Why exactly did I go to the Marina Abromovic lecture?
I couldn’t have known ahead of time how much it would affect me. If someone who knew about her had tried to form a meaningful sentence, which could impress upon me how much power this person could transmit through two hours of talking, it wouldn’t have worked.
“You have to go see Marina, she is so aMAZing.”
“Seeeeeeeeriously. She did this thing with her hand, and it was like, ohhhh, you just HAVE to see her.”
The words don’t work. Sometimes they work. Every now and then. But it’s a rare moment, and if they do, you are just lucky, and the person hears the vital importance of what you are trying to communicate not because of your desperation to share it with them, but just because, as I said, you got lucky.
If what you were trying to do was to tell a person to go see Marina, and they followed your advice and went to Reed for her lecture last spring, then it was certainly that person who got lucky, along with me and everyone else sitting in the room. Hearing Marina speak changed my life, noticeably. From the feeling in the room at the end of the lecture, I’m pretty certain that many others were similarly moved. Jorg Jakoby, PICA’s technical director, was positively glowing, and gushing as he spoke about Marina. Jorg is from East Germany. The pale faced sobriety of that region is worn deep into his marrow. If Jorg is glowing and gushing, it is a good litmus that something out of the ordinary has happened.
What did Marina do to have this kind of effect on all of us?
I guess that the first thing she did was to have a really thrilling career in performance and installation work. Seeing her videos that she made at the dawn of the video camera was just absolutely delicious. I remember something like a video of Marina and her partner screaming into each other’s faces as loud as they could until they lost their voices. There are more videos, even more exciting conceptually, that I just feel too lazy or selfish to describe. She had a dvd, the menu of which she kept revisiting, selecting out videos for us to see, and it was kind of unbearable knowing that there were many more pieces than weren’t going to be shown. It seemed like it was hard for her to narrow down the choices as well, like she felt that the time with us was precious, and she was trying to give us the best that she could. We all just bit the inside of our mouths, and trusted her.
The next thing she did was to keep barreling ahead with this vital career, showing no signs of stopping or even slowing down. Doing the math, I have to guess that Marina is somewhere in her late 50′s, or early 60′s? I have had the feeling, that at a certain point, artists kind of lose their touch, like they lose their connection with the urgency that first set them into action, and then they start making pieces for the sake of continuing their identity as an artist, but that everyone secretly knows that the work isn’t what it used to be. It’s scary to consider this. I guess the fear is that an artist will become a caricature of herself, and lose sense of the real point of it all. I have sort of assumed that this sort of slow retiring of the driving spirit must be inevitable, that this is just part of the creation cycle of creators themselves.
Oh man, Marina slapped my face free from that notion. Advancement in age does not seem to be a hindering force in Marina Abromovic’s artistic momentum.
Remember that old notion about age bringing wisdom and perspective and depth?
It really rocked me to consider that I might still have fifty more years to figure out what I am doing. It made me feel less pressure to do something amazing right this minute because this is the only real moment I’ll have. Look in the mirror, and tell that to yourself, “It isn’t going to be over anytime soon. My thoughts and actions will mean as much to myself and to the world as they do now for the rest of my life.” “Things won’t get boring.”
As if presenting the absolutely captivating example of herself live-in-person weren’t enough, she fleshed out her evidence by showing us a video of a performance by another person in their elderly years. When cutting short the samples of her own work, she said something to the effect of, “I am holding back with these because I want to show you something really important by someone else.” This was a moment where our trust was being put to the test. I kind of wanted to yell out, “no, Marina! more of you!” I didn’t.
She introduced the video saying that it was a document of the most important performance of the 20th century.
Right. Then she had to live up to that statement. Which, of course she did.
I don’t feel capable of describing what it was.
It involved the pope. And a huge arena of preteen kids from the seventies.
He held them captivated for about 15 minutes, and did it without saying one word.
Well, at the end, he said, “charismatic moment.”
I guess Pope John Paul was aware of how words don’t work. He wasn’t going to waste his time. Or the preteens’ time. Or God’s.
Marina did the thing that only my very favorite artists do, the feat that hardly anyone ever manages to pull off. She compassionately proved that my perceptions were wrong. This is sometimes also called, “blowing someone’s mind.” She took a thing (in this case, a few things: the pope, herself, the notion of an older artist), and gently poked a hole into it, to reveal that the contents contained are actually too enormous to fit inside the shape, into which we had seen her poke.
The pope is more than a pope. An artist at an older age is still a living artist. Marina Abromovic is a comet on fire.