The Art of the Human Response to the Naked Body
I don’t know how to define “art” beyond a poorly-worded attempt at a dictionary definition. I don’t think most people really can. But there have to be limits as to what art is. The “anything goes” mentality only allows for so much. It’s now my belief that modern art tries to push those limits.
A couple of weeks ago I spent a weekend in New York City and among my tourist stops, I was able to get to check out the Museum of Modern Art. After seeing the Warhols, Van Goghs, and Dalis I was about ready to leave 15 minutes in. But I was told by a friend I had to go to the top floor to see the Marina Abramović: The Artist is Present exhibit. Since I’m already there, what’s a few more flights of stairs? But nothing could have really prepared me for what I was about to see.
Upon entering the exhibit the only sound beyond people murmuring in shock was the sound of recorded screaming. There were several televisions set up with Marina’s previously filmed work which consisted of her and a man sitting inches apart screaming at each other at max volume only taking short breaks to inhale. Another adjacent tv was displaying a movie of her and another man sitting across from each other slapping each other in the face over and over and back and forth for hours on end. Real hard slaps, mind you. Not love taps. Some of her more docile movies were simply her cutting shapes into her own stomach with a knife.
Hanging on the wall were naked people, suspended in air trying to balance, being held up by small beams. There were also other performers standing frozen in obscure positions that would make a Rritish royal guard envious. But perhaps the most bizarre display of all was one that required audience interaction. A man and woman standing upright, facing each other, less than a foot apart, completely naked… Right behind them: a line of eager museum go-ers who are asked to “walk between them.” An awkward, but simple enough request. But this is not such an easy feat given the fact that the two nudists are a mere inches apart. The individual crowd members walking through were forced to sidle sideways and squeeze through, brushing right up against their flaccid genitalia. This, not unlike a train-wreck, kept myself and everyone staring. After the strange and uncomfortable “I’m-not-allowed-to-be-watching-this” childhood sensation fleeted, I decided to start keeping track of how many people that passed through decided to face the man and how many faced the woman.
Some 20-something people later, only two had squeezed through facing the man. Certainly an understandable statistic. But what put a halt to my number-crunching, was a young Asian man who was grinning from ear to ear in anticipation of his turn to walk through. Once he was next in line, with no one left standing between him and the nudes, he started giggling to himself. Upon slyly creeping forward like a slow-motion replay, his body didn’t begin to shift left or right. “Oh God,” I said aloud, tapping my friend on the shoulder, “…look at this guy.”
And then as if laws of physics didn’t apply to him, or his shoulders didn’t exist, he was going to try to pass through the six inch gap – dead on, face first. I couldn’t wait. His initial contact started to push back the otherwise stoic Adam and Eve. That didn’t stop him. Unable to make it through, he mustered up a strong last ditch finishing effort by leaning forward, shifting all his weight onto helpless statues, splitting them like bowling pins, knocking the woman off balance as she just escaped falling right onto her exposed ass, while the man stumbled two to three steps back to save himself from getting tipped right back into the wall. Their faces turned bright red. Both tried to mask noticeable sighs of frustration. They’re professionals dammit! But the moment ended, almost too soon, with security bolting toward the guy and grabbing him by the arms and throwing him out of the museum.
Hilarious? Yes. Worth seeing? Certainly. But Art? Mmmm, I’m hard-pressed to call it that. And yet the pretentious self-proclaimed “grandmother of performance art” earns her millions by mutilating herself or sitting in a chair for hours doing abnormal things. Really puts a 9-5 job into perspective. And I don’t want to strain myself by reading further into it than I have to, but I’d only imagine that observing her audience reaction has to be part of her “elaborate” art-psychology experiment. And for me, that giddy Asian man made it all worth the while. Hats off, Marina.