Last night I saw the documentary Marina Abramovic The Artist is Present, which follows her final preparations for her 2010 retrospective of the same title at the MoMa, in NYC, as well as documenting the exhibition. During the three months of the show Marina would sit every day from the opening to closing of the museum, without moving, allowing audience members to come and sit with her one at a time, with no talking or touching - simply direct eye contact, and in her words engaging in an 'energy dialogue'.
My first experience of Marina was at the Whitworth Art Gallery as part of the Manchester International Festival in 2009. I knew nothing about her but a good friend of mine, who lectures in performance art, and who's opinion I trust greatly, recommended I see her show, so I did.
It began with an hour long series of exercises, such as looking in to a stranger's eyes for extended amounts of time or drinking a class of water over 7 minutes. These were led by Marina herself, and were designed to slow down our way of being, allowing experiences (in this case, the exhibition we were about to witness) to be fully experienced.
Since then I have been lucky enough to see the 2010 MoMa retrospective I mentioned earlier, as well as her 'musical' The Life And Death of Marina Abramovic, part of last year's Manchester International Festival.
As a performer and someone who works with their body I am drawn to the physicality and all encompassing nature of Marina's work, as well as her philosophies towards and behind her performance, and performance in general.
As part of the MoMa retrospective she selected a small number of performers to recreate her past works. In the documentary we see these performers going to Marina's house in the countryside a weekend full of exercises not dissimilar to those I experienced at the Whitworth Art Gallery, only more intense. She talks about slowing down the mind and body and that as performers you must find space within yourself.
Personally, the timing of watching this documentary seemed apt, as for the past few weeks I have been working with Jordan Massarella on his new work Visitors. It is a comment on celebrity culture and all that goes with it, and my character (follow her on twitter @MadamePleasure2) involves skin tight black lycra, 4 inch heels and sexually provocative, if slightly deranged, dancing. Visitors has been created as a street based work. Through its devising and performing I have learnt a lot, although as I write this I am finding it hard to verbalise what exactly.
One thing it has done is caused me to reflect on performance in general - the complex relationship between audience and performer. I had been struggling to find my character in the studio, but as soon as there was an audience she came alive. I needed them. Yet I feared their judgment.
Who has the power? Can that be pinned down or is it transient? In the most recent performance of Visitors (on the main shopping street in Barnsley town center) I noticed two teenage girls looking at me, mockingly, I was a joke to them. But a few moments of Madame Pleasure staring right at them and they had to look away. I realised I had the power. In the same performance I noticed at man who seemingly did not once shift his gaze from me. It was intense and slightly unnerving. I avoided looking directly at him. He had the power.
The following is from the film's blurb;
The audience is fuel to her - in effect, a lover; she needs the audience Biesenback [Klaus Biesenbach, curator of the retrospective] says, "like air to breathe." Meanwhile, the audience gazes back - and in inevitably begins to grasp the power of her spell
To quote Marina 'performance becomes life itself'. When your body is your tool this seems unavoidable. Your life informs your performance and your performance informs you life. I am not Madame Pleasure. But I created her and somehow, she changed me.
Regardless of if you like or dislike her work I think it would be hard to deny that Marina Abramovic is an intelligent, interesting and thought provoking artist.
And definitely present.