Marina Abramović: The Artist Is Present ★★★★

I have a hard time with documentaries. I do appreciate the form, but I bristle at the belief, held by some, that documentaries speak truth in a way that fiction films don't (same goes for books). There is no such thing as an unbiased documentary, but some filmmakers do try more than others, or at least acknowledge the bias. In that respect, I think that Marina Abramovic: The Artist is Present is at least somewhat honest; one of Marina's assistants talks about the careful marketing of Marina, and this is just one piece of that. Still, I am very glad I watched it.

Marina stated that she wanted to make this film to show the administration of art, and everything that goes into the performances. It isn't something that's seen often, and I think it helps to shed some light on the commercial art world.

And it allows me to come as close as I can to experiencing the performance, without having to be there. It's so incredibly snobbish of me, but I really hate crowded museums. I want my experience of art to feel private. I don't want to be surrounded by someone who loudly asks, "which one is she?" or fucking James Franco flailing about to make some profound statement about art, or someone who walks past making a face, shrugging. It's fine, those questions are fine, that attitude is fine (James Franco is not fine), but I don't want to fucking see it, it hurts.

To experience great art is something that approaches sanctity to me, and I really do find Marina's art to be some of the most intensely moving work that I know of. The film also shows videos of earlier performances that I had only read about before, especially her work with her partner Ulay. That stuff absolutely slayed me, I was pretty much weeping throughout. Her medium is her body, time, and space, and her concepts are clear, bold, and uncompromising.

But it's interesting - between my adoration of Marina and my quasi-religious feelings about art, I found myself thinking about cults. What is that line? There is a superficial similarity between the training she required her artists to go through, and the environment of a cult (the big difference is that Marina was trying to teach them how to create their own charismatic space). But the cult of personality is another idea that I think is raised through the nature of the piece itself, as well as the hype surrounding the exhibit. I saw the film as trying to address this in a way, and Marina wanting to transcend this.

A while ago, when discussing her work and performance art in general, I was having a hard time figuring out just what I don't like about most performance art; at the time, I said that much of it feels like spectacle to me. In the film, they talk about the difference between performance and theatrics, and I really think that's it.

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