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‘The Artist [Was] Present:’ on Abramovic, Art, Expression, and Coincidence.

I saw Marina Abramovic’s The Artist is Present for the first time around September of this year, quickly becoming enthralled with her unique, hypnotic creative endeavours and powerful voice in the art world. I went on to countlessly re-watch the documentary, padding my free time with interviews and articles chronicling her successes and contributions to the artistic community. I told family and friends about her; I spoke of her in casual conversation. I have made an unbreakable promise to visit the Marina Abramovic Institute when it opens.

I’d like to talk a little about her undertakings before continuing with my trademark personal story. My favourite display of hers was called Rhythm O, performed in Naples in 1974. This six-hour piece involved the artist standing dead still in front of a live audience and table with seventy-two objects placed on a table before her body. The audience was given instructions to use said objects on her in whichever ways they felt necessary. They included: a rose, honey, wine, a feather, scissors, nails, a knife, and a loaded gun with one bullet. The installation was meant to test the relationship and limits between herself, the artist, and the audience.

When I told my mom of my fascination with the Serbian artist, she took to the web and came across this experiment. She too took an interest in the work, however found it deranged that somebody would open themselves up to such violation. In those six hours, audience members took it upon themselves to cut her, draw blood from her skin, and intrude upon her in every which way. It was said that Abramovic was so dedicated to the experiment, she would have let the public rape or kill her if that was their will. My immediate response was, “That isn’t the point. Is what she opens herself up to in a vulnerable environment deranged, or are the physical actions of the participants deranged? Who committed the moral crimes, and what does that say about us?” This is where the brilliance of Abramovic seeps through; whereas classic and contemporary artists have set out to expose humans’ raw, animalistic desires through words and visual art, she uses her body as a medium through which society can reflect itself. Perhaps mankind is self destructive, and subconsciously vouches for exposure to pain. Abramovic not only tests limits between herself as the passive subject and the audience as the participants, but challenges human behaviour in light of destructive opportunity. Bringing these notions to the physical world is powerful, tragic, and enlightening.

This is what I feel contemporary artists should strive to channel. These courageous and limitless experiments reach far beyond a stage or canvas, and are able to seep through the minds of the public to promote arousing thought. In a world so enhanced by technology and the ever-present pressures of social media, finding an artist that can shift their work back to the bare inner workings of mankind is refreshing and moving. I have found such inspiration in Abramovic and her pieces, so much so that I find myself re-evaluating my relationships with several of my creative endeavours. I find that I have almost used her to fuel parts of myself that I fear to expose, and can only hope to someday challenge my own artistic limits. Now, does that mean I want to stand in front of people with a loaded gun and have them place it to my scalp? No, this is all highly subjective and metaphorical. Don’t get your hopes up.

Here’s where my story takes a turn.

I was doing some reading up on the Marina Abramovic Institute (MAI) late a couple nights ago, listening to her incredible TedTalk for the third or fourth time. I began clicking around some related websites and found myself on a forum talking about the power of the documentary. I came across a little blurb saying that the exhibit took place at MoMA 2010 which, ironically, was the year I traveled to New York City for the first time. My entire childhood, I find, was fuelled by travel, exploration, and the solace I would find in discovering parts of myself abroad; I have already touched upon this in some of my previous posts on this site, and will continue to write of my experiences in later articles. My first time in NYC was an ethereal experience. I was just starting to discover the hungry little art monster that lives within my soul and truly began learning about art and theatre for the first time. Here are some of my favourite photographs I snapped during this time. Please enjoy the stylized visuals of thirteen-year-old me.

My curiosity began to take over, and I began googling the exact dates of Abramovic’s installation. I realized the exhibition opened in March of 2010, which was exactly when we found ourselves in the city. I decided to re-visit some of the photos you see above, which are all stored on my black external hard-drive where my entire life is chronicled like some kind of immaculately detailed, autobiographical chapter book.

After minutes of looking, I came across this photo: a sign marking the entrance to the Museum of Modern Art, where the exhibition took place. I started shaking.

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By this point, I was scrolling through the rest of the photos at lightning speed until, at last, I found this one.

DSC01141And that was when I realized that I was present for one of my favourite artist’s most successful exhibitions when I was just thirteen years old, and didn’t know it until five years later. What a story. You might call it fate acting in a mysterious way; you might call it ignorance, for I attended the exhibit in its opening week when it hadn’t yet bursted with popularity. You may call it chance. I call it incredible.

I sincerely hope that several of you take it upon yourselves to watch The Artist Is Present. It is a brilliant documentary and I can not recommend it enough. I have nothing more to say.