By Jess Wertheim, REA Intern
Is there a difference between life and art? The famed performance artist Marina Abramović doesn’t think so. For her, “performance becomes life itself…performance becomes life and life becomes art.” A good friend of hers once said, “Marina is never not performing.”
Both daring and extreme, Marina Abramović pushes boundaries in the most surprising ways possible. She risks her life on a regular basis, all in the name of art. Everything she does provokes deep inner emotions in others as they watch and/or interact with her. So much so that people question how what she does is art?
Her exhibit back in 2010 at the Museum of Modern Art titled The Artist Is Present was unlike anything I had ever seen before. Upon entering the exhibit there were photographs hanging on the walls with descriptions of the performances while some projectors hung from the ceiling, playing other performances of hers in a loop. For example, one video showed the artist lying on the ground, screaming. The description read, “The artist screamed until she lost her voice.” In another video, she violently brushes her hair while making frustrated, angry sounds. In one piece called “Rest Energy”, she and her lover faced one another and held a large bow and arrow together. While she held the bow, he pulled the string backwards, aiming the arrow toward her heart.
For a piece that she did in 1973 titled “Rhythm 10” she played music from a tape recorder while one hand was spread open on the floor. She took a knife in her other hand and to the rhythm of the music stabbed at the spaces in between her fingers and changed to a bigger knife each time she stabbed herself. Many of her works were disturbing such as this one.
There were also two live aspects to the exhibit. One was the naked man and woman standing in the entranceway of the gallery that led into the next gallery. In order to proceed, it was necessary for one to pass through them, and most likely rub against them due to the small space.
The main attraction was of course, Ms. Abramović herself. She sat at a small wooden table in the lobby of the museum across from an empty seat. One at a time people were encouraged to take a seat across from her and sit silently without talking, touching or any explicit communication. Her goal was “to achieve a luminous state of being and then transmit it—to engage in what she calls ‘an energy dialogue’ with the audience.” She did this all day, every day until the exhibit closed. Appropriately called The Artist Is Present, the piece was the “longest-duration solo work of [her] career, and by far the most physically and emotionally demanding she [had] ever attempted.” Art critic Arthur Danto observed The Artist Is Present exemplifies a completely new experience in the history of art. “For most masterpieces people stand in front of it for thirty seconds. Mona Lisa: Thirty seconds. But people come and sit here all day.” This performance demonstrated Ms. Abramović’s statement about long-durational work might be true after all: “Performance becomes life itself.”