It seems like a lifetime ago that Jamie and I took the bus through Greenpoint and on to PS1 in Queens, where a dozen or more old films of performance art, mostly by Marina Abramović and Ulay, echoed through the nearly empty halls. I couldn't stop talking about what we'd seen, especially this:
I can't think of a constructed situation that is simpler and more jolting. It exhilarates, while making me suppose that old suffering is being exorcized from the performers. It also suggests a deeply intimate relationship between them, which famously was the case, but I had no idea. (You should view it without the soundtrack, which shouldn't be there.)
Nearly a decade later, we trekked to MoMA for Abramović's big retrospective. The show was a success (an understatement) because its audience played such an important role in its realization; the live performances, all but one, had been done before, but never with hordes of Middle America streaming past. For me, the intensity came from the juxtaposition of the naked, frozen performers, vulnerable and seemingly yearning to make contact, and the anonymity of the crush of visitors. This was an event in itself, not just a look back at the work of an artist.
The film is an invaluable document, and it does a little bit more than simply bear witness; in particular, I value that it brings the show and all of its emotions back to vivid life, so that we can remember, or see for the first time, just what made people respond to it as they did. But as a whole feature, it might have had the kind of cohesive story that made other recent films about artists such knockout punches.