Over the stretch of her thirty-year tenure as performance art’s matriarch, Marina Abramovic has unceasingly pushed the boundaries of the corporeal. In the Spring of 2010, the Museum of Modern Art housed a retrospective of her performances to date, as a troupe of young artists re-enacted highlights of her earlier work. The centerpiece of the show, The Artist is Present, is explored this month in a new documentary. Evolving from a previous performance – Nightsea Crossing – in which she and Ulay, her former lover and collaborator, would sit silently, eye to eye, hour upon hour. This time, Ulay was to be replaced by whoever should wish to partake, as the audience was invited to silently commune with Abramovic for the duration of their choosing.
Filmmaker Matthew Akers originally approached the prospect of filming Abramovic with a healthy skepticism: “I had been to school for sculpture and I’d never witnessed great performance art so I was suspicious. When I met her she was incredibly charming, we hit it off right away, but I told her, if we do this, you can’t have any editorial control, that means if I find out stuff that’s less flattering to you, you’re going to have to let me use that. She said – listen little baby – she calls everyone little baby – you can have total control, I’ll give you the keys to my apartment, don’t worry – and about a week later she gave me the keys to her apartment.”