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The Artist is Present
March 20, 2013 11:53 AM   Subscribe

Marina Abramović is a performance artist, who in 2010 performed The Artist is Present - sharing a minute of silence with each spectator that wished to. Over the 736 hour performance, hundreds of people sat across from her quietly. Marina had shared a passionate and tempestuous relationship with Uwe Laysiepen, with the relationship ending when they each starting walking from from one end of the Great Wall of China, met in the middle, shared a hug and left - never expecting to speak again. 20 years after that hug, Ulay attended the opening night of her performance without her knowing. This is their moment.
posted by concreteforest (52 comments total) 39 users marked this as a favorite

 
Thus setting the world's record for the longest performance art setup ever?
posted by cross_impact at 11:57 AM on March 20, 2013 [4 favorites]


Well, thanks. I'm crying now.
posted by shoepal at 11:57 AM on March 20, 2013 [5 favorites]


A friend of mine directed the documentary. It's weird how this clip, without attribution, has been going crazy viral on Facebook lately, even without the context the movie provides.
posted by fungible at 12:00 PM on March 20, 2013 [4 favorites]


What a beautiful conversation.

-18C w/wind, and now I have to walk to work with a wet face.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 12:00 PM on March 20, 2013 [4 favorites]


It was not a total surprise.
posted by 41swans at 12:01 PM on March 20, 2013 [10 favorites]


I
LOVE
MARINA!!!

(And apparently so does he, still! And yet beat her at her own game, as cross_impact points out.)
posted by IAmBroom at 12:01 PM on March 20, 2013


I am willing to expand my definition of art for a many things but this is really hurting my brain. I'm trying here, I'm trying to find a way through all the bullshit, through all of the snark that hits me as a gut reaction when I see things like this.

I'm trying...
posted by Fizz at 12:03 PM on March 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


Fizz, in all seriousness, start here: many people are having a reaction to this work, to this piece. You can see it on their faces in the video. What reaction are they having? Why might they be having that reaction?
posted by KathrynT at 12:04 PM on March 20, 2013 [8 favorites]


Marina Abramovic is one of my favorite people or things discovered through MeFi. Previously 1, 2, related.
posted by EvaDestruction at 12:06 PM on March 20, 2013 [4 favorites]


Wow. That was amazing. Very powerful.

It struck me at the end... this could be an inadvertent bookend to the Night Sea Crossing piece they did in the 80's. The setting, with them both sitting across from each other silently at a table, was very reminiscent of it.
posted by zarq at 12:07 PM on March 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


Thanks for those links EvaDestruction. I'm trying to think differently and approach this with an open mind. We'll see what happens.
posted by Fizz at 12:07 PM on March 20, 2013


Except that it wasn't actually a surprise, and certainly not the first time they saw each other again. The framing is in error.
posted by corb at 12:08 PM on March 20, 2013 [6 favorites]


If you have HBO you should watch the whole documentary at the earliest opportunity, especially if you're skeptical about performance art.
posted by theodolite at 12:08 PM on March 20, 2013 [4 favorites]


I am willing to expand my definition of art for a man things but this is really hurting my brain.

Really? I mean, performance art is certainly capable of setting my eyes a-rolling but this--a series of moments of intense, wordless interchange with the artist herself--seems so far from that edge of the medium to me. It sets up all kinds of interesting questions about the significance of "presence" and the boundaries of what we can call "communication" and so forth.
posted by yoink at 12:08 PM on March 20, 2013 [3 favorites]


The Artist is Present - sharing a minute of silence with each spectator that wished to.

I thought that the participants were allowed to sit for as long as they wanted.
posted by ultraviolet catastrophe at 12:11 PM on March 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


I was incredibly moved when I first saw this. But wait, it gets better...
posted by Bohemia Mountain at 12:11 PM on March 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


yoink,

Maybe I phrased that poorly. Sometimes my gut reaction to things like this are: "Yeah, ok...so." And I know that this can be perceived as reductive and ignorant. Maybe it's because I've never "experienced" something like this in person. But I'm reading about her and her work. It is interesting.
posted by Fizz at 12:12 PM on March 20, 2013


My favorite subtext of the documentary is how Marina keeps making remarks about certain guys being hot and how she's basically horn dogging after them.
posted by gcbv at 12:24 PM on March 20, 2013 [2 favorites]


It was said before, but everything that surfaces reminds how far more interesting Ulay is than Marina.
posted by Theta States at 12:33 PM on March 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


I am willing to expand my definition of art for a many things but this is really hurting my brain. I'm trying here, I'm trying to find a way through all the bullshit, through all of the snark that hits me as a gut reaction when I see things like this.

