Friday, October 19, 2012

FEATURE 108 ~ Marina Abramovich ~ The Artist is Present

I've never seen any of this woman's work live, but this film The Artist is Present does its best to communicate in film what cannot be captured on celluloid. In the main piece, called The Artist is Present there is just Abramovich sat on one chair and members of the public come to sit in front of her, initially with a table between them, but later even the symbolic 'safety barrier' of the table is removed. One can see she had a huge effect emotionally, psychologically (maybe even spiritually) on those who sat in front of her. There is a certain quality to the way she gazes at each new visitor opposite her. It's a warm, compassionate and curious gaze. The piece is all about what happens when you truly meet that gaze.

Sitting and simply taking in a person is not necessarily that new or radical an idea. In the Triratna Buddhist Community we've been doing communication exercises that include a period of just sitting looking at the person in front of you. True they are preceded by some meaningless phrases being exchanged, which judging by this performance piece could be a largely superfluous prelude. If you sit and stare long enough, then things will happen. I think even Sangharakshita got the exercises from a psycho-therapeutic source. In a sense what takes place in this performance takes this one huge stage further, rather than a few minutes looking, Abramovich does it for seven hours a day, six days a week, for three months.

Some folk miss the point that it's all about that simple meeting of one human being with another, as openly and honestly as possible. They try upstaging her by erecting their own contrived artifice in front of her, one woman thinks being naked in front of her would somehow be even more truthful and exposing. It seemed ironic when you think of the extreme things that Abramovich has done in her artistic career, that both these were hurriedly removed. But then this piece was about exposure of a different order, stripped of artistic expectations and individualistic self expression. On the one hand there was something shamanic and magical about it, on the other something deeply sad and affecting that human beings in urban environments can no longer experience such depth of communication. Suddenly peoples daily artifice drops away and there is the real person underneath vulnerable and defenseless.

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