The Artist is Present
April 27, 2010 § 4 Comments
On Saturday, I led a morning workshop of mindful writing (or “Write Mindfulness”) at the Katonah Library. I had doubts about offering another one just two months after the last. But the rich, “live” material people that people share is always new. The key it seems (at least for now) is being willing to receive the inner and outer impressions that are always being offered. One person told me he hit a wall, just went blank, during certain exercises. It’s taken what seems like a thousand years, but I’ve come to see that this hard place can turn out to be a gateway. A very important story and/or source of “juice” can sometimes be buried under such a rock. The key (for me anyway) is to very gently investigate, circle the rock on tiptoe, interview it very politely: What are you protecting? What forbidden feelings or wildly contrarian views? Could be really juicy and real.
When it was done, I went to the Museum of Modern Art to see the performance artist Marina Abramovic perform her longest and possibly her most challenging work to date. “The Artist is Present” strives to make an art form out of that state that so many of us seek in the privacy of prayer or on the meditation cushion, and in the communal privacy of meditation halls, churches, and mosques. The raven-haired Serbian artist is seated at a wooden table in an atrium and visitors are allowed to take turns sitting across from her for as long as they want, “becoming participants in the artwork rather than remaining spectators. ” Wearing a long red Mortia-Adams-looking gown, Abramovic maintains a soft gaze and fixed pose no matter how briefly or how long a person sits opposite her (the guard monitoring the line of people waiting for their turn told me that one day four people held her gaze all day). This ” art work” is meant to distort “the line between everyday routine and ceremony; positioned in the vast atrium within a square of light, the familiar configuration of a table and chair has been elevated to another domain.”
Has it? The reactions I heard ranged from a person scoffing “Narcissism!” and walking away to others marveling how anyone could go day after day for months just sitting, not eating, not going to the bathrooms. The friend I went with was enthralled. I was interested but my heart wasn’t touched. My mind kept floating back to the people who had hours earlier dared to sit quietly together in a library, allowing themselves to be present body, heart, and mind, and sharing from there. What was missing in “The Artist is Present” for me was any indication of real vulnerability. I felt she had gone deep inside herself, like a prisoner–she even had the days of her show marked off on a white wall like a prisoner. I want to dare to be free.
“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.”
— C.S. Lewis (The Four Loves)