How would you react if a stranger sat silently across from you and stared soulfully into your eyes? Perhaps you would put on a warm smile or a frown, but after a while, you would probably break down and cry, right?
A few years ago, the New York Museum of Modern Art hosted a puzzling performance art called “The Artist is Present” in which a woman sat at a table in silence and offered a profound look to any museum guest who was brave enough to sit in front of her.
The woman was none other than Marina Abramovic, commonly known as “the grandmother of performance art”. This world-renowned performance artist has challenged the definition of art through her controversial work since the 1970s. Throughout her artistic career, she has put on pieces which have affected us in a myriad of ways, but never in such a powerful way as “The Artist is Present”.
The Yugoslavian-born artist sat still and silent for three months straight in a total of around 730 hours, inviting museum guests to sit across from her and share gazes in an “energy dialogue”. People who took turns across her laughed, stared, frowned, wept and fell in love. They couldn’t help but be touched by her intense gaze.
All in all, Abramovic came face to face with more than 1500 people for an average of 15 minutes with a visitor. Even though celebrities like Bjork, James Franco, Sharon Stone showed up at her performance, her former partner Ulay’s appearance was the most emotional. They worked together on a number of pieces for a dozen years and last saw each other in 1988 when they decided to walk the Great Wall of China, each from one end, meeting for one last embrace in the middle.
Through this piece, she has truly proved the power of performance art. She showed our enormous need to actually have a contact, how we are so alienated from each other, how society makes us really distant. We are sending text messages without seeing each other even if we live so close from each other. There are so many stories of loneliness…
Marina has compared her position with the audience to a mirror. However, she’s more than a mirror as mirrors take our emotional baggage and reflect it back at us. And Abramovic absorbed the audience’s gaze, filled with anxiety, and gazed back with no judgment. She treated everyone with the same attention and respect, reflecting only acceptance and love.
Here’s a series of portraits that have documented some truly vulnerable moments of visitors like their inability to hold back tears and the time it took before they started crying.
It really makes you wonder what they could have been thinking at that precise moment.
Around 11 minutes
Around 12 minutes
Around 18 minutes
Around 18 minutes
Around 26 minutes
So, what do you think? Would you dare sit opposite this woman? If you knew you could potentially break down and cry, would you do it?