Lina Lamont

"What do you think I am, dumb or something?"

NZFF – Marina Abramovic: The Artist is Present

In most film festivals you just know it’ll be the documentaries that leave the longest lasting memory.  This surprising Portrait of the Artist is a case in point.  As George Emerson cried out in Room With A View:”Truth! Beauty!”  He was on to something.  Because it’s the truth and authenticity portrayed in this film that delivers an extraordinary sense of beauty about the world.

Marina Abramovic is a Serbian-born performance artist in her early sixties, renowned for using her (often naked) body in her art and producing provocative, sometimes shocking installations.  Termed “alternative” since she started out forty odd years ago, she wants to reject the term now, but even by today’s standards Abramovic’s interpretation of what can constitute “art” may be seen as ground-breaking.

The film introduces us to Abramovic’s world, with curators, assistants and other artists discussing her impact, before focusing on the lead-up to her recent three-month retrospective on all six floors of MOMA in New York.  Entitled “The Artist is Present”, the exhibition not only showcases the highlights of her illustrious career, but does what it says on the tin: for she is literally there in person, every single day, as part of one amazing performance.  Abramovic conceived to sit, still and silent, in a chair opposite an empty chair – and invite members of the public to sit, lock gaze with her, and just be.

To the untrained art-appreciator’s eye, this may not seem like much, although the film pays due attention to Abramovic’s consideration of the physical and mental toll such an ordeal could bring.  But what transpires is the incredible power of silent viewing /watching/ looking/seeing between two human beings.  For us, the cinema audience, it is nothing short of captivating.

In fact, “captivating” isn’t even the right term – it implies we’re just sitting there in the dark ourselves, watching people being watched, but this doesn’t capture it at all.  We are instead deeply moved seeing others deeply moved.  People sit in front of Abramovic and miracles happen.  It is human connection in its purest form, and presents one of the most touching, beautiful things you are likely to see all festival.

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