Wednesday, June 22, 2022

The Artist Is Present

Marina Abramović is best known for her performance piece, The Artist is Present, which took place in 2010 at the Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York City.

Museum goers waited in long lines for their turn to sit with the artist, in silence, face-to-face, a few feet apart. Sometimes there was a table between the artist and the participant. In some ways, it reminds me of the staring contests we used to engage in as children, gazing into one another's eyes until someone "broke," usually in laughter. Participants in The Artists is Present did sometimes laugh, but more often, sometimes after having laughed earlier, they cried. Many more just cried.

I don't know if there was a time-limit set for each sitting, but from what I've seen Abramović gave each person an open-ended expanse of time during which she merely sat, her face placid, her gaze rarely breaking, simply and profoundly being present with them. Participants described the experience as "transformative," some coming back to the museum again and again.

As an artist, what Abramović did was as simple and as difficult as to sit, silently, looking into the eyes of strangers for over 700 hours, being with them as they had their experience. Critics descibed the artist as courageous. Abramović herself says the experience changed her life completely.

When I think of this performance, when I think of all those people coming simply to be with her, I think of what we do as early childhood educators. So much of the most important work we do with children is, through laughter and tears, to be present, to be a blank canvas upon which they are free to express themselves, being transformed, while we ourselves are transformed, completely, as well.

(Note: I did not take part in the actual exhibition, although I wish I had, but rather watched others participate in the HBO documentary Marina Abromović: The Artist Is Present.) 


"I recommend these books to everyone concerned with children and the future of humanity." ~Peter Gray, Ph.D. If you want to see what Dr. Gray is talking about you can find Teacher Tom's First Book and Teacher Tom's Second Book right here

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