Thursday, April 29, 2010

Marina Abramovic and the peonies

One of the things I wanted to do while in NYC was see the Serbian performance artist, Marina Abramovic, at MoMA, but when Mekko and I went last Thursday evening, Marina and her crew had taken off for the day. So Monday morning I went again, using a friend's membership card. Good thing too—people were standing in line all the way back to Sixth Ave. I slipped in through the front doors, straight up to the second floor gallery, where Marina sat staring at a bearded man.

Marina Abramovic staring at man; man staring back

Marina's stare was inward, soft and somewhat collapsed, but the bearded man sat upright, trying not to blink. I walked around the gallery, looking at the pair, but after a few minutes, I lost interest; what was I missing? What was I suppose to glean from their stares? I went up to the sixth floor, to the large retrospective of Abramovic's work dating back to the seventies. I hoped I'd find the answer there.

 On the way up, looking down; another participant

On the sixth floor, a gaggle of African American teenagers pushed past me, giggly with delight that they'd soon squeeze by two naked ladies to get into the exhibit (at other times, a man and a woman). But the passageway through those naked bodies was a passage into a much darker space, a space with little air, and no joy, full of images of blood and bloody bones, cutting and instruments for cutting, tasks of brutality and torture. When I ran into the giddy teenagers again they seemed downright depressed, unsmiling. 

In one room, a naked woman sat on a bicycle seat attached high on a wall, her arms and legs extended into the air, with her crotch the only visible contact point (Luminosity, 1997). The artist describes this performance piece, with the "luminous light," as being about the transcendental quality of the human spirit. But for me, it was a scene out of Abu Grahib—more terrifying than transforming. I asked the guard how long the woman would be in that position, but she'd been instructed not to tell; the only thing she'd say was that there were alternating performers throughout the day.

I still didn't get it.

When I left the exhibit I went into the bathroom, where I stood in line transfixed by two young women looking at themselves in the mirror. Now, that was interesting.

bathroom at MoMA


The day before I had visited the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens; the sun was out, the air was warm. Russian women walked arm-in-arm, old men held their wives' frail hands, intellectuals talked about the existence of God, children ran around each other dancing under the cherry blossoms. The fragrance of the flowers made it hard to move away from the lilac grove.

At the peony monument, people stood in astonishment at the brilliant colors and different varieties in full bloom, a sensual pleasure that took your breath away.

Tourists almost fell over backwards into the flower beds to get pictures— snap, snap, snap, snap!—everyone tried to drink up the beauty with their cameras. It was impossible to get enough of the day; we were all united under a glorious blue sky, walking in paradise.

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