USA – 2011 – 106 MIN – COLOUR - FEATURE - IN ENGLISH
A FILM BY MATTHEW AKERS
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.
She is also a glamorous art-world icon, a lightning rod for controversy, and a myth of her own making. She is most certainly unlike anyone you have ever met before.
The feature-length documentary film MARINA ABRAMOVIC: THE ARTIST IS PRESENT takes us inside Marina’s world, following her as she prepares for what may be the most important moment of her life: a major retrospective of her work, taking place at the museum of modern art in new york. To be given a retrospective at one of the world's premiere museums is, for any living artist, the most exhilarating sort of milestone. For Marina, it is far more: it is the chance to finally silence the question she has been hearing over and over again for four decades: "but why is this art?"
As the film opens, we find Marina in the final throes of planning her exhibition. We see her flitting around the museum, consulting with curators, gallerists, and designers, cracking jokes and charming everyone who crosses her path. As longtime friend and MoMA curator Klaus Biesenbach puts it: "Marina is never not performing." in a strategy meeting, she sets the stakes for what lies ahead: at 63, she has lost patience with being a fringe artist. What she wants now is for performance art to be legitimated. She is thinking of her legacy — and the MoMA show, as she well knows, can secure it once and for all. It is one thing to be "alternative" when you are 20 or 30 or 40, she says to camera. "But excuse me, i'm 63! I don't want to be alternative anymore!"
The mounting of the retrospective and its three-month exhibition at MoMA is the narrative spine of MARINA ABRAMOVIC: THE ARTIST IS PRESENT, and over the course of the film, we return again and again to the museum. There, as the "set" is built for the new work that will be the centrepiece of show, Marina sketches her ambitious plans: all day, every day, from early march until the end of may, 2010, she will sit at a table in the museum's atrium, in what she describes as a "square of light." Members of the audience will be invited to join her, one at a time, at the opposite end of the table. There will be no talking, no touching, no overt communication of any kind. Her objective is to achieve a luminous state of being and then transmit it — to engage in what she calls "an energy dialogue" with the audience.
The piece, aptly entitled The Artist Is Present, will be the longest-duration solo work of Marina's 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." The work's simplicity and purity has the potential to crystallize all that is best about her art, but it also demands that marina return to her roots — and forgo the overt theatricality that has characterized many of her recent performance pieces. Perhaps more than any performance she has done before, The Artist Is Present has the power to fulfill Marina's own dictum about long-durational work, in which, she says, "performance becomes life itself."
Performance becomes life — and life becomes art. For Marina, the boundaries are quite porous — a reality made vivid as the film delves back in time to explore the genealogy of the artist is present, from marina's early solo career to her hugely influential twelve-year romance/ collaboration with Ulay, who remains a towering figure in her life.
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.
Throughout the three months of her exhibition, the film follows Marina, day after day, watching as she sits at her small table in the museum's atrium, gazing steadily at the scores upon scores of people who come to take the chair across from her. The audience is fuel to her — in effect, a lover; she needs the audience, Biesenbach says, "like air to breathe." Meanwhile, the audience gazes back — and inevitably begins to grasp the power of her spell. As art critic arthur Danto observes, the artist is present represents an entirely new experience in the history of art. "For most masterpieces people stand in front of it for thirty seconds. Mona Lisa: thirty seconds. But people come and sit here all day."
Elevating traditional documentary techniques with an artistic gloss befitting its subject, MARINA ABRAMOVIC: THE ARTIST IS PRESENT is by no means a typical "art film." With total access granted by Abramović and the Museum of Modern Art, MARINA ABRAMOVIC: THE ARTIST IS PRESENT is instead 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.
"...just as easily the next best thing, and better for the presence of Abramovic’s history and forthrightly engaging private self. In the odd boom genre of artist biodocs, this one stands above them all."
- THE TORONTO STAR
"Akers superbly captures Marina's spirit on-screen, dripping with emotion and dedication, packing it with clips of her past performances and tying in with the present. Well-shot, candid and, at times, flashy, this inside look at the exhaustive process involved in successfully producing an artistic performance of such a grand scale, along with first-person confessional interviews by Marina and her confidants, gives viewers a clear understanding and deep appreciation of the woman and the artist."
"Undoubtedly, this film will attract artists. However, there is universal appeal to her story — this is a woman who is passionate about her work, but not above it. She is human, marked by self-doubt, fatigue and hope. She doesn’t talk at you, expecting you to understand or revere her. She invites you in."
