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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.

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A Love Letter to the Muse/My Own Version of the “Coming Out” Story

I was thinking about writing this post in the middle of a lecture on Keats and romanticism, listening to the round echoing of my favourite professor’s voice chant the last two lines of Ode on a Grecian Urn in subtle singsong, watching the girls in front of me type away and sip at their Tim Hortons cups, watching the quiet boy near the right side of the classroom wonder what to say next.

Let me give you a visual: surprise, surprise! I’m in a sleek, navy blue turtleneck. My 1950s-rimmed glasses came in last week, and my unruly curls are just hanging out of all kinds of places. Let me tell you — throat infection aside, this has been the most emotional and important week of my time here at University. I’m about to tell you why.

It started with the closing of One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest. After the show ended, we were all onstage taking our final bows and something just cracked in me and — conventionally unemotional-in-social-situations Camille — just started bawling. In my eyes at least, it was just the world’s biggest disaster. I tried to play it off by saying that I was crying because I knew I would miss the show and the people and I’d never felt so at home in my life, etc. etc. (which is true and partially it), but here’s the full truth: I knew I’d made a wrong turn somewhere. For half the cast party, I was all philosophical and miserable because of it. And I hate genuine misery.

By this point, it’s no surprise that I have devoted my entire life to the arts. I’d spent the last four years of high school lingering around the theatre, directing and performing and indulging myself in every artistic endeavour I could find. It was just something I did — I couldn’t control it. Without it, I’d go mad. I’ve always known that.

I came into University in the Social Science faculty with the dream of pursuing a degree in Political Science. I thought it was practical. I’d gotten very interested in law in high school, and figured poli-sci was an acceptable avenue to explore before applying to graduate programs. I imagined I’d get some government job somewhere, perhaps in politics, and wear fancy woman-blazers to work every day. I’d still do arts on the side from time to time, but they wouldn’t be my focus. And I’d be super rich, you know, and own lots of clothes from stores I’d never even think of going into now. That’s the kind of life I imagined for myself, again, because I thought it was practical. Let me get straight into the nitty-gritty.

This week, I dropped out of my political science module and social science faculty here at school to pursue a double degree in the arts. That’s the best way I can put that. If you want me to elaborate, I’m not quite sure how. I made the executive decision in this same English class about two days ago. I decided it was time to start being honest with myself — I hate political science. University poli-sci is just the worst. It’s boring and philosophical and makes me want to die. Four more years of that?! I’d go nuts. That’s the truth of it. I’m going nuts now.

So I figure I’ll double honours major in English Literature focusing on textual Theatre Studies.

Anyone and everyone that knows me could see this one coming. My teachers in high school, my roommate, my friends not only from back home but here at Western… even my mom. It was inevitable. The arts found me for good, god damn it. With this degree, I’m not only going to be able to study plays, directors, and forms of theatre, but physically perform (and possibly direct in the future — I hope so) in various productions every year. It’s the best of both worlds. It’s perfect for me and for what I want to do.

Furthermore, my parents have been nothing but supportive… however, I know that they feel this choice was a “step back.” They both think that I will never get a job in the arts; they’re banking on me applying to law school in four years. Which I still will, because my interest in law is and always has been genuine.

I feel so relieved. Mostly because, for the first time, I have no idea where I’m going to end up after graduating post-secondary. That excites me in a way. Having been raised by two travel enthusiasts has certainly widened my sense for adventure and uncertainty.

You know, when I was hanging out on Skype with my dad the other day telling him about my decision, I felt like I was filming one of those “coming-out-as-gay/lesbian/+-Youtube videos.” It was horrifying. I was sitting there ugly-crying, going “I’m sorry, I know you don’t approve or understand!/You don’t know what it’s like to wake up every day living and breathing all of this all of the time/I can’t shut it off, it’s like a reflex, like nothing else holds any importance/I can’t stand to be headed towards something I’m not completely immersed in and in love with when I’ve found my passion, found where I am mostly myself/I belong to this…” And, GOD, all this cheesy shit that sounds like I’m a delusional thirteen year old tasting love for the first time.

But let me tell you — if you’ve ever known what it’s like to live and breathe something completely, something that enthrals you and captures your entire state of being so much so that it fuels your whole god damned life and every piece of it — those are feelings you can’t repress. If you feel you were truly made to study something, to explore and indulge in something, to feed your soul with something, then that’s what you should be focusing on. Even if there’s a chance you might end up poor for a few years of your life. It should be a risk you are willing to take, to wake up in the morning and think to yourself, “I love what I study. I’m where I should be.” That is the kind of person I want to become, and those are the kinds of people that I admire with every part of myself. People with genuine passions, things that drive their minds forward.

Another thing I’ve learned: you can’t hide from your true self at University. Oh no, you’re completely on your own. Alone sometimes, with your thoughts and doubts and things that make you tick. You might as well accept them, because fuck, you’re just never going to change. I know I never will.

*Breathes long, heavy sigh of exasperation, looks around the University Community Centre wistfully at a group of tourists seeing the place for the first time. Takes in the air, watches the clouds roll by, hopes it doesn’t rain. Pathetic fallacy? Wonders how to end this blog post. Smiles to self. Things of emotional, inspirational quote to end this thing on, but for the first time there are no actual words.