I think I saw this on TV a while ago, knowing nothing about her or her work. If this is what I saw, there is a point when her past lover appears in front of her as she plays out her two minutes of silent looking with strangers. It was heart breaking. The DVD is on order and I see it discusses whether or not this is art, which probably goes for a good many of the more contemporary installations and performances that appear now in galleries. So different from the traditional oil painting, the representational depiction of a something that often constitutes a record.
Update: I watched the full length video of Marina Abramovic’s The Artist is Present last weekend, having only seen brief clips before and I’m again conflicted about the nature of art. Abramovic is a performance artist which means she is the art; hence the title: without her there’s nothing and so the artist is, unlike many others whose paintings or sculptures are essentially proxies, actually present. It looks exhausting, from the nude hitting and slapping she and her ex-partner had contributed in the past, the self-flagellation, and prolonged posing in sexualised and uncomfortable seeming positions, to this epic of many days sitting still as a parade of people file in to sit opposite and be ‘seen’ by her.
I’m not sure what it means or even if I’m meant to understand anything by it all. I do know, as a psychological clinician, that it’s a long way from normal and seems to be an expose of inner turmoil, whatever that is for her. There’s a great deal of nudity; often sexualised, often including male participants; and all of it there to be viewed. Under other circumstances, it might be described as pornographic, but here it’s art, and at MoMA where TAIP is ‘running’, she has celebrity status. This is evident from the queues, the tears when people don’t get a ticket to ‘sit’ or are just short of doing that when the museum closes. It’s also there in the competitive art exhibited by visitors who try to move the emphasis of the experience to make it about them. They’ve all been told not to interact with her, or make any movements once seated, but one man immediately tried to put on some strange headgear that made a black rectangle of his face, and a young woman peeled off her dress to sit nude in the seat. They were both quickly hauled away: it wasn’t their show, it was hers.
I suppose my question is, and this goes for all meaningful art (including literary fiction), if the viewer/reader doesn’t know what the meaning is and can’t make sense of it, who is it serving? If no one, then isn’t such work essentially just an exercise in self-indulgent hauteur? I don’t know what Abramovic’s message is, I suspect it’s deeply personal and complicated now by the kind of narcissism that goes with celebrity. Is she a victim? Possibly.
What I do know, from spending much of my working life with adults who have intellectual disabilities, is that the message is pointless if its meaning can’t be communicated. We all benefit from the insights an author or artist drops us via a video or interview, but that’s only available to a limited, possibly privileged, few. For communication to be inclusive, it needs to be accessible, so if we’re going to make art and literature that’s meaningful, we have to stop expecting our audiences to guess.