Marina Abramović: The Artist Is Present

Performance art is something I didn't understand – or even try to understand – for a long time but I never questioned whether it deserved to be called art because in my opinion you can't deny that something is art just because you don't understand or like it. I live not far away from a famous performance artist so performance art was something I always knew of growing up and even though many people around me didn't approve of his art nobody ever questioned its status as art. While I would have had the chance to deal with performance art and my views on it I never did. My interest got bigger in recent years but it wasn't until I read Maggie Nelson's Art of Cruelty a few months ago that I wanted to find out more about performance art.

One thing that surprised me while learning about Marina Abramović's work was learning where my own limits concerning her early work were. While I was okay with Rhythm 0, where she gave people the opportunity to harm her – predominantly because I find it interesting in regards to what the performance says about human nature – I had a lot of issues with performances where she was in control and hurt herself on her own terms. I'm not sure why, maybe because during Rhythm 0 there was still a chance that she would finish the performance unharmed whereas the injuries were a crucial part of the other performances.

Abramović's later work, the MoMA performance in particular, is something I didn't understand for a long time but after watching this movie I have to say that it is one of the most impressive things I have ever seen. Sitting on a wooden chair for hours every day for three months seems like an impossible task but sitting opposite to hundreds of people and giving everyone the same amount of attention without zoning out no matter how exhausting it gets is even more so. It's incredible that just by sitting there and looking Marina Abramović can evoke so many different emotions in her counterpart, and that somebody can have such a strong presence that you can feel it through the screen and that she can touch people with it years after the performance ended.

There is also the factor of reversing and redefining the relationship of art and spectator and the role women play in art. We are used to see art – and the women in it – as objects and to be confronted with art that doesn't conform to these rules is still revolutionary. Through her gaze Abramović defies the role she is supposed to inhabit as the artwork and becomes a spectator herself. Simultaneously her counterpart becomes a part of the artwork as soon as they approach the chair and Abramović. And ultimately it becomes impossible to tell who's the object or if there even is one.