Friday, October 19, 2012

Bleach bath

Last night I had a date to go see this documentary, Marina Abramovic: The Artist is Present.  I am lucky enough to live very very close to an uber-indie theatre that specializes in shlock, horror, indie cinema.  It's great.  They took over an old, underused Indian theatre in the hood and started showing great documentaries and other features that are cult, fringe, and mostly of interest to a cinephile market.  This would have been the first time for me to visit the theatre.  My friend S and I show up, and we're told that unfortunately, the copy of the movie the theatre has is all scratched up.  But their newly opened sister theatre, at Bloor and Christie, is going to show the doc in 30 minutes and we have enough time to make it there.

I was a little skeptical because the only theatre I know of in the Bloor and Christie area shows porn.  It's the Metro (pictured below).  The dude we spoke to at the Projection Booth East (my location) was like, "We're still fine-tuning the details - the sound and picture aren't quite where I want it" at the Metro, but I was like, okay, we might as well go.  I assumed that they weren't still showing porn and the theatre was in transition.

I was wrong.  ICKY ICKY ICKY!!!  The place was like something out of David Lynch.  You walked in, there was a fat, stinky guy sitting in a CAGED booth who was the projectionist (I think).  He told us that the theatre was being "cleaned" and to wait.  We waited and finally he told us we could go into the theatre (the person allegedly cleaning the theatre never came out).  Inside was huge, with plastic seats (original - they hadn't changed them!!!), smelling of second hand smoke, basement, and other grossness.  The place was eerily lit with gaudy gilt chandeliers and blue lighting, interspersed with random flashes from a strobe light.  I was VERY uncomfortable.  The whole movie I basically sat stiff on the edge of my seat, clenching all my extremities in towards my torso and trying to avoid touching anything.

The documentary itself though, was extraordinary.  Mainly because Abramovic herself is so interesting and compelling.  She calls herself the "Grandmother of Performance Art" and her body of work is extraordinary.  To go with a major retrospective of her work at the MOMA in 2010, called The Artist is Present, she came up with a performance piece.  For the duration of the retrospective, from the time the Museum opened til it closed, she would sit in a chair and be present.  Museum goers could sit in a chair opposite her.  In between participants, she closes her eyes and lowers them, essentially "re-setting" the piece.  The she lifts her head and gazes at the participant.  For like, 12 hours a day, 6 days a week, for 3 months.  Just sitting.  It is a phenomenally complicated, challenging, thought-provoking piece that calls into question so many elements.  

The idea of the artist being present is so conceptually deep.  The participant is at once caught in "the gaze" of the artist (which never happens) in a reversal of traditional engagement with art.  At the same time, the museum goer is an active participant in the piece, so not just a passive receiver of the gaze - they are also gazing in turn.  The question becomes: who is the artist?  It also challenges the idea of museums at places where art "happens" and the codification of behaviours of artistic reception and meaning-making.  By asking the museum-goer to be such an active (and yet passive) participant, the entire system and structure of art is called into question.  What goes through the heads of the participants?  How conscious must they be of the arrangement of their own features, of how they are to mediate their experience, of the work and artifice and conditioning that goes into being a "person in a museum looking at a piece of art?"  I could go on and on.  

The documentary focuses on this piece and the months leading up to the staging of the retrospective (Abramovic hired some 30 odd up and coming artists to stand in for her in re-creating 5 famous performance art pieces from her past).  There is a reconnection with Abramovic's partner, the performance artist Ulay - they have long since separated.  Ulay goes to MOMA and Abramovic breaks down and reaches across the table to hold his hands.  Everything is so calculated with her - that moment rang false.  As S said, she's a total ham.  That's one of the threads drawn from the documentary - how to separate Abramovic as a person from Abramovic the performer (if such a thing is possible - which it doesn't seem to be).  I loved this film and I loved the piece.  It was inspiring and invigorating.

I will say this for watching it in an adult movie theatre - I could totally relate.  The stiffness in my body from trying to minimize touching ANYTHING definitely gave me an inkling (however small - the doc is only 90 minutes long and Abramovic did the the piece for a total of almost 800 hours) of her strength and forbearance.  It was also so interesting to watch the reactions of the participants.  The emotions in their faces, their reactions.  It was great.  Highly recommended.

Wednesday night's dinner: the Irie Pumpkin Stew (made with Kabocha squash this time, and scotch bonnets), served with coconut brown rice and beet greens.

Last night's dinner: whole wheat penne with kale and Italian sausage in a pesto cream sauce.

Tonight we're going to Lolly's colleague's house to preview the tunes for her wedding.  I had the day off today, but I was busy.  Grocery shopping, kept the Big Yam home for a bit, etc.


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