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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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Marina Abramović: The Artist Is Present
Energy & State Of Mind
Given the nature of her art, it's no surprise that Abramović dislikes theory-heavy pieces, preferring ones that channel feeling or, specifically, energy. "I really don’t like art where you need to know so much theory to understand. If the theory is removed, it doesn’t do anything. That means that this work is an illustration of theory, and I don’t believe in the power of the work itself." She elaborated on her philosophy, "You know how you feel somebody looking at you, and you turn, and somebody actually is? It’s the same at an art gallery. You’re looking at one portrait, turn around, and there is a work of art directly behind you. Because it’s all energy. Every single thing has energy."

We can feel this kind of energy, but in the state she was in during her piece at the MOMA, the performance artist claimed to have actually seen it. “In ‘The Artist Is Present’ there was a table and two chairs, and eventually I moved the table. For about two weeks after, I had an exact visualization of the table. My senses were so enlarged that I understood all of the energy in the space. Once you sit in the chair, you leave, and your energy will be there for over a week. We don’t understand this because we’re moving too much. It’s like a gray ectoplasm, everything is there,” she described. “We are actually living in a million parallel realities every single minute.” Dismissive skeptics eager to deride someone so in-tune will likely assume drugs, but Abramović insists it’s all coming from a natural state. “People take drugs to get access to this, but if you do these motionless things or don’t eat for a long time, it’s quite an amazing experience because you get to that consciousness that we’re not using. And I don’t like drugs because they have side-effects, but if you don’t eat, the next day you’re better... also if you take drugs, you have a vision and you don’t trust it. But this is a pure state of mind.”

The Film Experience
Given that her body is the medium she is using, filming it can be a distillation of her work, but it also has the opportunity to add different layers. Here she talks about the benefit of the film, while also giving some advice to young artists:

“It gives it layers, but it’s different. This film gives context. It works because you see the reactions of people, and that will touch you, and the camera is visual, movement, and sound so you’ll catch that. It’s almost an x-ray of energy. And then to give you context of what is happening and where I come from to understand better. But at the MOMA show you had this as well, because you could go downstairs and see a really minimalist piece and then go upstairs and read the biography, what really happened. People really need to understand that, because it’s so abstract! That’s why it took me forty years to get this point, to understand what this was all about. In the beginning, they wanted to put me in a mental hospital because it was like...what am I doing? What the hell is that? Back then I had this urge of doing things and I really didn’t have the experience, I didn’t know why I had to do it but I always say young artists when you have this urge -- don’t question it, just do it. After, you’ll have time to look back at how incredibly logical it all is, which you can’t say right away when you’re in it. You don’t understand. All you have is intuition, it’s very important.”

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


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