After spending about a month as a sculptural-performative spectacle, Marina Abramovic spent the better part of her Saturday afternoon looking at herself. Her vaguely more elfin twin calmly mirrored the artist’s stance for hours. My immediate reaction was to smile at the added element of comedy to Marina’s abiding production. She makes me smile frequently: I pay her brief visits,sometimes on my way to lunch or to the library, and she often leaves me feeling a little…perplexed. Bemused. Pleasantly frazzled. I enjoy the simultaneous strangeness and whimsicality of her vigil. The performance evokes a sense of discomfort through its stillness, its persistence, its staring. But it also demonstrates lightness and play. Whether or not she intended it, Marina’s weekend doppelganger captured and contributed to an uplifting aspect of The Artist is Present.
The element of play is evident in the consistent behavior of the visitors, the artist’s audience. She makes people curious. Though some may scoff it off, MoMA’s atrium is perennially full to the brim when the Artist is Present. The levels of play are layered.One Hundreds mill through, necks craning and brows furrowing to get a glance of this strange thing, this strange art. Dozens upon dozens linger in perimeter, waiting and standing and gazing and conferring and questioning and doubting and postulating and gesticulating and wondering and looking and looking and looking: they end up waiting and looking for so long, they resemble upright Marinas, only more emotive. A few settle down in a line by the guard, hoping at waiting for their turn to sit and stare back at her. Some wait for exorbitant amounts of time, determined to participate and doubtless intrigued. One finally gets to sit there and engage. What happens? What does it feel like? My own curiosity springs from those questions. What would it feel like to do something so weird and so socially unacceptable as staring at a complete stranger for indeterminate amounts of time? What would it feel like to have museum visitors stare at me, too? Will she and I connect in some way? Will I have some sort of transcendent experience? Will I like it? Will I feel sick? In short, Marina gets us inquisitive. She gets us to explore and experiment, even if it is just through private thought process.
As her doppelganger shows, some people take the element of discovery and play and use it to propel the artwork further and make a piece of it their own. In a way, the visitors make the exhibit the dynamic and strange experience it is. The artist provides the mystery and the catalyst for her own audience to perform.