Marina Abramović – The Artist is Present

In Films, M by Laura Milnes

By – Laura Milnes – Cinematographer Matthew Akers makes his directorial debut

By – Laura Milnes

Matthew Akers makes his directorial debut with this documentary feature
following the so-called “Grandmother of Performance Art”, Marina Abramović as
she prepares for and executes her most prolific exhibition to date, a
retrospective at New York’s Museum of Modern Art.

Interspersed with biographical anecdotes about her
childhood and extensive body of boundary-pushing artworks, the film often errs
on the side of sentimentality and there’s more than a hint of unnecessary
nostalgia. Generally, however, its apparent aim – to unlock the humanity from
within the formidable image of a contemporary art icon – is a genuine and
worthwhile one when it eventually reaches its narrative climax at the end of
this momentous exhibition.

Marina Abramović is far and wide respected for her
work as a performance artist, with a career that began in the 1970s and has
evolved across continents, seeing her work presented worldwide to great
acclaim. Perhaps most notable and notorious have been her many works involving
the body – her own – in which she has tested her limits physically, mentally
and emotionally, more than once risking her own life in the process.

Also explored in the film is the work she made over a
period of twelve years with collaborator and lover Ulay, which in 1988 came to
a dramatic end (along with the relationship) in a final collaboration which saw
the two trek from opposite sides of the Great Wall of China to meet in the
middle for a final “Good-bye” before parting (apparently until the making of
this film). The relationship between the two, which shattered boundaries
between art and life for both, is sensitively dealt with and their eventual
reunion, meeting each other’s gaze across a table as part of a work of art is a
celebratory moment for MoMA and cinema audiences alike.

The most remarkable and reassuring element of the film
is the revelation that Abramović is not the apparently stern, intimidating and
shocking individual she often appears to be. She jokes, flirts and expresses
her insecurities to those she is close to.

Perhaps the most alarming moment we witness is
Abramović not only entertaining the illusionist David Blaine but entertaining
the idea that they might collaborate
in her seminal MoMA show. High art meets… well it’s hard to define a man who
halfway through the meeting begins to chew and swallow a wine glass but let’s
just say it’s worth watching to see how that particular meeting of minds turns

It’s debatable how appealing this film may be to those
who don’t normally take a great interest in performance art and its icons but
the quality and insight is enough that it should prove engaging for many. It is
an admirable move for the makers of this film to bring an all too often
dismissed art form to a more mainstream audience and publicly mark the
contribution of this highly influential artist to the history of art. After
all, as Marina herself says, “Excuse me, I’m 63. I don’t want to be alternative