The Artist Is Present
(Yugoslav, born 1946)
Since the early 1970s, Marina Abramović has been pushing past perceived limits of the body and mind, and exploring the complex relationship between artist and audience, through performances that challenge both herself and, in many instances, participants emotionally, intellectually, and physically. The concepts inspiring her works are key, as is the use of her own body to convey her ideas. She has been making art since childhood, and realized early on that it did not have to be produced in a studio, or even take a concrete form. “I understood that…I could make art with everything…and the most important [thing] is the concept,” she relates. “And this was the beginning of my performance art. And the first time I put my body in front of [an] audience, I understood: this is my media.”1
In 2010 at MoMA, Abramović engaged in an extended performance called, The Artist Is Present. The work was inspired by her belief that stretching the length of a performance beyond expectations serves to alter our perception of time and foster a deeper engagement in the experience. Seated silently at a wooden table across from an empty chair, she waited as people took turns sitting in the chair and locking eyes with her. Over the course of nearly three months, for eight hours a day, she met the gaze of 1,000 strangers, many of whom were moved to tears.
“Nobody could imagine…that anybody would take time to sit and just engage in mutual gaze with me,” Abramović explained. In fact, the chair was always occupied, and there were continuous lines of people waiting to sit in it. “It was [a] complete surprise…this enormous need of humans to actually have contact.”2
A term that emerged in the 1960s to describe a diverse range of live presentations by artists, including actions, movements, gestures, and choreography. Performance art is often preceded by, includes, or is later represented through various forms of video, photography, objects, written documentation, or oral and physical transmission.
The materials used to create a work of art, and the categorization of art based on the materials used (for example, painting [or more specifically, watercolor], drawing, sculpture).
The shape or structure of an object.
On Being Present with the Artist
One visitor described sitting with Marina Abramović as “a transforming experience—it’s luminous, it’s uplifting, it has many layers, but it always comes back to being present, breathing, maintaining eye contact. It’s an amazing journey to be able to experience and participate in the piece.”3 He was so taken with it, in fact, that he returned to sit with the artist 21 times!
To the Extreme
Marina Abramović is known for going to great extremes of pain, discomfort, vulnerability, and exposure in her performances. For her, reaching the edges of tolerability is a way to test and discover the strength of the body and mind: “I’m interested in how far you can push the energy of the human body, how far you can go, and then see that, actually, our energy is almost limitless. It’s not about the body, it’s about the mind, [which] pushes you to the extremes that you never could imagine.”4