There is something holy in authentic presence


I was hugely fortunate to be able to go to the MOMA in New York yesterday to view Marina Abramovic’s performance, “The Artist is Present.” I had read some about it, and in particular love this blog of portraits of people who have sat with Marina.

I spent about an hour watching the piece. I’m uncertain as to whether I should call it a performance or a piece of art. I was struck by the austerity of the space. The whole time I was there the same woman sat across from Marina. She was a young woman in a black robe, actually similar to the one Marina is wearing above (which was identical yesterday, but white). The space where Marina and the woman sat was busy, with museum guests walking around constantly. It was noisy, open to the lobby and all of the ambient sounds produced by the hundreds of people passing through there.

Still, somehow, in the large square that was marked off with masking tape, there was a palpable calm. The woman across from Marina originally seemed agitated to me, despite sitting completely still. She seemed to be blinking fast, with a closed expression on her face, none of the emotion that is so visible in the portraits above. And yet as I sat there, she seemed to slow. Marina was shiny from the heat, statuesque, almost wax-like. She had a beatific glow to her, a stillness that radiated.

Two lines ran through my head as I sat on the border between the noise of people going through their days and the deep silence of the performance: “In the room, the women come and go/Talking of Michelangelo” and “Go placidly amid the noise and haste and remember what peace there may be in silence.” I’m not sure yet what message Prufrock and Desiderata carried in their hands; maybe I’ll figure that out as the experience sinks in.

My first and abiding reaction was that this is an immensely generous act by Marina. She offers herself, hours a day, to anyone who wants to participate, who is moved to engage with her. I’m struck by this act of grace, this offering of that most holy and rare thing: our attention. There was a potent energy between the two women, sitting across from each other, something they were sharing that was intensely private and yet accessible by all those who sat and witnessed. I felt peaceful sitting there, and also electrified. (and also old, as my knees were not happy on the stone floor).

The essential message of yesterday is that there is art, and something truly holy, in offering our authentic presence to each other. There’s never been any question about that in my mind, but Marina’s performance made this fact manifest in an indelible, inarguable way. I’m deeply glad that I went and shared in the experience, and know I’ll think about it for a long time.

13 thoughts on “There is something holy in authentic presence”

  1. Truly divine.

    Thank you for, as ALWAYS, giving me something to think about. I’ve been chewing on authenticity a lot lately…and reflecting on how the most authentic people are those I am most magnetically attracted.

  2. I clicked over to the blog, and those photos alone brought out so much emotion from within, I can only imagine what it would be like to sit and watch the…. exhibit, if that’s the right word… in person.
    What an experience!

  3. Abramovic’s performance art has been fascinating to watch and read about over the years. Her quiet pushing of boundaries I find fascinating, and in and of itself, a model of authenticity. Even if not understood by many.

    Fascinating post. Must have been cool to experience in person.

  4. I find this fascinating—as a former would-be “artist” I wrote screenplays and directed, but as a therapist I feel that I am truer to the essential and sacred that art was once, and is sometimes still, about. When I was younger I truly could not understand “performance art,” as I needed some tangible “thing” to be able to look at and call “art.” As a therapist, sometimes I feel like my clients and I create a potential space, which is akin to performance art. I felt some sense of the kindred in what you saw, and think that the true take-away from Abramovic’s work might be the inspiration to absolutely try this at home.

  5. What a fascinating and beautiful experience that must have been. From your description, I can almost feel myself there. I must read more on Marina.

  6. I have been following this show devotedly online (the MOMA streams it) – I’m so pleased someone I know actually went to see it live.

    And as expected, in your sharing you bring even more to the performance.

    Marina is a fascinating woman.

  7. I read about this exhibit and really wished I could have gotten to New York to see it. It strikes me that stepping away from the crazy, hectic, data-filled pace of our lives and sitting still and quiet and looking someone in the eyes could do us all a bit of good.

  8. Electrifying, really, the idea of sitting there so still like that, surrounded by onlookers, but finding a deeper space to comfortably reside in for a while.

  9. Howdy! This post couldn’t be written any better! Reading through this post reminds me of my old room mate! He always kept chatting about this. I will forward this post to him. Fairly certain he will have a good read. Thank you for sharing!

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