Marina Abramovic: The Artist Is Present

Image: copyright David Smoler
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“An intimate portrait and an experiential encounter with an astonishingly magnetic, endlessly intriguing woman.” — Shari Frilot, Sundance Film Festival

Director: Matthew Akers
Year: 2012
Running time: 106 mins

Photography: Matthew Akers
Co-director: Jeff Dupre
Producers: Jeff Dupre, Maro Chermayeff
Editors: E. Donna Shepherd, Jim Hession
Music: Nathan Halpern
Colour and B&W/HDCAM

With: Marina Abramović, Ulay, Klaus Biesenbach, Arthur Danto, Chrissie Iles, Sean Kelly, Thomas McEvilley, Richard Move

Festivals: Sundance, Berlin, San Francisco 2012

If you’re not already a fan of Marina Abramović, prepare to become one. Matthew Akers’ compelling portrait catches the stunning, Givenchy-wearing 63-year-old at the height of her career as she prepares for her 2010 MoMA retrospective. Abramović has been at the vanguard of performance art for 40 years. This mammoth exhibition requires her to train young artists to perform her early work (they learn through fasting, silence and meditation) as well as create a major new piece, The Artist Is Present. Half of the film is devoted to this extraordinary new work, in which Abramović sits silently for three months, available for the public to individually encounter her. The performance captured the imagination of the art world (check out Wellingtonian Pippin Barr’s online computer game version). The film offers a unique overview of the event: 750,000 people (including former lovers and collaborators) queued up for their moment with Marina; we see their tears, their anger, their desire to ‘connect’. How can such a simple act of availability mobilise such intensity of response?

The origins of Abramović’s physical endurance and the impetus for her work are easily discernible: she was born to communist parents in the former Yugoslavia. (Her early works include cutting her naked body with knives, whipping and asphyxiation.) The film reveals the incredible determination behind Abramović’s efforts to ‘bring the audience and performer to the same state of consciousness, here and now’. The camera lingers over her weary but lucid face with breathtaking intimacy, bringing us right into the heart of the experience and leaving us in no doubt as to its power and significance. — JR

NZIFF STAFF PICK: Natalie Gilberd, Brooke Hawe, Rebecca McMillan, Josh Thomas

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