She’s got the look – Marina Abramović: The Artist is Present ­review

Marina Abramović: The Artist is Present ­– Starring Marina Abramović. Directed by Matthew Akers and Jeff Dupre. By Simon Miraudo.

Marina Abramović: The Artist is Present plays the Revelation Perth International Film Festival on July 10, 2012. It does not yet have an Australian release date.

If you have been looking for the natural meeting place of Jafar Panahi‘s document of life under house arrest This is Not a Film and Justin Bieber‘s popumentary Never Say Never, look no further. Co-directors Matthew Akers and Jeff Dupre have brought to the screen legendary performance artist Marina Abramović’s wildly ambitious MoMA installation The Artist is Present. For three months, she sat motionless in the famed New York museum’s atrium, allowing patrons to take a seat opposite and share the space for as long as they pleased (or, once the piece grew into a heavily trafficked event, until the security guards asked them to leave). The concept sounds simple – and to some, perhaps pointless – but it was a task of gruelling endurance, revealing much from within the creator as well as that of her audience. It inspired a blog, a video game, and now a film. The latter is absolutely enthralling, and builds to one of the most cathartic movie moments I’ve enjoyed in some time.

But back to that opening sandwich. This is Not a Film told of an Iranian director so compelled to relate stories, investigate characters, and make motion pictures, he dared to do so while awaiting imprisonment for producing ‘propaganda’ against the state  (his ‘non-film’ was famously smuggled out of Iran on a USB stick, hidden inside a cake). Marina Abramović: The Artist is Present similarly conveys the ceaseless drive of a talent to find new ways to provoke and inspire viewers.

Akers (pulling double duty as cinematographer) and Dupre escort us through her early, incredibly violent, and oft-nude works, which included the carving a pentagram into her stomach, hurling into walls, and digging a knife between her five splayed fingers. Though the Beebs doesn’t exactly deal in as equally incendiary topics (or maybe we’re not reading enough into his Baby), Never Say Never was a surprisingly comprehensive and insightful portrait of both a talented individual and a carefully crafted brand. So too is The Artist is Present. We get to meet Marina’s assistants and creative consultant, who help to perpetuate her myth for both creative and financial gain.

The most fascinating aspect here is the relationship between Abramović and like-minded performer Uwe Laysiepen (aka Ulay). They collaborated in explosive ways throughout the 1970s and 80s, spending years living inside a van, and describing themselves collectively as a ‘two-headed body.’ The romance ultimately imploded – concluding with an elaborate gesture in which they walked to each other from opposite ends of the Great Wall of China, and then literally went their separate ways – but they reconnect prior to the staging of TAIP, in which Marina also recruited young artists to re-enact some of her and Ulay’s more famous works. He visits his soul-mate at her seated prison in MoMA, and the reunion is… there are literally no words that will suffice as an explanation of its profound effect.

It’s not always satisfying to have an artist justify or explain themselves, but the wonderfully charming and still-erotic-at-63 Abramović proves to be a delightfully open subject. Critics and contemporaries help fill in the gaps, but much like this recent, eponymous piece, her work requires our own interpretation to be whole; you bring baggage to it, and take away what you will. In person, the experience of gazing into Marina’s vulnerable, affection-needing-and-exuding eyes reduced men, women, and children to tears. It’s understandable.


Check out Simon’s other reviews here.

Marina Abramović: The Artist is Present plays the Revelation Perth International Film Festival on July 10, 2012. It does not yet have an Australian release date.

2 Responses to “She’s got the look – Marina Abramović: The Artist is Present ­review”

  1. Yes, that moment when Ulay takes a seat at The Artist is Present was heart stopping. I also rather enjoyed James Franco’s cameo, mostly for when he gets asked, “are you an actor?” Hollywood brushes up against the art world! Ha.

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