Some described their experience sitting with her as transcendental. Many people are moved to tears, as is the artist herself. While watching the performance, onlookers can feel the intensity, although nothing seems to be "happening". But at times the emotion is palpable, thick with tension, sadness, love.
Abramovic's presence itself is dramatic. Her jet-black hair and long robes that pool at her feet give the sense of magical abilities; that she could possible make your head explode or something.
It was clear to me while walking through her retrospective, the first ever done for a performance artist at the MoMA, that this woman is totally crazy. I mean completely bat shit crazy. And probably a masochist. And absolutely brilliant. I realized that when I thought of weird and ridiculous performance art, I envisioned Abramovic's work. But as I saw photographs and films of her past performances, which she has been doing for over 40 years, I understood the world needs her. Her work is so out there, sometimes hilarious and often uncomfortable, it speaks truths that we are not able or willing to confront otherwise. She is absolutely an artist.
My thoughts went something like this while walking through the exhibit:
"Hmm. Interesting. I like that.
What the fuck? Holy shit, this woman's crazy.
It makes sense though.
She's fucking nuts.
Why did she do this?!
Wow, she's a genius.
How can people let her do this to herself?
She's completely insane.
People are animals. This is fucking crazy.
I love this woman."
Alternating with lots of laughter and shaking my head.
All this added to my impulse to sit in front of this woman. I wanted to be part of her work, feel her eyes and her energy run through me. I wanted to stare at her and imagine all she's done, and then let it all go and surrender to the intensity of the experience.
I was about 20th in line. I figured I had something other New Yorker's didn't: all damn day. Like Abramovic, I didn't eat, drink, or use the bathroom. It's the least you can do for someone who is making a sacrifice for the sake of her art. I would have made it to sit with her if certain people hadn't sat for an hour and a half. But that's what the piece is about, letting the experience take you away, reach a new meditative state and actually be present with someone else.
In the mean time I made friends with my neighbors in line. We discussed the purpose of art, yoga, Burning Man, New York City and the role art plays in it. The man behind me in line told me it was his 4th time waiting in line to sit with Abramovic. Neither of us made it that day, I guess he's gone for a 5th try. In between conversations we'd watch the performance unfold, speculating on what exactly happens when you reach that point with the artist. But in retrospect, I think part of the performance is also the experience of the line and, as time passes, getting to know those around you. While Abramovic is being "present" with whoever sits across from her, we as the audience learn to be present with those around us. It's moments like these, when you befriend strangers you would never otherwise meet, that make me think that one could probably be friends with most of the world.
More than once it occurred to me that she might actually be acquiring super-human powers; sucking energy from everyone who sits with her and eventually she'd fly out of the MoMA with giant bat wings and explode everything with her laser eyes. Does she think while she's sitting there, being "present"? Does she ever get sick of staring at someone's face? Is anyone's energy repulsive to her? Does she read your mind or get to know who you are?
I have to admit, by the last half hour I was getting pissed. It's not about how early you get there, but how opportunistic you are when they finally allow people upstairs, pushing each other in a stampede, somehow avoiding the periphery of Ambramovic's space. But I had come this far, I wanted to see how it all ended. Did she fly out of the museum as I suspected, or did she just stand up, stretch, ask the security guards what they wanted to eat tonight? Sadly, the guards ushered everyone out before she moved a muscle. Consistent throughout the performance, she bowed her head with her eyes closed and waited silently until everyone was gone.
I'm going back next week with a plan to go real New York on their asses and get to the front of that line, sit in front of Marina Abramovic, and stare at her.
It's going to happen.
If you would like to see more info on Marina Abramovic, please check out Artsy's page on her.