performance to the edge; using nudity and self-flagellation as some of her strategies on scene. After a whole life being in the spotlight of controversy, provocation, and skepticism about whether her work should be considered art or not, in 2010, the Museum of Contemporary Art of New York (MoMA) presented MARINA ABRAMOVIĆ: THE ARTIST IS PRESENT, a retrospective of the artist. It was the most important moment in her professional career. Directors Matthew Akers and Jeff Dupre decided to bring the whole process to the big screen, from the first preparations until the show’s closing.

The exhibition included footage material of some of her most outstanding performances, but many of them come again to life through 41 young artists that Abramović trained personally. But the strongest point of all is what the title of the exhibition and of the documentary refers to, MARINA ABRAMOVIĆ: THE ARTIST IS PRESENT. During the MoMA performance, Abramović carried out the most severely demanding – both physically and emotionally – piece of her entire artistic career. During the exhibition, from early March until the end of May, and during every single minute in which the door of the museum remained open, the artist was sitting on a chair, in the middle of an empty room, silent, almost immobile, inviting every single person of the audience to sit in front of her to engage in what she called “an energy dialogue”. As she explained, as soon as she conceived this idea she knew right away that it was the right piece, because the mere thought of it “made me nauseous”. Thus, she takes the concept of live, long-duration art to the limit, and “performance becomes life itself”.

This documentary, which won the Panorama Audience Award for Best Documentary at the 2012 Berlin Film Festival, is a count down, and starts with Marina Abramović going around the museum, organizing and talking to the team in charge of the event. It is a parallel journey through the preparations of the exhibition and the life and career of Abramović. Yet the film always returns to the museum until the big day arrives, the doors open, and Marina sits down in the room that she calls “the square of light”. Marina’s whole career trajectory left the status quo behind, it was alternative, and polemic to the utmost, but, exhibiting herself at the MoMA, and having more than 750.000 visitors in three months transformed performance into the most mainstream of all arts. And that indeed was her goal; “Performance art has been alternative since I was born, so I want it to be a real form of art and respected before I die.”

Marina Abramović, her simple presence, induced all of those who sat in front of her to project their interior world outward. Without a single word, she provoked all type of reactions; laughter, peace, or even tears. The bond that arose between Marina Abramović and her visitors is unexplainable, and, as difficult as it may seem to understand to those who were not present, Matthew Akers and Jeff Dupre do justice to the emotional strength that was felt in that room during most of those three months.

Clara Rodríguez Arasanz