I'm trying...


Well, that's exactly the reason, isn't it? You're trying to understand. You're seeing this and wondering, "What does this say? What should I get out of it? What the hell?"

Art is a way of getting other people to think, through performance, or through construction, or through other means.
posted by xingcat at 12:35 PM on March 20, 2013 [2 favorites]


I thought that the participants were allowed to sit for as long as they wanted.

Yes, they were.
posted by EvaDestruction at 12:39 PM on March 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yeah, almost everything about the framing of this post is incorrect. Marina and Ulay had seen each other mutliple times after they broke up, including that morning. Also, as has been said, participants could sit as long as they wanted. I wish it were only a minute, I might have had a chance the two times I went there.
posted by Falconetti at 12:44 PM on March 20, 2013 [5 favorites]


She's amazing... this is a fantastic post, thanks!
posted by brand-gnu at 12:57 PM on March 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


What reaction are they having? Why might they be having that reaction?

I have a theory about the woman at 1:01-1:03 ...
posted by Greg_Ace at 12:57 PM on March 20, 2013


Thanks. Haven't cried like a little girl all week. I needed that. It's good to feel human again.
posted by pistolswing at 1:02 PM on March 20, 2013


...and you can tell it's performance art, because you feel manipulated afterwards.
posted by markkraft at 1:09 PM on March 20, 2013 [6 favorites]


...and you can tell it's performance art, because you feel manipulated afterwards.

Twenty years and the asshole couldn't even pick up the phone?
posted by PeterMcDermott at 1:17 PM on March 20, 2013 [3 favorites]


My sense from the documentary was that she was still very giddy, nervous, and schoolgirl-ish around Ulay, so I don't feel manipulated knowing that they saw each other that morning. And maybe she was more emotional on the first day of the endeavor? Theata States, why do you think Ulay is more interesting than Marina?

(of course I'm Team Marina -- I waited around to sit across from her. The whole thing was a very enjoyable spectacle.)
posted by armacy at 1:18 PM on March 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


...and you can tell it's performance art, because you feel manipulated afterwards.

By this standard, both Quentin Tarantino and Steven Spielberg are two of the world's most successful performance artists.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 1:20 PM on March 20, 2013


Even though the facts are not quite as dramatic as told in the post*, the scene in context, in the film, is even more powerful than the snippet here.

The film as a whole is incredibly good, one of the best documentaries I've ever watched, and I was definitely not very receptive to performance art before seeing it. In fact I can remember reading about Abramovic's work a few years ago, and rolling my eyes - I just did not see anything in it beyond pretentiousness. It was a great pleasure to discover how much I had been missing.

*Which, can this be corrected or something? Deleting "without her knowing" and changing "sharing a minute of silence" to "sitting in silence" would render the whole thing accurate
posted by Pre-Taped Call In Show at 1:22 PM on March 20, 2013 [5 favorites]


PeterMcDermott: ...and you can tell it's performance art, because you feel manipulated afterwards.

Twenty years and the asshole couldn't even pick up the phone?
Marina or Uwe?
posted by IAmBroom at 1:29 PM on March 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


What a psycho ice maiden, I teared up quicker than she did.
posted by sammyo at 1:31 PM on March 20, 2013 [2 favorites]


This open letter to artists by a performer who rejected a place in one of Abramovic's pieces because of what she considered to be exploitative work conditions was circulating on my facebook a few months ago - more here and here.
posted by metaman livingblog at 1:43 PM on March 20, 2013 [4 favorites]


wow, that whomped me. I think about people I have loved passionately and then let go... I hope I get to have a moment like that with the good ones before I go.
posted by sundaydriver at 2:30 PM on March 20, 2013 [3 favorites]


The open letter is interesting, and I respect her choice to walk away from the work. I'm surprised that she was offered on $150 for her labour.

And...she also objects to Abramovich's artistic pursuit in the piece. It strikes me that Abramovich is continuing the examination of the performance mindset by the performer herself, including the ideas of what it means to be silent and passive in a world of aggressive gaze and action.

