Title: Marina Abramovic: The Artist Is Present
Genre: Documentary, History
Director: Matthew Akers
Music: Nathan Halpern
Cinematography: Matthew Akers
A 2012 documentary about the 2010 retrospective exhibition “THE ARTIST IS PRESENT” held at MoMA, New York, by the Serbia-born Marina Abramovic, the performance-art spearhead, who has been active for over 40 years and namely the “grandmother of performance art”.
For the new generation, Marina probably is well-known for her recent collaboration with Lady Gaga in her trendy ARTPOP album, so one may reckon this documentary could be an introductory piece to her wholesome work and artistic ethic, however, as the title implies, the film doesn’t purport to be a comprehensive presentation of her lengthy career, instead, it mainly stays in the “present”, extensively records her latest performance inside MoMA (with a group of young artists re-enact her most important work at the same time), where Marina dares to sit and stare with her audience face to face but in silence for many hours a day continuously for 3 months. It was a great success in any rate, but also accurately testifies how smart Marina is, as an astute artist, she knows what her art needs is the gaze and attention from audience, and it is so different from other media, performance art is an ongoing process, so she utilises her towering stamina to grant each audience the possibility to be in the centre of a crowd, to participate in her work and to ruminate in a trance of emotional undercurrents. In a three-months span, the film covers the sensational public images and the more laid-back private moments in Marina’s life, through cautious eyes, one might find she is always performing, it is her lifestyle, her habitual mechanism towards the world at least whenever the camera aims at her, she minimally elucidates her beliefs and through ages, her radical angle has abated, what is left is the mystical allure of her presence, as she is sitting silently in front of you and gazing into your eyes but indeed, in most case, you don’t mean a thing to her.
The most curious and emotionally relatable part is in the first half of the film, when we briefly get a chance to know about her background, especially her works with German artist Ulay, who she met in 1976, afterwards they spent 12 years together as a collective being until they historically ended their relationship in 1988 after a spiritual journey in the Great Wall of China. Like Marina said in a speech, an artist should not fall in love with another artist, it does come from her own experiences, that’s why their reunion is much more meaningful and intriguing in this sense. Ulay is also quite frank about this relationship, and gives Marina his blessing for her achievements, still through his interview, there are much more mixed emotions are engendered and mixed, but the truth only exists between those who are involved, no matter how curious we are, it is never what this film intends to demonstrate.
Directed by Matthew Akers, with snappy editing work and soothing score from Nathan Halpern, the film is a joyful ride for those who are really into art scenes and all the fanfares tailing along, occasionally thought-provoking, but essentially it is a bandwagon for Marina’s artwork and reputation, if you want to know more about the person herself, you will find this film wanting and not spunky enough to soberly take stock of its subject matter.