Centered in a Void: Marina Abramovic’s The Artist Is Present
Seemingly simple in its conception, Marina Abramović’s 2010 performance piece The Artist Is Present confronts one with radical uncertainty in deciding how to interpret a piece that ostensibly refuses to “mean” anything in particular. The author herself, a painter by education, describes it as “a blank canvas” that the audience queued to personally experience during more than 720 hours of the performance. While some of them found it worthwhile, describing the experience as moving and life altering, others saw it as a marketing ploy, impotent and void of any significance. Either way, the reactions were forceful and extreme.
In my essay, I am exploring the mechanisms provoking such reactions, as well as the implications of intended non-productivity in the system of economic exchange. What does it mean to choose not to perform in a performance? What does “doing nothing” ultimately do? Using concepts such are radical passivity, habitus, and the afformative, I contextualize the piece, analyze the source of diverse audience responses, and read its non-action as a site of radical potentiality. Investigating theoretical implications of the performance that refuses to be one, as well as audience’s responses to it, I am interpreting Abramović’s complex piece itself, while revealing its philosophical and political connotations.
Dijana Mitrović is a PhD candidate in Literary and Theatre Studies at University of Wisconsin, Madison. Her dissertation analyzes the representation of the body in post-WWI European avant-garde and modernist theatre and drama. She is a member of Madison Performance Philosophy Collective, as well as a co-editor-in-chief of Journal for Literature and Theory of Literature txt (Belgrade) since its founding (2003). Besides the interwar (performing) arts and their relationship to the contemporary artistic production, she focuses on political power and implications of performing arts in general and performance art in particular (both in theory and practice).