POST BY MARINA GALPERINA
All photos by Marina Galperina
As Marina sat on her atrium throne on Monday, at 4pm the guards plowed lingering voyeurs out of the 6th floor gallery and her cast performers cried. Marina’s interviews played on a loop around the corner: “One thing I like about myself is my strong will.” At the post-The Artist is Present symposium on Wednesday night, the performance artist explained it all – the pain, the pee, the point – and showed that her “will” is not just mental and physical willpower required for her performances. It’s about control: If you’re going to do Marina, you better do it her way.
The artist revealed that the exhibit wasn't just a retrospective; it was a precedent for protecting the copyright of performance art works. “I was angry for fashion, I was angry for design, I was angry for MTV, I was angry for theater, for film, for mass media,” Marina boomed. She was angry for their plucking of images from the 70s, “changing the context” and the colors and using the unaccredited artist’s original idea to peddle products. To Marina, artistic homage requires a financial homage and an explicit agreement with the artist or his estate to use their intellectual property. She did this for the works of fellow performance artists she re-performed at the Guggenheim for Seven Easy Pieces. She had it done for herself at MoMA. That was her motivation for the retrospective.
36 re-performers — mostly dancers and artists – used their bodies as metaphors for Marina's poetry. “Trust” was essential but not accidental. All of Marina's re-performers went to her performance art boot camp. At the symposium, they emphasized “working for” the artist and “the gift” given to them with the permission to become Marina Abramović.
Why such control? Marina insists that her work is not sculptural. Imponderabilia is not two naked people standing in a doorway. They are metaphors for artists serving as doorways to a museum – because without artists, there is no museum. It's simple and effective. It's a physically manifested, interactive metaphor. Marina shared that a Canadian art center asked for permission to re-perform the work. If she had her way, she said she’d be sending her MoMA re-performers up to do it. After all, they are the ones she trusts not to make it a context-less show.
While Marina gushed with earnest gratefulness for “the love,” the repeat visitors (like Paco) and the time we sacrificed in wait, she recalled the throng tributary doppelgangers and copycats with amusement only.
There were several attempts to hijack focus during the exhibit. Marina didn't see the girl who took off her dress in front of her on Monday, only shadowy guards whisking someone away. Making nudity an unnecessarily big deal – “This is the problem in this country,” Marina said. She recalls how amidst the Iraq war, all the media was concerned with was that “Janet Joplin [Jackson] showed part of her tit” on television. To Marina, Americans fret over nudity too much. Yet, she called out her flasher as an attention monger. Somewhat earnestly, Marina insinuated that the flasher deliberately caused ruckus by disobeying museum rules. I'd like to think that the rebel artist would have said it differently, had she not been surrounded by museum staff.
Marina was displeased with the media's emphasis on nudity, mostly because it subverted the metaphorical nature of her work to sculptural spectacle. She thought the Tumblrs were funny though, and so were the “mystery pee” drawings that the Wall Street Journal erroneously credited to Jerry Saltz. She gushed over Marco Anelli fantastic portraits as well, the MoMA photographer who, for the duration of the project, shot Marina and her sitters. Klaus Biesenbach, MoMA's Chief Curator at large and the organizer of Abramović's exhibition was pleased to be merrily perched atop all this documentation. Biesenbach said he made it his objective to preserve the previously unpreservable, to collect and preserve performance art by recreating it and documenting the recreation. And there are plenty of artifacts now.
Klaus Biesenbach also felt he had to explain the concept of performance art to the audience. It is not “acting,” you see. The blood oozing from Marina's self-mutilated stomach in star formation is real. “In a movie, that would be ketchup.” The onions eaten by Marina in a cathartic jest were real onions. Actors don't eat real onions.” But, Klaus! Divine ate real dog shit in Pink Flamingos. There's even unsimulated sex (Antichrist, Pola X, etc) out there! There's a lot of artificial performance art out there. There's a lot of raw cinema too.
At a point during the symposium, Biesenbach tangentially asked Marina if the atrium performance MoMA commissioned is theirs now, as in, owned by the museum. Marina didn't give an explicit answer. But with all the concern about ownership, one thing is clear: Marina’s presence is essential to her work.
While the re-performers experiences were unarguably unique and affecting, these were internal experiences. Though filled with visible emotion, these were externally representational performances. They were tributes. Without ardently reciting her 40-year old body of work or describing the surreal experience of participating in The Artist is Present, there’s something to be said about Marina’s epic personality. There is something magnetic, strong and essential. She is inseparable from her work, or rather, her work is inseparable from her. Motivations or performance art can be explained philosophically, but they are always personal at the core. Once excavated from the source – Marina herself – they can only be echoed. You can perform, you can tribute, you can criticize – but you can never truly rob Marina Abramović.
Photos by Marina Galperina. She is a former Art Fag City intern and blogger for Animal New York.