I met with Dr. Judy at her office on Monday afternoon, we bolted out the door immediately and headed to the Museum of Modern Art to see a performance art piece by Marina Abramović. Abramović’s art is based on being present, a concept that is central to Dr. Judy’s Human Intimacy Class at Columbia. We rushed inside, along with a huge crowd of people to see Abramovićs exhibit called, “The Artist is Present”. The central piece of the exhibit was that Abramović herself, sitting in a chair for 7-8 hours a day in the middle of the museum, and anyone from the public could come in and sit across from her for however long they wanted. She did this everyday from March 9th to the May 31st when the exhibit closed, in order to connect with people and test herself.
She wore a long white dress that made her look almost statuesque; she sat serenely, barely moving from her position. Every once in a while she would bow her head and close her eyes, but mainly she stared at whomever was across from her. Many of the people that came to sit waited in line for hours, and some became incredibly emotional and began crying.
The rest of the exhibit happened upstairs, where all could see Abramović’s earlier work. She often used her art to push herself to her limits, to discover how much she could endure physically as well as mentally. When we walked into the room, there was a large video screen hanging from the ceiling showing Abramović violently brushing her hair so much that she was in pain. On another wall there were pictures of when she did a performance piece where she sat in front of an audience and took medication intended for catatonic schizophrenics. She then went into a state of shock, began convulsing and became unconscious for a short period of time. When she came to, she calmed down then took medication intended for extremely violent psychiatric patients, and she passed out and became unconscious again, all in front of an audience.
Again, the purpose of her work is to push her to the farthest possible limits, and have a unique experience. Another display of her work included a spread of 70 different objects, ranging from chains, ropes, and knives to sugar cubes, cupcakes, and rose petals. In this performance, Abramović sat in a chair in a public venue, with all of these objects available and asked members of the public to literally do anything they wanted to her with these objects. They could write on her, cut her, or anything they wanted as long as her life was not in danger.
The most jarring part of the exhibit was the nude artists she had recreating her work throughout the museum. There were two nude people, a man and a woman facing each other in a doorway that museum goers were supposed to walk through. It was interesting to see which direction the men and women would turn when passing through these people. It also really challenged the American perception of intimacy. Dr. Judy and I both walked between the nude artists; certainly an unfamiliar experience.
Overall, it was a great experience to see Marina Abramović’s work. After about an hour in the museum, we sped off to Columbia in time for Dr. Judy’s Human Intimacy Class. I was finally beginning to see how fast paced and varied a day with Dr. Judy could be!