BluRay/DVD Reviews

THE ARTIST IS PRESENT

By • Jul 12th, 2012 •

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Brilliant, brilliant, brilliant! Yes, Abramovic is a seductress.

Several years ago in New York, Chuck Walker and I attended a White Tantric Yoga® meditation. White Tantric Yoga® is done in pairs as a group meditation. You sit cross-legged directly across and facing a partner and follow instructions for meditation given on video by the Mahan Tantric, Yogi Bhajan. Yogi Bhajan became Master of Kundalini Yoga® at the age of 16 in his native India. The authority to be the Mahan Tantric, Master of White Tantric Yoga®, was bestowed on him in 1970.

White Tantric Yoga® meditation is very difficult, performance artist Serbian-born Marina Abramovic did this type of meditation for three months in 2010 in a gallery at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. She sat for seven hours a day, six days a week, without eating or drinking. (Well, fasting has been a huge part of Abramovic’s famous performance pieces.)

People were lined up for hours, even days, to sit across from her. It became pandemonium.

Astonishingly, the title says everything and in itself is a challenge to artists everywhere – the renowned artist is present to give and to receive. The three-month event was an astonishing success and Abramovic became the very public face of performance art. At age 66, Abramovic is a true star still getting naked and has transformed herself into a fashion icon.

I was fascinated by her custom-made costumes for her performances. Medieval in structure, they also represented a nun-like, religious image.

Marina Abramovic merits all the acclaim bestowed on her.

It must have been exhausting for Abramovic because regardless of what she was thinking of as she faced each sitter, she was open to their positive or negative emotions. And staring at them meant she could not block their thoughts from affecting her psyche.

Eventually, Abramovic has the table separating her from her visitor taken away. Removing the table does not close the gap but takes away the barrier between the sitters. This was absolutely a necessary correction to her work.

It is labeled “performance art”, but it is really Marina’s darshan.

Mata Amritanandamayi Devi, the so-called “hugging saint” of Kerala, is known as “Amma” or mother. Members of Amritanandamayi’s following use the term “darshan” specifically in reference to receiving a hug from Amritanandamayi. There are times when Amritanandamayi gives darshan continuously for more than 20 hours (without a pee chair like MoMA provided for Abramovic).

Amritanandamayi has embraced more than 31 million people throughout the world.

Darshan means “to see” in Sanskrit. In the Hindu ritual tradition, it refers to seeing the sacred. It is believed that, in beholding the image of a deity, onlookers absorb through their eyes the powers of that deity. Darshan hence is believed to have the capacity to bring good fortune, well-being, and grace to those who participate in the act.

Matthew Aker’s film follows the enormous preparations and execution of the show. Five iconic performance pieces by Abramovic and those performed by her and former collaborator-partner Ulay (Frank Uwe Laysiepen) were performed by 30 artists hand-picked by her. For re-creating these pieces, they were required to be naked.

In archival footage, we learn much about the 12 years Marina and Ulay lived together and designed their pieces. The small van that they lived in for 5 years is on display. Ulay is interviewed for the documentary and he tells us they broke up when he got a Chinese translator pregnant. In their final collaboration, The Lovers, they walked toward each other from opposite ends of the Great Wall of China over a period of three months. (I’ve walked a mere part of it and it is tough. I wonder, who had the harder route?) They then broke up and did not see each other again for 23 years. Ulay has a very interesting view on Abramovic’s meteoric success and was the first person to sit across from her.

The question arises – would you do the mortification pieces that Abramovic has done throughout her public career for the fame, a Hudson Valley estate, huge SOHO loft, business empire, and mammoth MoMA show? She set herself on fire!

Abramovic and Ulay’s Imponderabilia is one of the five pieces re-staged. Here is the YouTube video of the original piece: Abramovic, Marina; Ulay. Performance piece: Imponderabilia. In a selected space. Naked we stand opposite each other in the museum entrance. The public entering the museum has to turn sideways to move through the limited space between us. Everyone wanting to get past has to choose one of us. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QgeF7tOks4s

THE ARTIST IS PRESENT is evocative and Abramovic, who has sanitized her biography to ditch several marriages, is a modern mystic – the naked mystic. What one comes away with is the necessity to sit still and do nothing – a challenge today.

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