The letter writer refuses to perform the "strong and silent role." That strikes me as a different objection altogether
posted by salishsea at 2:38 PM on March 20, 2013 [2 favorites]


And also, thank you for the video and these links. I don't know her work, but her themes are very interesting to me.
posted by salishsea at 3:00 PM on March 20, 2013


Well, I almost just choked to death on a piece of butternut squash while crying, eating dinner, and watching that video. I may delve into the "corrections" later, but for right now, I needed that story as it was first presented.
posted by Polyhymnia at 3:06 PM on March 20, 2013


Ugh, why did they have to start with the treacly music as soon as he sat down? That totally killed it for me. I half-expected to hear Lionel Richie's "Hello."
posted by speicus at 3:17 PM on March 20, 2013 [5 favorites]


@speicus:

I thought the same thing, but in the context of a 2 hour documentary, I bet it made a bit more sense (I haven't seen the full thing though).
posted by jonbro at 3:18 PM on March 20, 2013


That single moment seems like the perfect expression of their relationship as it is portrayed in the documentary. I like that Abramovich reaches out with her hands first, but is also the first to withdraw, and how Uwe Laysiepen lingers for a moment before deciding his time is up. Maybe it's just me but despite Abramovich making the more open gestures, Uwe's feelings are more transparent. I suppose the artist is still in character. Although I'm pretty sure it was spontaneous, the whole thing could not have been choreographed any better; I guess that's what happens when you put two performance artists in a room.
posted by quosimosaur at 3:24 PM on March 20, 2013 [3 favorites]


I feel for the woman that gets to sit right after Uwe. "Hey! he's gone now, I'm here. You're supposed to be sharing a moment with me."
posted by unliteral at 4:19 PM on March 20, 2013 [4 favorites]


ultraviolet catastrophe: "I thought that the participants were allowed to sit for as long as they wanted."

I haven't seen the documentary yet, but that's my recollection as well. I seem to recall that there was one guy that went several hours.

Even if she knew Ulay was there, it's still a remarkable silent conversation. It's amazing how much talking one's face can do.
posted by Dr. Zira at 5:06 PM on March 20, 2013


My memory sucks, it wasn't a guy, it was another performance artist who dressed like her and stayed the whole day.
posted by Dr. Zira at 5:16 PM on March 20, 2013 [2 favorites]


Dr. Zira...thank you for that interview. It is very interesting to me how the interviewer, Tatiana Berg, seems not to get the idea of presence at all:
"The performance is really as far from interaction as you can get, since in the museum setting surrounded by guards on all sides– who won’t even let you take a picture– the audience’s available set of actions is very limited. So rather than interacting with Abramovic, it’s more like she’s inviting the audience to sit there and contemplate themselves, not her."
This is a ridiculous conclusion, in my view, and I thought that Anya Liftig does a beautiful job of explaining what was going on for her in the performance and, by extension, what must be going on for Abramovic as well. To sit silently in the presence of another person is a profound interaction, and if anything, Anya Liftig did not "hack" the show, she responded beautifully to the invitation. Perhaps that is why Abramovic offered her a smile at the end.

And all Berg can say is "A smile from Marina Abramovic? Bad. Ass." As if the goal of Liftig's performance was to be a disruptive dick and KILL HER IDOL. Which it wasn't.

Sheesh.
posted by salishsea at 5:49 PM on March 20, 2013 [3 favorites]


FIzz: If it helps, the way I understand performance art is somewhere between the dance-theatre end of arts and sculpture, the same sort of immediacy and transience. It's a way of making sculpture of a space with the body and with behaviour, and using the same sort of theatrical tools common to the stage to form a narrative and provide context.
posted by Jilder at 6:54 PM on March 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


I got very into watching this while it was going on. At first, people were reluctant to sit with her and any that did were allowed to sit for as long as they wanted. That meant people who did sit all day and some who came many (MANY) times. At some point they decided to limit how long people could sit because they realized it would be possible for someone to "hack" the piece and sit... forever. And it became a spectacle in itself to wait in line. So to avoid some chaos they did limit it to try to get more people through the queue, basically. I can't remember what the limit actually was at the end though.

So then, I went to NYC to see it (I finagled a work trip to our NY office while it was on). I didn't sit, or try to. By the time I went it was, I think, something like the 3rd and 4th days before it was due to be over, so it was really really crazy. I went one day and watched it for about an hour, then went and saw the retrospective of her work*. Seeing the retrospective made me think a couple of things: first, that this piece was rather more a continuation of the work she did with Ulay than any of her subsequent work. And that that intermediate work was really weak in comparison to her early pieces and they pieces they did together (and even Seven Easy Pieces which were re-performances of other artists pieces... hrm...). I have not really done much reading on Ulay himself, but in hindsight, I do wonder how much of their joint work came from his vision vs hers. I'm not trying to slag her particularly and I've read a ton about her in the interim and some of it definitely made me question my fan-girl reactions to this piece and what I thought that summer.