- THE NATIONAL POST
"...a remarkably intimate portrayal of Abramovic and her 2011 Museum of Modern Art retrospective of flesh-and-blood human nudes"
- TORONTO SUN
"When she threw herself against a wall decades ago, people weren't too sure what to think of Marina Abramovic. It took sitting in chair for three months at New York's Museum of Modern Art to establish the Serbian performance artist as a modern master.
- VANCOUVER SUN (Interview)
The chance to gradually watch Abramović’s latest ritual become a bona-fide Big Apple phenomenon also transforms what had been a conventional bio-doc into something far more enthralling.
- THE GRID
"Transcending mere performance art" - An Interview with Director Matthew Akers
- FFWD WEEKLY
"a film well worth seeing — and supporting"
- CLASSICAL F96.3 M
"I spent 40 years of my life working on performance, which I think is an extremely important art form. And I`ve never been accepted like video or photography,'' she says. ``So it is my duty as an artist to (document the work in a movie) because my colleagues are already half-dead and have Alzheimer`s or pacemakers or they gave up on performance art. I never gave up on performance art, so I feel it is my duty to create performance art not just in film, but also through my institute of performing arts, slated to open in 2014."
- POSTMEDIA NEWS (Interview)
"...she really did strip 'performance' down to sheer existential presence, and the tears in her visitors’ eyes betray something well beyond mere art."
- THE GEORGIA STRAIGHT
"The "grandmother of performance art," 63-year-old Marina Abramovic is a trailblazer, a genius and possibly a little bit crazy."
- UPTOWN MAGAZINE
"an illuminating documentary on a gifted, inventive visual performer."
"The Artist Is Present surveys Abramovic’s career through the context of a wildly successful 2010 Museum Of Modern Art retrospective, during which she performed the titular piece: a sort of living sculpture/self-portrait that involved Abramovic sitting silently and motionless in a chair, from opening to close, while art-lovers and lookie-loos from around the world lined up for the chance to sit across from her."
- AV CLUB
"…of interest to performance art enthusiasts, to be sure, but should be of interest to all the sceptics out there as well"
- HUFFINGTON POST
"Everything Abramovic says and does is so fully felt, you almost feel she could tell you the world is flat and you’d take it on faith to be so."
- THE TORONTO STAR (Interview)
"Marina Abramovic is so intriguing, she totally captivates her unsuspecting audience. And as a bonus, she also transforms the way one looks at art and earns ones admiration for it."
- AFRO TORONTO
"Extraordinary. The longer you observe Abramović's willing partners tremble, cry, beam or return to some primal emotional state, the more you feel yourself moved by the spectacle of two people silently bonding. The movie’s power as a potent secondhand art high is damned near peerless."
- TIME OUT NEW YORK
‘To make German men cry is not an easy task’: A Interview with MARINA ABRAMOVIĆ
- THE GLOBE AND MAIL
"The Gifts of the Present": An Interview with MARINA ABRAMOVIĆ
"Marina Abramović challenges the norm of performance"
- THE NATIONAL POST
"Top 3 Elle Québec"
- JOURNAL METRO
"une efficace porte d’entrée dans le travail d’une artiste iconoclaste et saura certainement intriguer les néophytes, les curieux et les philistins de tout genre"
- REVUE 24
"Marina Abramović : en présence de l'artiste - Cinéma et barbecue ce jeudi à la place de la Paix
- TV ANOUVELLES
Radio Canada on their radio show "C'est bien meilleur le matin" - Audio
- RADIO CANADA
What is Performance - Audio Review
- LIFE, AN UNREPEATABLE EXPERIENCE
"At 65, the artist no longer strips to excite the artistic muse. Her whole performance at MoMA consisted of sitting in a wooden chair for three months. The Artist Is Present was the name of the piece, and it easily lived up to its title: Abramovic was physically present for every day of the three-month installation.
What made the show fascinating for the masses was the capacity for personal connection with the creator. Opposite Abramovic sat an empty chair, just waiting for a member of the general public to take a seat, and stare into the dark brown abyss of Abramovic's gaze."
- CALGARY HERALD
"Fascinating documentary brings us into the world of performance artist Marina Abramovic"
- MONTREAL GAZETTE
"We witness much of this in director-cinematographer Matthew Akers’s intimate portrait. He brings us inside the MoMA, capturing the excitement in the air, the sense of fascination with what his subject was doing, the endurance test of her performance, and the ways in which she challenged viewers to confront themselves."