F.I.L.M. of the Week (June 13, 2014)

13 06 2014

Marina AbromavicI’ve always been fascinated by people on the cutting edge of their art, and even more enthralled by those who are forming just what that art will be.  (Perhaps this explains my recent fascination with early film history.)   One such iconoclast is Marina Abramavic, a performance artist who is pushing boundaries that don’t even exist for her medium yet.

The intriguing documentary “Marina Abramovic: The Artist is Present” follows the titular artist as she prepares for a 2010 MoMA retrospective of her work while also embarking on a new piece, perhaps her most daring yet.  Directors Matthew Akers and Jeff Dupre ably balance both an introductory course in performance art as well as an intimate portrait of the artist herself, creating a satisfying piece that I have chosen as the “F.I.L.M. of the Week.”

Abromavic’s work is bold and confrontational, breaking down the conventionally accepted barriers between the artist and the consuming audience.  She often involves her body in the works she creates, usually in ways that draw attention to the ways we enact violence and sexuality.  The performances are important for her, but they also start an important conversation with the viewer that they will hopefully continue in their minds.

So what better way to have the ultimate conversation with her fans than making herself completely open to them?  In the centerpiece of her retrospective, she performs a new work entitled “The Artist is Present.”  Wearing a blank slate of a facial expression, Abramovic sat completely still for several hours per day at a table in an expansive space at MoMA.  Visitors could sit at a chair across from her and literally enter into conversation with the present artist.

As the film progresses, we get to see her astonishing effect on the exhibit’s guests.  (There’s also an oh-so-predictable cameo from James Franco at the exhibition because of course he would be there.)  Yet the documentary also grants us an intriguing look at how they in turn affect her.  The piece may seem simple; however, it slowly takes its toll on Abramovic.  In the end, though, it pays off in spades for her personally and professionally.  And hey, “Marina Abramovic: The Artist is Present” has converted a neophyte observer like me into a huge fan.

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