Marina Abramovic: The Artist is Present

Marina Abramovic: The Artist is Present (2012) is a documentary about one of the world’s pre-eminent performance artists. If that sounds truly boring, never fear, because the film is much more than that.


When I saw the film, I was expecting something pretty dry, despite the film getting uniformly positive reviews everywhere I read. The delightful thing about the film is that yes it is about performance art, but it is also about so much more. It is about the notion of legacy, boundaries, the psychology of art, physical limits, the monetisation of creativity and best of all, it is one of the most awesomely strange love stories I have seen for quite some time. The reflections on her working and personal relationship with her longtime partner Ulay are some of the most intriguing parts of the film. We are talking about a relationship that culminated in an artwork that saw them walking toward one another from opposite ends of the Great Wall of China, an act that so changed them that it was the end of their relationship. There’s was a real love, ultimately combustible, but incredibly reflective. It is not often that you get to see the parties involved reflect on something that has burnt out in such a way and it is riveting stuff.


At the centre of everything wonderful the film is about is Marina Abramovic, an engaging and complicated artist. She is clearly a rather large deal in the contemporary art world, but you cannot help get the sense that she has a bit of a chip on her shoulder that this acknowledgement eluded her for so long. As well as chronicling her past, the film also shows the preparation and performance of Marina’s latest and most ambitious piece. At MOMA in New York, all day, every day for 3 months, Marina will sit in a chair and allow members of the public to sit and look at her from close up, their eyes meeting – a piece entitle ‘The Artist is Present’. It is an incredible feat of commitment, passion and physical strength, as you witness the toll that this has on her body. The most stunning aspect of the performance are the rabid crowds who come to see her perform and to sit in her presence. It is incredible to see the array of people who are moved to tears by the performance and there is something undeniably profound about what takes place. It was also incredible to see the level of preparation that goes into her piece. Detractors would scoff that anyone could just sit in a chair in an art gallery and that does not make it art. But not everyone (and perhaps no one else) could do the 6 months of preparation required to perfect such a piece and ensure that it has such an incredible effect on so many people. The entire performance is an incredible journey by Marina, there are definitely times that you feel she has bitten off more than she can chew, and it is great to see such an incredibly high quality artist deal with that fear. She refers to the performance as “her cross” and beautifully articulates the artistry and skill involved, stating “the hardest thing to do is close to nothing.”

Definitely not what I was expecting, Marina Abramovic: The Artist is Present, is well worth checking out. Give it a shot even if the premise sounds about as enticing on nails on a chalkboard, I’d be willing to guarantee that the film surprises you in some way. Rare is the film that sees you actually engaging with an artwork, but I think that is one of the many things that this film achieves.

Verdict: Pint of Kilkenny

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