Review: Marina Abramović: The Artist is Present


Marina Abramović is known for seducing everyone she meets — her collaborators, her curators and her audience. At once both repellant and fascinating, Abramović’s work is as ludicrous and shocking as it is a startling reflection of life’s universal tensions.

As Abramović carves a symbol on her abdomen, as she throws herself repeatedly against a wall, as she leans back holding a bow with an arrow ready to spring at her heart from the bow string held taught by her lover, and as she lies unconscious in a star-shaped fire, she represents one of the greatest performance artists of all time.

Her art courageously explores the human psyche — hopes we cannot realize, the trust and potential for destruction we find in our most essential relationships, and our own tendencies to self-destruct.

At 63 years of age Abramović’s work was featured in a 2010 retrospective at the Metropolitan Museum of Art directed by curator, impresario and her ex-lover, Klaus Biesenbach. This film documents her life work in the context of the months leading up to her MoMA show and her starring role at the exhibit.

The filmmaker, Matthew Akers, was given lengthy access to Abramović, which has resulted in a master expose juxtaposing the tragedies and successes of Abramović’s life with her intensely brilliant work, exposing the artist with a profound depth and sensitivity.

Akers’ display of Abramović’s work with Ulay, her husband of 12 years, is powerful. They were both performance artists who lived and traveled in a truck/van (1976 to 1988). One of their works, “Death self,” shows them breathing in and out of each other’s mouths until, after 17 minutes, breathing by then only carbon dioxide, they fell unconscious – demonstrating that through absorbing the life of another there can only be an exchange that is ultimately destructive.

Years after their intense relationship ends, Abramović reads her telling manifest at an award ceremony. The second of the 18 tenets is: “An artist’s relation to his love life: – An artist should avoid falling in love with another artist.”

Other tenets are just as revealing. For example: “An artist should suffer. From the suffering comes the best work. Suffering brings transformation. Through the suffering an artist transcends their spirit.”

“Marina Abramović: The Artist is Present,” the title of this documentary as well as the title of the MoMA exhibit, literally characterizes the show. Marina was present – sitting in a chair for six days a week for three months in one of the MoMA galleries. People lined up to sit across her in silence. Some cried and some fell in love with her. Akers catches it all.

In the film the handsome Biesenbach says, “She desires to be loved, to be needed. She needs the audience like air to breathe. That’s the gasoline she’s running on. She lives for the art for the audience. When I met her I thought, ‘Oh God, she is in love me. [pause]… But she is in love with the world.'”

The Northwest Film Center presents
Sept 7 and 8 at 7 p.m.

Film Credits

Director and Director of Photography: Matthew Akers
Producer and Co-Director: Jeff Dupre
Stars: Marina Abramovic, Ulay and Klaus Biesenbach | See full cast and crew
Country: USA
Runtime: 106 minutes
Genre: Biography, art history
Filming Locations: Museum of Modern Art, Manhattan, New York City, New York, USA
Language: English
Release Date: Jan. 20, 2012 (Sundance Film Fest), April, 21, 2012 (SFIFF), June 6, 2012 (NYC) and July, 5 2012 (Russia)
Also Known As: “Marina Abramović: Umetnik je prisutan” (Serbia )

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1 Comments Add Yours ↓

  1. redhead #

    I’d like to see this.