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Marina Abramović Talks 'The Artist is Present,' Her Thoughts On Censorship, Art & More

Photo of Christopher Bell By Christopher Bell | The Playlist June 15, 2012 at 1:05PM

You don’t get much more intense than the work of Marina Abramović. Born in Belgrade, the performance artist’s work ranges from replicating a recorded 5-finger fillet game to laying abeyant while participants chose an object to use on her (offerings included honey, scissors, and a gun) -- and it’s this kind of risky, powerful work that eventually led her to her own exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art in 2010, titled “The Artist is Present.” Aside from being a retrospective there was also a titular piece, one that involved Abramović sitting across from a willing participant for a certain amount of time. Yes, it’s much more restrained than her a lot of her previous works, but the piece holds an immense strength -- a number of patrons were moved to tears after taking the seat and participating in the performance.
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Imponderabilia
Censorship Woes
A three month performance art piece would tire anyone out, but Abramović stressed the importance of this duration. "You need time to get to this state of mind, because the first month most of the attention was going on the sixth floor, which was all nudity... Barabara Walters talking about brushing up against a half erection..all the nasty things said on television, it’s all bullshit," she said referencing the infamous "Imponderabilia," a piece that requires patrons to walk through a narrow hallway with nude models on either side. "But then, in the second month you could start focusing more, and the third month, that was it."

Speaking of America's censorship, and fear of nudity, the film contains a few snippets of people being whisked away by guards -- one of them being a woman who removed her dress before taking a seat (Josephine Decker, “Uncle Kent”). "Of course I remember it. When she took off her dress, to be totally frank I didn’t even see it, it was so fast. My head was down, and when it was up, she was already gone," she admitted. And while she did have the option to raise her hand to security if she felt threatened in any way, she never did, and explained that the large amount of security caused this person to be ejected. "This is a complicated country," she declared with a sigh. "There’s a kind of American perception of nudity that I’m fed up with -- Janet Jackson shows her nipple on television in the middle of the Iraq War, and everybody’s talking about the former and not the latter? It wouldn’t be an issue in Europe, and if they were as strict there, many of the most important performance pieces would never have happened." 

Holding It In & An Unlikely Video Game
You're not alone if you're wondering how the heck Abramović sat for hours straight without going to the loo. Because the idea of "The Artist Is Present" was to sit completely still and maintain a certain atmosphere, there was no possible way she could get up and run to the commode -- it wasn't an option for her. In case she did actually have to go potty, they constructed a bin within the seat that she could urinate into, something that was likely comforting...

"But then I had the pillow!" she laughed, speaking of the cushion that covered both the wooden seat and, in turn, the hole to the basin. "After three days I decided I wouldn’t use [the bin]. The mind is an amazing thing, I had to have it but I never used it." So how did she prepare for these long stretches of time without a bathroom break? "I would drink water all night, and then at 7pm stop. I was in a state of mind where that part of the body would just not function, very simple." Abramović was, however, very amused at the amount of chatter this all stirred. "Jerry Saltz made many drawings about it in New York Magazine, he drew all of the possibilities."

And that wasn't the only artistic take-away from "The Artist Is Present." "There’s also this game, it’s genius. It’s based off of the MOMA exhibit: you go to the museum, you pay for the ticket, and wait in the line. I wanted to sit with myself, but every time I play I get kicked out because I’m out to lunch or something." The game can be found here, made by Pippin Barr, and Abramović had nothing but positive marks for it. "Using the web which is something so fast for something like this where you wait, it's all pretty incredible. I never met the guys who made it, but I’d love to meet them."

This article is related to: Matthew Akers, Marina Abramović, Marina Abramović: The Artist Is Present


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