This HBO Documentary on the life and work of Marina Abramović, which airs in Canada this month, will be of interest to performance art enthusiasts, to be sure, but should be of interest to all the sceptics out there as well. "The most important is from which state of mind you're doing what you're doing, and performance is all about state of mind," she says in the film.
In examining the artist's preparations and then run of her 2010 retrospective at New York City's Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), the film reveals the authenticity at the heart of her performance. Abramović truly embodies her art, using her own body in a way that blurs the line between artist and creation.
She cuts a glamourous figure in the art world and has a presence so compelling that you'll see why sitting motionless in front of a series of people for weeks on end is at once a feat of discipline and a certain generosity of spirit. The connection with her audience is her lifeblood as a performer, and it's a real one. If you are one of those people who have always scoffed, "This is art??" you may just find yourself changing your mind.
The film weaves interview material with some of the people who've left a mark on her life, like former lover and artistic collaborator Ulay (Uwe Laysiepen). Their 12-year relationship was rocky at times but produced a string of provocative and well-received performance pieces that often examined the male/female dynamic. In the real time of the documentary, Ulay becomes one of the many people to visit Abramović at the MoMA show, reuniting them for the first time in several years.
It's a rather touching moment, and one of many that show us the human being behind the highly disciplined and prolific performance artist. Uncompromising in her art, yet still vulnerable as a woman and simply a human being. The words talk about her work; it's through the mute eye of the camera that we notice her small vanities, her all too human if only occasional moments of nervousness and insecurity.
She assembles a cast of younger artists to reproduce her earlier works during the MoMA retrospective. These include recreating many of the pieces first performed with Ulay, like the nude man and woman who stand crowding a doorway in the museum so that people have to brush through their bodies to get past. Much of both their work together and hers as a solo artist involves nudity and disconcerting acts like running into a wall or into each other, or carving a pentagram into her stomach, factors that add to the shock-appeal even with sophisticated New York City crowds.
For her own performance at the retrospective, she sits in a large room without moving as a succession of people come to take their place on the chair opposite her. They contemplate each other in silence.
Some of the media buzz is recreated in the documentary, but what you get a real sense of is the huge buzz on the street that her show generated. Towards the end of its run, people were sleeping on the sidewalk the day before and coming to stand in line for 12 hours or more day after day just to get a chance to sit opposite Abramović.
You'll be convinced by what you see in the film -- people in tears, smiling, obviously moved. Abramović really is present with each and every one of them.
The film also does a good job of conveying the amount of work that goes into a project like that -- the planning, the phone calls and trips -- along with the reality of an artist's career ambitions. "I want it to be a recognized form of art before I die," she says in the film. "I'm 62, I don't want to be 'alternative' anymore."