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The Artist is Present

Written by: Victoria Alexander | June 25th, 2012


Brilliant, brilliant, brilliant! Yes, Abramovic is a seductress.

The Artist is Present will be shown on July   2, 2012 on HBO.

Several years ago in New York, Chuck Walker and I   attended a White   Tantric Yoga® meditation. White Tantric Yoga® is done in pairs as a group   meditation. You sit cross-legged directly across and facing a partner and   follow instructions for meditation given on video by the Mahan Tantric, Yogi Bhajan. Yogi Bhajan became Master of Kundalini Yoga® at the age of 16 in his native India. The authority to be the Mahan Tantric, Master of White Tantric  Yoga®, was bestowed on him in 1970.

White  Tantric Yoga® meditation is very difficult and performance artist, Serbian-born  Abramovic did this type of meditation for three months in 2010 in a gallery at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. She sat for seven hours a day, six  days a week, without eating or drinking. (Well, fasting has been a huge part of Abramovic’s famous  performance pieces.)

People were   lined up for hours, even days, to sit across from her. It became pandemonium.

Astonishingly,  the title says everything and in itself is a challenge to artists everywhere –  the renowned artist is present to give and to receive. The three-month event  was an astonishing success and Abramovic became the very public face of  performance art. At age 66, Abramovic is a true star still getting naked and has transformed herself into a fashion icon.

I was fascinated  by her custom-made costumes for her performances. Medieval in structure, they  also represented a nun-like, religious image.

Marina  Abramovic merits all the acclaim bestowed on her.

It must have been exhausting for Abramovic because regardless of what she was thinking of as she faced each sitter, she was open to their positive or negative emotions. And staring at them meant she could not block their thoughts from affecting her psyche.

Eventually,  Abramovic has the table separating her from her visitor taken away. Removing  the table does not close the gap but takes away the barrier between the  sitters. This was absolutely a necessary correction to her work.

It is  labeled “performance art”, but it is really Marina’s darshan.

Mata Amritanandamayi Devi, the so-called “hugging   saint” of Kerala, is known as “Amma” or mother. Members of  Amritanandamayi’s following use the term “darshan” specifically in reference  to receiving a hug from Amritanandamayi. There are times when Amritanandamayi  gives darshan continuously for more than 20 hours (without a pee chair like  MoMA provided for Abramovic).

Amritanandamayi has embraced more than 31 million  people throughout the world.

Darshan means “to see” in Sanskrit. In the Hindu ritual tradition, it refers to seeing the sacred.  It is believed that, in beholding the image of a deity, onlookers absorb through their eyes the powers of that deity.   Darshan hence is believed to have the capacity to bring good fortune,  well-being, and grace to those who participate in the act.

Matthew Aker’s film follows the enormous preparations and  execution of the show. Five iconic performance pieces by Abramovic and those  performed by her and former collaborator-partner Ulay (Frank Uwe Laysiepen) were   performed by 30 artists hand-picked by her. For re-creating these pieces, they were required to be naked.

In  archival footage, we learn much about the 12 years Marina and Ulay lived   together and designed their pieces. Their small van, that they lived in for 5  years, is on display. Ulay is interviewed for the documentary and he tells us  they broke up when he got a Chinese translator pregnant. In their final collaboration,  The Lovers, they walked toward each other from opposite ends of the Great  Wall of China over a period of three months. (I’ve walked a mere part of it  and it is tough. I wonder, who had the harder route?) They then broke up and  did not see each other again for 23 years. Ulay has a very interesting view  on Abramovic’s meteoric success and was the first person to sit across from  her.

The  question arises – would you do the mortification pieces that Abramovic has   done throughout her public career for the fame, Hudson Valley estate, huge  SOHO loft, business empire, and mammoth MoMA show? She set herself on fire!

Abramovic and Ulay’s Imponderabilia is one of the five pieces re-staged. Here is the  YouTude video of the original piece: Abramovic, Marina; Ulay. Performance piece:  Imponderabilia. In a selected space.  Naked we stand opposite each other in the museum entrance. The public  entering the museum has to turn sideways to move through the limited space  between us. Everyone wanting to get past has to choose one of us.

THE ARTIST  IS PRESENT is evocative and Abramovic, who has sanitized her biography to ditch several marriages, is a modern mystic – the naked mystic. What one  comes away with is the necessity to sit still and do nothing – a challenge  today.

Victoria   Alexander is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association: and the Las Vegas Film Critics Society: Victoria’s weekly column, “The Devil’s Hammer,” is posted   every Monday.

If you would like to be included on Victoria’s private  distribution list for a weekly preview, just email her at   Victoria lives in Las Vegas, Nevada and answers every email. You can contact Victoria  directly at



Member of Las Vegas Film Critics Society: Victoria Alexander lives in Las Vegas, Nevada, and answers every email at For a complete list of Victoria Alexander's movie reviews on Rotten Tomatoes go to: Victoria Alexander contributes to Films in Review (, Film Festival Today ( and Las Vegas Informer (

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