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There are no borders between your body and the environment and you start having this incredible feeling of lightness and harmony with yourself. Performance is almost a state of mind.
The power of Marina Abramović (1946) lies in her fearlessness. With her performances she takes her body and soul to extremes. “She is constantly playing with the edge of he knife,” says Sean Kelly, gallery owner, in the documentary Marina Abramović: The Artist Is Present. And that can be interpreted both literally and metaphorical.
Physical and mental scars
What seperates Marina from all the other artists is that she’s willing to take big risks. She dares to let other people call the shots, lets her audience decide what happens to her. That doesn’t always go smoothly. In her performances the pain of her past lingers on every movement she makes. As a child Marina got only little attention from her parents, who were both national heroes thanks to the role they took up during the war. Her mother never gave her the loving attention Marina desired and needed so much. “My mother dressed me as a devil when I was 4 years old, for my first party. I don’t know why she dressed me as a devil, but I think it marked my life.”
The mental pain she experienced during her youth gets turned into physical pain in her performances. Her body is the medium with what she gives outing to sometimes violent and provocing opinions. And, as she wrote in her manifest: “An artist should not compromise.” And so the performances done by Marina frequently cause bruises or blood being spilled.
The Artist Is Present – The Museum of Modern Art
The emptiness Marina experienced in her youth resulted in something positve after all. The deep connection she had with her audience during her performance The Artist is Present comes from her longing to be loved and needed, which she didn’t feel when she was only a child. Everything around her disappears and the only thing that matters is the connection between Marina and the person sitting across the table. “It’s not about me anymore. I’m just the mirror of their own self,” Marina says.
When she was asked to exhibit at The Museum of Modern Art (MOMA), Marina decided to exhibit five of her earlier performances, now performed by thirty young artists she’d trained herself. Apart from the five historical performances, she decided to create a new performance. In the performance The Artist Is Present, Marina seems to do the impossible: for three months, six days a week, seven and a half hours a day she sat on a chair at a table and did nothing other than looking into the eyes of the person sitting across the table. Without moving, talking or making other gestures, she was able to get really close to her audience. It seems to be something easy, sitting still and doing nothing. But, as she says herself, the difficulty of doing something that is nearly nothing is highly underrated. It takes all of you. “There is no way out.”
The documentary about Abramović shows how she sits on that chair at the table for three months, day in day out. But a change is to be noticed as the documentary goes on. As the days of the performance go by, the artist seems to get more and more emotional when she looks her audience in the eye. The Artist Is Present is a self-portrait, with which Marina shows herself through the way she opens up to her audience. But the real Marina doesn’t show until a very special man is the next one to sit across the table, in front of her.
Never ending love
“An artist should avoid falling in love with another artist.” However hard she tried to stick to this rule in her manifest, Marina fell deeply for the performance artist Ulay. In him she found the love she never got from her parents. Not only as lovers they had an instant connection. Ulay describes their relationship as following: “We were lovers, we were friends, we were performers all at once. Destiny brought us together.” Marina was very driven in her performance art and found in Ulay an equal. Someone who was willing to go just as far for his art as Marina was to go for her art. The moment Marina opens her eyes during the performance The Artist Is Present and sees Ulay, it becomes clear that the intense love they once felt for each other never really was over.
Watch that golden moment of the special reunion of Marina Abramović and Ulay here.