Friday, April 30, 2010

Magic at MOMA

The Artist Is Present. Marina Abramovic at MOMA. My first take? Not that interesting, a lot of people waiting for her to make a move, any move, false or otherwise. And by her refusal to do so, we were all forced to wait. Crowd-at-a-hanging mentality, sheep mentality, no one moves unless the leader moves. The artist as bellwether. Being an impatient Aries myself, I was anxious to look for greener pastures in the Kentridge show. You wait here. I'll be back.

William Kentridge! Magic drawing! Magic theater! Magic music and magic lantern shows! The power of imagination and inventiveness. The three parts of The Magic Flute were so entrancing that I watched each one all the way through. In an entirely different but equally affecting way, Ubu and the Procession is a parade of South African folk, torn black silhouettes moving herky-jerky across the screen from left to right, accompanied a loop of "What a Friend We Have in Jesus," a ragged-edged version delivered by a woman's voice in more than a hum but without actual words, scat-style as ragged as the torn silhouettes themselves. Audio-visualize an allelujah chorus of the wounded on crutches, refugees carrying and carting their belongings, miners, prisoners, preachers and the lynched, ghosted and blackened. As I'm a Kentuckian getting ready for another round of nostalgia tomorrow afternoon (it's Derby Day in the Bluegrass), this tableau awakened in me that painful mix of wistfulness and sorrow that comes with the singing of "My Old Kentucky Home." But more to the point is Kentridge's power as a narrator and draftsman. I remembered too that magic moment at the University of Louisville when I was handed the keys to the kingdom of drawing and realized what worlds could come alive just by putting pencil to paper.

The Abramovic performance (I told you I'd be back) is in a way a political stance. By refusing to react, she dissuades us from reacting. Ostensibly, there is nothing to react to. Should we be horrified? mollified? lulled into non-action or provoked into retaliation? A sort of Schadenfreude ensues as one watches the person sitting across from the artist. What are that person's actions, thoughts and feelings? Around the perimeter, students are drawing the event, writing about it. I'm beginning to feel it's really quite extraordinary, the power of this performance. When one sitter rises to leave, Abramovic puts her fingertips to her eyes, adjusts her body, draws within, becomes human for a few seconds. As the next sitter takes her place, Abramovic visibly re-enters her body, the goddess inhabiting the oracle space, and engages this new supplicant through eye contact alone. Magic indeed.

For much more on Kentridge
and live video of Abramovic
MOMA's website is excellent.

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