Over the last forty years, Yugoslavian artist Marina Abramović has revolutionised modern art by creating powerful performance pieces that test physical and mental limits. She uses the body to explore relationships with space, time and other people. From whipping her own back to sitting for 3 months in silence, she has continued to challenge convention. But, does Show of Force’s documentary on the construction of the retrospective exhibition The Artist is Present give us any greater insight into her inspiration and objectives than simply viewing the live art itself?
The exhibition took place in Spring 2010 at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Directors Matthew Akers and Jeff Dupre follow her in the months before, as she curates it. The difficulty with making a film about her is that the ideas, and the reasons behind them, are so rooted in the notion of live performance they can be difficult to capture on screen. But this doesn’t deter the filmmakers, who with total precision and delicacy, shoot her video-diary style monologues to the camera. The more she is open and inviting to the audience, the more we are fascinated by her. The film is so subtle that the cameras, which link her with viewers, seem almost anonymous.
Her art opposes contemporary fast-paced and busy culture, yet simultaneously mirrors it; several times throughout the film, interviewees refer to her stillness and ability to keep her mind and body focussed in one place. We may struggle to keep still in a cinema for two hours, while she sat in one position for eight hours each day for the duration of the three month exhibition.
As well as being privy to her own thoughts and responses, there is a lot of attention given to the visitors at the museum and their reactions to her work. Some are huge fans – one travelled from Australia to see her – and others are for the most part confused or offended. What is striking is that no-one is indifferent. Whether you know of her or not, like her or not, understand her or not, you will get something out of this 100 minute film; you will know her. And for someone whose medium is live performance, this makes this film an incredible feat.
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