Friday, June 18, 2010

What do New York City and Jakarta have in common? visits from Caroline Yost

Just received an email from Caroline who you can follow here on her blog as she experiences Indonesia for two months. Ever the intrepid traveler, Caroline had emailed me at the beginning of June after she visited New York City’s Museum of Modern Art and saw the Marina Abramović retrospective. I had seen it when it opened in March and found Caroline's response fascinating because it was so different from my own.

I started thinking about traveling as any experience that takes us outside the familiar or comfortable, and that it is only by visiting these unknown places that we discover our distinct perspective on values and approaches to living life. Caroline wrote that she saw some of Abramović’s reconstructions as “abrasive” and had difficulty with the naked performers: “once i was able to get past the nudity, and even as an artist myself it did take a few minutes, i was able to appreciate the works.”

This makes me smile because there are countless paintings, photographs and sculpture of nudes in big museums, but placing a naked human being in an exhibit triggers reactions that range from acceptance to outrage. Did anyone else see the retrospective and wish to respond? Are there other occasions when performances have prompted a reaction that was memorable and/or uncomfortable? How do you define your comfort zone when it comes to viewing performances? Our email exchange is included if you want to…
from Caroline:
Date: Tuesday, June 1, 2010 12:09 pm
Subject: Abramović
by chance I caught the last day of "The Artist is Present" and other exhibits of her and Ulay's yesterday at the MoMA. Made me think of you- hope you're enjoying summer!

from Kate:
Date Tue, 01 Jun 2010 12:16:33 -0400

what did you think?

from Caroline: well, i thought "the artist is present" was...interesting. when i first walked up to the roped off square the girl sitting across from marina was crying and the reactions happening around me spanned across the entire spectrum, so i found it difficult to formulate my own; i was distracted by the crowd. however, when the girl was asked to get up by security (i guess she'd be there for a while?) and exit i saw marina begin crying and slowly wipe away a tear with her handkerchief, which appealed to me on an emotional level. it made me realize that even though marina doesn't speak and there's no canvas, doesn't mean that something isn't happening. which i guess prior to those tears, i hadn't believed. i appreciated the work, and from the labels i understood that marina was aiming to incorporate herself and the audience as a *part* of the art, versus just spectators. however, i did think those who attend the moma because it's the moma and not for the love of modern a rt (like the twin 50+ british identical twins behind me who simply wanted to "see the naked people") didn't get the point, which makes me sad.

from Kate: I like that you wrote and explained your reactions because Abramović is someone who has pushed the boundaries of how we define artists and performances. what i think is crucial about her work is the way it exposes us, meaning our reactions to her creations can be so revealing. second to this, she emphasizes how the moment of interaction between the observer and the object is what we call "performance" or "art." In other words, it is neither the performer/object nor the observer, but the space in between, the exchange that is the event. This is why i think "artist is present" is so powerful. I love also that she makes herself available and open (no selection process, no control, no predetermined outcome) by inviting any person to come and sit with her. I am not sure if you remember the piece from 1974 (Rhythm 0) I described in class with the objects on the table (including a gun), but it was pictured in the first room adjacent to the naked doorway. If you remember from the discussion, her pieces have always explored our edges - when we are passive, when we are aggressive.

from Caroline: Speaking to her other works, the two naked people in the doorway and other various works, i again found them interesting. the two people in the doorway was kind of comical to me. i didn't stand in line to do the walk honestly because i wanted to see as much of the museum as i could, but did stand on the side of people waiting to enter and on the opposite side as they came out, as to compare reactions. most of the younger kids laughed out of anxiety, a typical adolescent response, and most adults were very observant when walking through the male and female; many people caught and held eye contact with one of the nude models.… honestly, i just wonder if there is a lesser way of presenting the same ideas- nevertheless, i didn't hear any screams of panic so i guess the general public appreciated marina's pieces. i will speak to the curation in saying i found the labeling to be *extremely* helpful, when trying to make sense of the different pieces.

from Kate: I agree that the MoMA did a fantastic job of recreating her repertory. There was some hoopla in the artist/theorist community about how it is inappropriate to see these works in a context so different from their creation. To take this argument one step further, what would happen if choreographers decided the bodies and context of the original cast were unique so the piece must never be re-created? This would mean Alvin Ailey's Revelations or Martha Graham's Appalachian Spring must never be performed live because we as people (performers and observers) are so different from the original dancers. One of the key elements of Abramović’s career is how she places the moment of performance or art as the exchange between performer and observer, and this exchange evolves as we evolve, which is why art is so rich and fertile in shaping consciousness. All in all I believe it was a thought-provoking event. I am happy you were able to be there as well. best, kate

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