The Artist Is Present

Many people eschew Facebook. (I don’t.) It’s a useful tool if you use it properly (I don’t).  If you’ve got a few interesting Facebook friends (like my friend and performance poet Robin Archbold), who share interesting videos with you, then it’s all worthwhile. Thank you Robin for passing this one to me, with the words “sometimes words are obsolete”. So of course, I immediately reached for a pen.

The background story:

Marina Abramovic and Ulay started an intense love affair in the 1970s, performing art out of the van they lived in. When they felt the relationship had run its course, they decided, in 1988, to walk the Great Wall of China starting from opposite ends. Ulay started from the Gobi Desert and Marina from the Yellow Sea. After each of them had walked 2500 km, they met in the middle and said good-bye, never intending to see each other again. In her 2010 MoMa retrospective Marina performed ‘The Artist Is Present’ in which she spends a minute of silence with each stranger who sits in front of her. Ulay turned up unexpectedly.

Present

She sits

waits

eyes closed

lips moist

breathes.

Footsteps.

Opens.

A stranger.

Looks deep

drinks in a face

acknowledges

respects

attends

closes

breathes.

Foot steps.

Opens.

A stranger

acknowledges

respects

attends

closes

breathes.

Foot steps.

Opens.

A stranger

another

another

acknowledges

respects

attends

closes

breathes.

Footsteps.

Opens.

It is him

opens wider

opens wider

wider

wider

shockwaves

breathes, breathes, breathes

no air

tears

breathes, breathes

he sits

exhales

a nod

a  smile

tears

she leans

pushes her hands

he smiles

he leans

first touch in twenty years

whispers

tears

leans back

he is gone

closes.

Footsteps.

Hope.

Opens

not him

closes

opens

not him

closes

tears

he is gone.

Fixing his face

behind lids

breathes.

Opens.

Looks deep

drinks in a face

which is not his

acknowledges

respects

attends

closes.


copyright Mike Hopkins 2013.
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9 thoughts on “The Artist Is Present

  1. Mike, this is extraordinary – the story, the video, the art, the poem. Interesting to note that something like the internet which, in many ways, leads people to be the opposite of present due to all its distractions, can convey this moment of pure presence.

    • Thanks Marianne. Yes, I was a bit tongue in cheek about Facebook. I do overuse it, but I get a lot out of it in terms of contact with other poets, what’s going on in Adelaide, sharing of interesting websites, videos, and of course an instant distraction from doing productive stuff.
      The video / the performance are extraordinary. I’ve vaguely heard of it before – of people saying that sitting in front of her for a minute was a life changing experience. Perhaps we should stage an event in Adelaide. You’d be a good candidate for the ‘artist’ I reckon.

  2. If ever I need a good cry, I will look this up again. Extraordinarily moving, haunting even. Story, poem and video. The entanglement of two lives. What people do to one another. The residue of love and respect. The finality of endings and yet… The heart, for all that has been written of it, is a wild and uncharted place…

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