Thursday, March 25, 2010

To re-perform or not to re-perform? More about Marina.

While I was bobbing about in the Caribbean last week, I didn’t think even once about Marina Abramović. But now that I’m back, the show at MoMA is on my mind again, mainly because it’s unforgettable. I feel only admiration and awe for this woman who was sitting in that chair when I left, remained there while I was away doing new things, meeting new people, and is still stationed there in yogic-like silence. Her performance is a profound experience that should not be missed.

Because I believe Abramović is such an important artist and this is such an important moment in art, I’m sorry to say that the rest of the exhibition fell flat and has brought me to the conclusion that “re-performance,” as Abramović calls it, does not work. Nothing upstairs comes near to producing the indescribable jolt you feel when you see Abramović in the Atrium, holding the space with the primal force that emanates from her being.

“Re-performances” are artifacts, and artifacts are bloodless things. A few years ago I was visiting the Chicago History Museum when I unexpectedly came across an exhibit of paraphernalia from the 1968 protests at the Democratic National Convention, with several vitrines dedicated to items from the anti-war campaign of Eugene McCarthy. Well, in 1968 I was very young, very pregnant, and co-chairman of press for the Chicago office of the youth-dominated campaign. The items laid out under glass with their little placards were buttons I’d worn, posters I’d helped produce, handouts I’d had a part in writing. The effect was spooky—looking at it made me feel like Rip Van Winkle. But what was most clear was that these objects, which once carried so much energy and meaning, were dead.

In the same way I found the re-performances and documentation in the rest of the exhibition tedious—because I’m not as interested in history as I am in art. And not just art per se; I go to a place like MoMA to have an experience of art, like the one in the Atrium.

When confronted with “stand-ins” the mind begins to wander…Who are these people? Do they get paid? How much? Are they still glad they signed on?...whereas Marina Abramović occupies her performances with her commitment, personal preparation and endurance; she embodies her own idea, so that everything you think about her is still within context of the piece. It’s not just about two naked people in a doorway, it’s the artist choosing to expose herself in that way and that energy particular to her, the rare charisma that has been developed and infused through her work.

Further, the whole idea of performance art has to do with spontaneity, the interaction not only with a person, but a specific and fleeting moment in time. It has a certain urgency that cannot be recreated, any more than you can successfully replicate a painting by Picasso or Matisse. Art as a primary experience requires the primary players.

This was especially brought home to me when my friend, Alexandra (who saw one re-performer start sobbing and another faint while she was there), asked how meaningful it would be if someone were to try to recreate John and Yoko’s famous bed-in for peace.

Not very.

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3 comments:

Mike said...

You raise some good objections to re-performance, but I don't think it's all or nothing. What if Marina re-performed those some of those works herself? I don't think that would cause any conceptual problems leading your mind to stray from the performance on view. It certainly would avoid the distracting question of who the actors are and whether they get paid, etc.

Also, re-performance can be successful, I think, if a a particular performance work depends less on spontanaiety and more on repetition, routine, of following a script or instructions. Like with all contemporary art forms, I think the types of actions that can be defined as performance art are wide open.

Carol Diehl said...

Your comment is thoughtful and well-taken, and of course there are exceptions in the world of performance. However even if Abramovic were to re-perform a piece, I think it would lose its relevance, as that piece marked a certain point in her development that she has now surpassed. It would be like me going back and making paintings like the ones I did 10-15 years ago. They would not have the energy of the moment, nor would they (unless I reinterpreted them for the present)serve to move me foreward.

joan said...

Well Shakespeare gets re-performed every year as do other plays and pieces. Poetry gets reread. Paintings get re-hung...and there sometimes has to be room for re-interpretation of a piece, a play. Becket. We read James Joyce aloud without Joyce although I have a tape of him reading one of his works which isn't great. I'm beginning to think that maybe these pieces weren't that great to begin with and so are even weaker in re-performance. Or they are one woman shows (not like the Vagina Monologues!) that can't (shouldn't) be tried, done again...and Nina Simone re-sung all of her songs, over and over and we loved it...at different stages of her life. "Mississippi Goddam" worked when she was younger, middle aged, and older. So what's with performance art?