21 September 2012


The Artist is Present is a feature-length documentary about Marina Abramović and her preparations for her 2011 retrospective at MoMA. Abramović is portrayed as a glamorous art-world-icon and myth of her own making on the verge to take the leap into – what under these pre-set conditions only can be understood as – the exhilarating milestone moment of desire for any living artist, a major solo at a premium museum. While the installation and exhibition period serve as a narrative spine, the strategic game played between Abramović and her long time friend, MoMA curator Klaus Biesenbach also reflect upon constituting factors in the intricate web of legitimating a legacy.

Abramović’s ambitious plan seems to be that of securing a future understanding of performance as a legitimate art form and thereby also her own importance in art history, and the MoMA show is the vehicle to achieve it – once and for all. An ambition seemingly far from Abramović’s own device “The hardest thing is to do something which is close to nothing”. While the context and the institution serve as tools for her agenda, the film also allows us to follow Abramović’s sketches for the new work that will be the centrepiece of the exhibition. As such, the work is perfectly scripted for her purpose. It is not only the longest-duration work in her career, it is also claimed to be the most physically and emotionally demanding one. Only the thought of it “made me nauseous” Abramović says in the film.

The work that also lends the title to the film – The Artist is Present – consists of Abramović herself, sitting at a table in the museum’s atrium while individual members of the audience are invited to join her – one at the time – at the opposite end of the table. The conditions are simple; no talking, no touching, no overt communication. Abramović’s goal is to achieve what she refers to as a “luminous state of being” and to transmit this in “an energy dialogue”. In the film Abramović’s performance of presence becomes a metaphoric manifestation where she returns to her roots in order to crystallize her own simplicity and purity – the moment where life becomes art and art becomes life – or is it, art becomes documentary film becomes advertising?

(doc.lounge is a collaboration with Oslo Dokumentarkino and Moloch)

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