In the film Marina Abramovic, directors Matthew Akers and Jeff Dupre offer viewers a glimpse into the often controversial and taboo topic of performance art. The documentary follows the title character, one of the icons of performance art, and integrates her historical pieces, her current pieces, and her reasoning behind them. According to Robert C. Morgan, performance art is a way to pay homage to a historical work of art while adding its own spin. “It is necessary to reinterpret these plays,” Morgan states, “less from a position of their historical moment, than in relation to their present” (Morgan 2). In other words, with a display of performance art, one is essentially respecting the original material rather than copying, or denigrating it. Morgan suggests that any direct copy of a historical performance would only appear to be a direct copy of the original in the eyes of the critics and public. “Simply reviving a performance that was essentially within a microcosm of historical time will have difficulty surviving unless adjustments are made,” Morgan states (2). An interesting point is, however, if performance art has to pay homage or be inspired by an existing historical piece in time, or if it can exist on its own standing. As Abramovic states, performance art presents a psychological and interactive imagery that other mediums [of art] hold back. With performance art, the subtitle of the film, “The Artist is Present”, is literal.
One exhibition Abramovic performs is called The Biography which is deep-rooted in complexity both in how it was inspired and the process of the performance itself. When Abramovic began her career, she thought that art should be disturbing rather than beautiful (Kaplan 6) and was unaware that art and beauty could have a sufficient relationship together. Further into her career, Abramovic was torn between the things humans needed for survival and the things humans needed for cosmetics (6). After she split up with her performance partner Ulay, Abramovic began experimenting with her newfound “cosmetic” side – not by abandoning the “disturbing” side of her art, but by somehow blending the two into a working performance.
In The Biography, Adranovic acquires her inspiration from many artists from different backgrounds in order to demonstrate each artist’s unique approach to performing, then she performs making sure involves each part of her body into the act. Each performer is expected to move their body into intense physical positions. Adranovic is fascinated by the idea that in her experience those of the Eastern world are capable of moving their bodies into more intense physical positions than those of Western culture (8). Perhaps this is because those of Eastern culture are more likely to engage in Buddhist and Taoist inspired meditations where one can reach a certain level of “enlightenment that allows them to separate their physical body from their true one.