Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Marina Abramovic: The Artist is Present (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway 

Marina Abramovic: The Artist Is Present

Matthew Akers has done a documentary on the legendary performance-artist Marina Abramovic, that is as confrontational as it is insightful. Staying neutral, Akers shows   Abramovic as she really is: an explorer who is part Kafka, part martyr and  part dominatrix. She is known as the grandmother of performance art.

Marina Abramovic was born in Belgrade Yugoslavia in 1946. Her parents stifled her creativity and attempted to mold her into a female soldier. She began to sneak away from home and engage in body explorations that tested the limits of martyrdom. She flogged herself, she cut herself and gouged a fiery pentagram into her abdomen. If that wasn't enough she once encircled herself within an arc of petroleum and did not move, letting the smoke almost obliterate her consciousness. 
The film does a wonderful job of showing Marina's progression, from a nomadic traveller in a pitch black army truck that resembles a hard shelled insect to a fearless and obstinate performer who specializes in physical immobility.
Throughout the film, Abramovic seems to be propelled by rejection and sadness, most notably in her twelve year romance and collaboration with artist Ulay. Together  Abramovic and Ulay (who handsomely resembles Klaus Kinski) make out, slap and violently attack each other, all executed in the nude. Their collaboration and romance climaxed in 1988, after a three month trek to walk separately, at opposite ends of The Great Wall of China and promptly sever the ties of Amor.
Rather than bask in a forlorn state, Abramovic chooses to go to Paris and cloak herself in the sable layers of Haute  Couture, transforming herself into a kind of spiritual Domme. Living for envy, Abramovic  is energized and begins to join stage plays for money, positioning herself into a Christ-figure or Virgin Mary decades before pop star Madonna.  Marina's eyes are whirlpools of lava. Her expression both attracts and repels. She appears as a magnet and a monster, reveling, revealing, and rebelling against her usual ascetic works by wearing satanic horns, just as she did as a child.  
The film builds in intensity with a frequency of buzzing montages that are akin to a Brian DePalma thriller in showing the artist as a dictator as she conducts a retreat where technology is forbidden with a strict adherence.
All this is startling, yet the highlight of the film occurs at the end, when Marina Abramovic begins her numbingly brutal and beautiful show at The MoMA in which she sits in a single hard chair from 10am to 4pm for three full months confronting thousands of gallery visitors who sit across from her, often without a squint or gesture. At first, she gazes impassively at each visitor, her bottomless black eyes reflecting upon the spectator like Andy Warhol's Bolex camera which once captured everything from the high to the humdrum. But as the months wear on, Marina becomes increasingly stifled by pain and inactivity and many of the visitors begin to weep. At such times, Abramovic is magically-made into a living Jezebel or Ecce Homo, rendered by the artist herself. Such moments seem a Carravaggian effort in self-carnage as Marina's supple body is stubbornly set into a single harsh and unforgiving chair. 

Beware: even you might start to cry. Each expression is hard to handle.
One last clap of surprise is the visit of actor James Franco, whose laughing eyes make a Hollywood Buddha displaying an innocence and respect that is grounded in joy.
"Marina Abramovic: The Artist Is Present" shows the full measure of this woman in all of her many guises and it doesn't pull any punches. Marina is as solid as a chunk of Pyroclastic rock and I wish her shadow could burn a bit longer onscreen for yet another week.

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