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As ‘The grandmother of performance art’ Marina Abramović (born in 1946) sure knows a thing or two about art. Abramović started her career in Serbia in the early 70s and from the start she focused on performance as her primary art form, often challenging herself (and audience) both mentally and physically, sometimes cutting herself with razor blades, running naked into walls and doing several hours of sitting or lying on a hard surface. After decades of performances, this remarkable lady is now one of the most highly respected performance artists, and rightfully so ‘The grandmother of performance art’ as she likes to call herself.
‘Seductive, fearless, and outrageous, Marina Abramović has been redefining what art is for nearly forty years. Using her own body as a vehicle, pushing herself beyond her physical and mental limits-and at times risking her life in the process-she creates performances that challenge, shock, and move us. Through her and with her, boundaries are crossed, consciousness expanded, and art as we know it is reborn. She is, quite simply, one of the most compelling artists of our time,’ quote from synopsis.
The documentary ‘Marina Abramović: The Artist is Present’ is a portrait of Abramović. The film follows Abramović around as she is preparing one of her biggest exhibitions in her carrier, a retrospective of her works and a new performance piece ‘The Artist is Present’ at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York for three months in 2010. It also explores her relationship with her ex-husband, performance artist Ulay whom she was married to for 12 years. They performed several pieces together, one of the most famous one being The Great Wall Walk where they walked from opposite end of the Great Wall of China and meet in the middle, said good-bye & divorced. In her retrospective exhibition at the MoMa, Abramović, got art students to re-perform some of the couples’ performances.
Abramović´s new piece ‘The Artist is Present’ is the center-performance of the documentary, and probably one of the most physically demanding pieces of her career. She sat on a chair opposite members of the audience for 7,5 hours every day during the whole three-month exhibition. Audience flocked to the exhibition and sat opposite emotionless Abramović, who called this exchange of emotional energy, her being the mirror for other people´s emotion. Some were starstruck, others expressed pain, grief, sorrow, happiness, gratitude, other expressed all of this and more. A large chunk of the documentary is about the ‘sitting’ and it must have been a true challenge to directors Matthew Akers & Jeff Dupre to bring this performance and emotion to audience watching it on their telly. They succeeded and more than that. Abramović performance and strong presence get to you, and one can not but admire her endurance, persistence and not but not least the power of her mind. Sitting like she did for a total of 736 hours and 30 minutes takes incredible strength of mind and body and it is seems almost supernatural.
‘Marina Abramović: The Artist is Present’ is simply put one of the best documentaries having come out this year so far. It´s truly moving and beautifully done. It doesn´t matter if you are involved in arts or not, this film appeals to a broad audience thanks to Abramović who is a charismatic person as well as the directors Akers & Dupre who succeeded in creating a great portrait of this remarkable artist and her works. It´s no surprise that the documentary has had a great film festival success around the world, winning The Special Jury Award at Sheffield in June and the Panorama Audience Award at Berlinale in February to name a few. The doc had a world premiere at Sundance in January, where HBO held a one-of-a-kind silent cocktail party to celebrate the film.
The film was broadcasted on HBO in July, but currently traveling around the world to film festivals. On the film´s Facebook page, one can find info on the upcoming film festival screenings. It´s currently at the New Horizons International Film Festival in Wrocław, Poland.
Following is the trailer for the film and an interview with director Matthew Akers at BFI Events. There is also an interesting interview with both Akers and Dupre at the HBO website for the film. Stills from Music Box Films and the film´s website.