On the second day, I wandered the museum looking at some other work and then watched The Artist is Present for maybe another 2-3 hours (my friends watching on the webcam spotted me and took a screencap for posterity). Watching the piece was one thing, but watching the people watching it was far, far more interesting. Spectacle would not be remotely the wrong word. And I think some of that was the point, though maybe unintentionally - it became more about what people DID when they watched an artist (which is sort of how museums are interesting - how to people Look At Art - and performance as a making of art right in front of your face almost demands an interaction with the audience that, say, painting or sculpture as an output of artistic activity done in garrett or a studio somewhere out of sight doesn't) than what she was doing. Which... was NOTHING.

* for the record I did walk between the naked people and of all the re-performances I found the one of Nude with Skeleton the most moving, surprisingly. One of the reasons she's so famous is that practically all of her artist output is well-documented and preserved, which back in the day was rare for performance pieces.

I think it's clear that this meeting involved some genuine emotional connection between them, regardless of whether it was the first time they'd seen each other. It's not just him showing up, it's that he's there with her while she performs the biggest piece of her life - in the biggest museum in conjunction with a retrospective of her work (the first of a performance artist, I think). The whole thing is an enormity. And remember too that this is basically suuuuppper like their joint piece Nightsea Crossing (does this look familiar...) and so here she sat solo-performing a joint piece and then her piece-partner joins her. Christ, just thinking about that makes me cry.

I fell for Ulay watching the HBO doc. He seemed genuinely impressed by and supportive of her achievements. And when Marina expresses her desire to modify her piece of include DAVID FUCKING BLAINE, well, maybe I started wondering about her as an artist a whole lot more.
posted by marylynn at 8:46 PM on March 20, 2013 [6 favorites]


Theata States, why do you think Ulay is more interesting than Marina?

The documentary, for me, reinforced more than ever that there is just so many problems with Marina that don't get called out because she is an artstar darling.

I can't find the exact past comment, but someone said something along the lines of "The fact she didn't realize working with David Blaine wasn't just a bad idea, but the WORST of ideas, raises some serious questions about her judgement".
And all the haute couture bullshit, with her $15-million (I'm guessing) New York properties... It certainly gave an impression that when she left Ulay and her ascetic lifestyle of that period, her most vital days were done.

And on the less snarky front, her rapidly shifting attitudes towards re-performing her pieces when money suddenly becomes involved, and her crass exploitation of performers for sub-minimum wage, let alone the context of creating performances exclusively for millionaire donors.


I do not begrudge rich living artists! But I do wonder why we do not eye her with the same suspiciion as Hirst or Koons, because they are all playing similar games.
posted by Theta States at 7:29 AM on March 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


me: I can't find the exact past comment, but someone said something along the lines of "The fact she didn't realize working with David Blaine wasn't just a bad idea, but the WORST of ideas, raises some serious questions about her judgement".

marylynn: I fell for Ulay watching the HBO doc. He seemed genuinely impressed by and supportive of her achievements. And when Marina expresses her desire to modify her piece of include DAVID FUCKING BLAINE, well, maybe I started wondering about her as an artist a whole lot more.

Ahhn OK maybe it was you who expressed it so well in the past thread as well.
I am in total agreement with you.

posted by Theta States at 7:36 AM on March 21, 2013


Theata States, why do you think Ulay is more interesting than Marina?

I think Ulay is easier to understand and Marina is easier to idolise.
posted by quosimosaur at 8:41 AM on March 21, 2013


Yeah, that was me. I'm still gobsmacked by it.
posted by marylynn at 9:49 AM on March 21, 2013


It's weird how this clip, without attribution, has been going crazy viral on Facebook lately, even without the context the movie provides.

That's where I found it, but when I posted it at Taoish it didn't take too long to find the more accurate facts from wikipedia and google. Hopefully I got it right, as I had never heard of her previously.

Does anyone know what Ulay said to her at the table? That's the one thing I couldn't find anywhere. I thought that was a violation of the rules but, you know, good time for an exception.
posted by msalt at 10:49 AM on March 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


i was like 'hold her! she's a woman! you nitwit!' when she started crying, and then everyone burst out clapping and completely ruined it. But actually anyone who ends their relationship like Ulysses is made of classier stuff than i am
posted by maiamaia at 2:06 PM on March 21, 2013


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