In Marina Abramović’s current retrospective at MoMA, Abramović performs every day, all day, for the entire duration of the exhibit. Visitors are invited to sit with the artist, across a table and stare into her eyes. I have already seen this exhibit three times and will surely go again, but I will not sit with Abramović.
This is why:
Abramović is not a person to me, she is a force. She is an artist I have looked to since I started making work, and an artist whose work I have defined by my own experience. I have created her in my head as a larger than life, intimidating, dominating, aggressive, confrontational, tough, brutal and sexy woman who exists only in the work that she has created, and in my own construction. Whether she is violently brushing her hair over and over again in “Art Must Be Beautiful, Artist Must Be Beautiful” 1975 or screaming until her voice is gone in “Freeing the Voice” 1976, Abramovic has used herself as our learning tool—teaching us the power of a small action, instructing us on what dedication means, and showing us how the body can function as a tool for emotional expression.
I don’t want to “know” Abramović. I do not want to be close to her. I do not want her to know me. I do not want intimacy with this person I have created as something wholly unattainable. I want her to exist only in the pieces that have inspired me, the emotions that I feel when I look at her work, and in my fantasy of who she is and how she functions in the world. Does sitting down at a table with someone allow true closeness? Of course not, but I do not want to risk loosing what I have constructed and her being revealed as merely human.
Marina Abramović is a force. Using her body as the vehicle and also often as the metaphor that must be stretched to its limits in order for the clarity of the spirit to become apparent, she is focused on the physical and psychological mastery of the self.
When other performance artists of her generation sought safety in the privacy of their studios, Marina pushed hard in the public arena. Performing “Seven Easy Pieces” at the Guggenheim in 2005 on seven consecutive nights, she repurposed some of her early performances as well as those of Joseph Beuys, Vitto Acconci, and others. Prostrate on a block of ice, hovering above flames, masturbating under floorboards, she enthralled Guggenheim audiences and attracted new generations to her work. For many, the witnessing of such pain and stamina was so unsettling, that on any given night young people packed the Guggenheim clutching its curves, enraptured and at times also in tears.
A gifted teacher, dedicated to the next generation and to solidifying the performance of endurance as a means of making art, she has bought a theater in Hudson, New York where she will create a unique site for the study and production of durational work. She has said, “Life is getting faster so we absolutely have to make art slower and slower.”
Marina Abramović uses the expanse of who she is and what she is able to sustain, to remind us that we must be present to each element of our lives, vigilant and aware of the world around us, perhaps with the intention of reimagining it some day soon. But the task set is never simple, surely not for the faint-hearted or the weak of mind, so we must prepare ourselves rigorously, as she does, always in training it seems, for the responsibility of simply being human.
I sit with you, in Marina Abramović: The Artist is Present, on my mother’s 94th birthday. In 12 minutes, we gaze into each other’s eyes, pass time.
Rooted deeply in the Balkans, earth is your stage, art is your life. In time, in space, in relation, you respond to the essence of being with the most possible sincerity, with tears, blood, with love. Embracing life, you contemplate death. Blessed by time, your ambition is immortal.
Your work and you yourself are the luminous present dedicated to time.
The Artist is Present
Museum of Modern Art
March 14 – May 31, 2010
Organized by Klaus Biesenbach,
Chief Curator at Large, the Museum of Modern
Art, and Director, PS.1 Contemporary Art Center.