“The artist is present”, a documentary about the exceptional modern artist Marina Abramovich, is a transforming introspection into the life of the now 67-year old Yugoslavian artist whose daring art works have redefined art for good.
Marina Abramovich puts on stage everything that is considered unthinkable. Her works are so provocative, so radically different from everything else that we perceive as “art”, that people have continuously questioned whether her work is to be called art at all.
Pablo Picasso said that “The purpose of art is washing the dust of daily life off our souls.” But this is not the art Marina is creating for what she does is taking the dust of life and magnifying it, thus making it “worth our attention”.
Eye contact, for instance, is something we oversee in our busy daily lives. Marina takes it and enlarges it, and makes herself available to be seen, invites her public to be seen by her. The result is rediscovering a tool for human connection which is so powerful, so human and so basic, yet profoundly forgotten.
In her “Project 0” Marina creates a space for the eruption of our quiet emotions into their deeper, socially unacceptable counterparts. The passive aggression that inhibits our day-to-day communication is given the floor to present itself in its might, even if it is for the price of the artist’s life. The results are alarming, but “Art should be disturbing”- Abramovich asserts.
What is so incredible about Marina Abramovich is she deliberately presents herself as a co-creator of her work. She involves the public in her pieces, cutting off the gap between artist and observer. The individuals making up the crowd are no more mere spectators, but rather participants whose involvement is everything to the piece and to the artist. Allowing the public to fully integrate itself in her work, Marina creates art pieces that are unforgettable. Her art pieces are social experiments which offer insight and opportunities for dialogue and reflection long after they have been performed.
The work of Marina Abramovich inspires me with its gigantic fearlessness. The artist dares to show and put herself in situations of absolute vulnerability as perceived through the lenses of our society. Naked, tortured, starving, she challenges our notions for beauty, she destroys our shared preconceptions as to what can be shown on stage. She triggers strong emotional response while not hiding her own vulnerabilities. And with that she threatens the way we imagine an artist to be like- for the creator is not someone who acts on behalf of a whim, sitting comfortably in front of a fire place, but, rather, quite literally taking on the role of Jesus sprung on a cross in front of the eyes of everyone.
A disturbing for me element of the movie was the revelation of facts about Marina’s personal life. What was difficult for me in particular was learning about her love life and her thirty-year long relationship with German artist Uwe Laysiepen (Ulai) which termination left Marina ever so motivated and ever so lonely.
Marina’s story of passionate romance and collaboration with Ulai reinforces the common assumption that powerful, talented women are bound to remain alone because they challenge the hetero-normative distribution of balance of powers within relationships. The documentary shows the insecurities of Ulai who never succeeded to reach the scale of Marina’s artistic success and genius. His break up with Marina was caused by his impregnating his translator whom he later married.
The turn-out of his relationship with Marina make me question whether powerful women are, indeed, destined to be alone for they always seem to be “too much” for their respective partners. Are there men out there who can take it all and live with us, women who burn in passion, and choose to live life to its fullest intensity? Is it men’s privilege to be challenged and transformed by women like Marina Abramovich, yet weakness to choose the path of least resistance when it comes to family life?
My personal take from the movie which introduced me to Abramovich’s work in depth is the reassurance that art doesn’t have to be superficial. That life and art are not opposites. And that real, present-time emotions are not just the outcome of art, but are part of its making- all the way from the beginning to the end.