LONDON.- Known to many as the Godmother of Performance Art, for nearly four decades Marina Abramović has been challenging, confronting and shocking the art world with her fearless and completely unique performance art. Now for the first time a feature-length documentary Marina Abramović The Artist is Present will follow the artist as she prepares for her landmark retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York.
Available on DVD and digital download on 3 September 2012 courtesy of Dogwoof, Marina Abramović The Artist is Present is a rare insight to the artist preparing for arguably the most important moment of her life. The DVD release will include amazing clips of previously unreleased footage including MOMA audience reactions; interviews with the MOMA curator and Marinas Biographer; as well the recent insightful BFI interview with director Matthew Akers. With performance art now in the forefront of the contemporary art world, this DVD is a must for art lovers and a rare chance to understand the spectacle that is Marina Abramović.
Even when encountering masterpieces like the Mona Lisa, museum-goers often spend as little as 30 seconds pondering the work before moving on. But in the case of The Artist is Present, a hugely popular exhibit by performance artist extraordinaire Marina Abramović at New Yorks Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), many attendees stayed for hours some after waiting all night. Even more remarkable, the exhibit was breathtaking in its simplicity: two chairs facing each other, with Abramović sitting in one and audience members taking turns sitting in the other, gazing into each others eyes in silence. In true Abramović style, she remained in the chair for seven and a half hours each day every day that the museum was open for three months without eating, drinking or moving from her seated position, a feat of mental and physical endurance that is challenging even for a veteran of such performances.
Part of a blockbuster retrospective exhibit of Abramovićs controversial work, which took place from March to May 2010 at MoMA, the work and the artist are now the focus of a captivating new HBO feature-length documentary, MARINA ABRAMOVIĆ THE ARTIST IS PRESENT. From first-time director Matthew Akers, the film is an exclusive, behind-the-scenes portrait of Abramović, who some affectionately call the grandmother of performance art. It will have its world premiere at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival in the U.S. Documentary Competition.
MARINA ABRAMOVIĆ THE ARTIST IS PRESENT is by no means a typical "art film." With total access granted by Abramović and MoMA, MARINA ABRAMOVIĆ THE ARTIST IS PRESENT is a mesmerizing cinematic journey inside the world of radical performance, and an intimate portrait of an astonishingly magnetic, endlessly intriguing woman who draws no distinction between life and art.
Known for her extreme performance-art installations, many of them involving nudity and punishing forms of bodily deprivation, Abramović says she is one of a tiny number of artists of her generation still working in the field. She is also a glamorous art-world icon, a lightning rod for controversy and a myth of her own making. But after 40 years of facing skepticism about the artistic merit of her work, she says shes tired of the alternative label: Im 63! I don't want to be alternative anymore!
It is for that reason that the MoMA retrospective exhibit carried such intense personal and professional significance for Abramović. Not only is it the crowning achievement of her career, but she also sees it as an opportunity perhaps her last to finally put performance art on the mainstream map. Performance art has never been a regular form of art, she says in her trademark broken English and Yugoslavian accent. Its always been alternative since I was born, so I want it to be a real form of art and respected before I die.
Based on interviews with Abramović, her collaborators and a variety of art commentators, friends and fans, the documentary weaves archival footage of Abramović's early works with images of her personal and professional life in the momentous year leading up to her MoMA extravaganza. Revisiting her controversial beginnings in the early 1970s, the film includes footage of her driving around a public square in a van while shouting numbers from a megaphone, taking psychoactive drugs to challenge social attitudes towards female mental illness, and mutilating and flagellating herself.
MARINA ABRAMOVIĆ THE ARTIST IS PRESENT features interviews and scenes with commentators and public figures, including: Klaus Biesenbach, MoMAs Chief Curator at Large, who conceived, titled and organized The Artist is Present; art critic Arthur Danto; Chrissie Iles, curator of the Whitney Museum of American Art; Abramovićs gallerist, Sean Kelly; writer Tom McEvilley; illusionist David Blaine; Oscar®-nominated actor James Franco and Ulay, Marinas early partner and creative collaborator.
The retrospective exhibit occupied several floors of MoMA, most of them dedicated to earlier chapters in Abramovićs career, with images and videos of installations, many involving fellow performance artist Ulay. The exhibit also features 41 young artists enlisted and trained by Abramović to re-perform some of her early installations. For example, in Imponderabilia, two artists stand face-to-face, completely naked on opposite sides of a doorway that the public can only squeeze through by brushing against the couples naked flesha piece originally performed by Abramović and Ulay.
The main focus of the retrospective, however, is the new exhibit, in which Abramović herself sits in a chair under bright spotlights opposite an empty chair in which members of the public are invited to sit for as long as they want, gazing into Abramovićs eyes. A seemingly endless parade of people lines up for the opportunity, many of them returning to repeat the experience, sitting multiple times on different days. Some sit for as long as ten hours.
The experience is astounding as a social leveler, drawing people of all ages, races and walks of life. As the exhibit nears its end, the lines grow longer and the numbers of would-be participants swell. To guarantee time with Abramović, some camp outside MoMA to get a number, rushing to the exhibit as soon as the museum doors open. As a result of the direct energy dialogue between Abramović and the public, an emotional breakthrough occurs, Abramović says. And so it seems to, with numerous sitters shedding tears or beaming transcendent smiles. In all, an estimated 750,000 people see the show.
For Abramović, the piece is the longest-duration solo work of her career, and by far the most physically and emotionally demanding she has ever attempted. When she conceived it, she says, she knew instantly that it was the right piece, because the mere thought of it "made me nauseous." Says MoMA curator Klaus Biesenbach, When she had this idea, I thought, God, she's going to kill herself. But despite the palpable pain and exhaustion that set in as the weeks turn to months, she never even considers giving up, he says.
Perhaps the films most moving scene occurs when Ulay occupies the seat opposite Marina. The two artists shared an emotionally intense and colorful history spanning over 12 years, living in a van in Europe and performing together, before their relationship ended in suitably dramatic fashion: each walked from opposite ends of the Great Wall of China, met in the middle after covering over 1,500 miles each, then said good-bye. Sitting opposite each other in the MoMA exhibit, neither can hold back the tears. Eventually, to cheers from the crowd of spectators, they reach across to hold each other something none of the other sitters is permitted to do. Its a beautiful and deeply moving moment. From the story of their relationship and their intensely charged reconnection in the runup to the MoMA retrospective, a parallel Marina emerges a flesh-and-blood foil to the art-world icon a woman who is driven by passion, desperate for admiration, and maddeningly riven by contradictions.
Matthew Akers is an accomplished producer, director, photographer and cinematographer known for his expertise in shooting cinéma vérité. He was the producer and a lead cinematographer on the six-part PBS television event Circus, and was a producer and camera operator on Carrier, a ten-part Emmy® Award-winning PBS television series (2008). He was also a producer and camera operator on Nimrod Nation, an eight-part Peabody Award-winning documentary series. Akers also worked as a cinematographer on numerous films, including the HBO documentaries Back In The Hood: Gang War II, Heir To An Execution and Elaine
Stritch: At Liberty.