Presence: curating in the context of contemporary digital technology: Marina Abramovic, by Agata Kik
With the changing nature of curating and the rapid development of contemporary digital technology, the idea of presence in the curatorial field shifts its concerns from material objects in a static display to embodied subjects, who physically participate. Most recently, nonetheless, when performative art practices do not solely belong to the physical realm occupied by the artist’s body, it is their being in virtuality that the curator has to deal with. What is more, the idea of presence in the expanded curatorial field, increasingly more often refers to material absence instead of physically-constituted appearances.
In the context of technological progress,
In 2010, during her durational performance titled The Artist Is Present at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the close physical proximity to the artist’s body was key. Performing every day for three months, the artist spent more than 700 hours silently sitting on a chair faced by individual visitors, one at a time, who queued in gigantic lines in front of the museum’s gate, to get a chance to exchange the artist’s gaze. Then in 2014, the artist’s durational performance titled 512 Hours, uniquely done for the Serpentine Gallery in London, was again based on close bodily proximity. Contrastingly, this time the performance involved free movement and active physical participation of both the audience and the artist, who silently wandered around the gallery rooms, sat on chairs, lied on beds, with ears and eyes covered, as a form of guidance towards the inner self. In March 2019 Marina Abramovic returned to London to the Serpentine Gallery and presented her latest performance titled The Life, produced in collaboration with augmented reality studio Tin Drum. This was the world’s first performance to be executed in Mixed Reality on such a large scale.
Led by the gallery assistant, holding my cold hand, I finally joined a circle made up of other viewers staring at Marina Abramovic,
The body is the medium of one’s presence. Marina Abramovic has used to claim that her body is the medium of her artistic practice, while performance art is all about energy. The body in performance art is only a medium, which is there to communicate the non-representational, this energy and all these vibratory intensities passing through and altering both the living and the inanimate. In ‘The Life’ the artist’s presence was felt through the visual contact with holographic light, whose energy circulated among all those gathered wearing the electronic headset. The energy that performance art is grounded in, depends on the way in which the public relates not only to the artist but also between each other.
These relationship dynamics in Marina Abramovic’s recent performance pieces were not completely based on corporeality, as participation in them was not about contact between flesh, but rather acknowledging the other’s existence through mental consciousness of their physicality. Thus, the experience of presence can be contributed to the other’s mind rather than one’s body. One can define presence as the experience of the unmediated, the essence that the image tries to convey. Having said that, what does occur when mediation is mediated itself? Rather than the artist’s body to be experienced as an image mediating her presence, in the context of Mixed Reality it is the virtual image of the artist that mediates her embodiment, and directly conveys her energetic self, transgressing the necessity of the physical signifier.
My body augmented by the technological device with the electronic equipment becoming an intrinsic part of my perceptive self is a situation of our contemporary cyborg spectatorship, an increasingly common situation in the contemporary art world, where technology enables posthuman aesthetic experience, evading the anthropocentric reductivity, while implying increased dependence on technology in experiencing the surrounding environment. Within their augmented reality in my augmented physicality, not only did temporal and spatial boundaries got blurred, but also the distinction between the physical and the immaterial started to fade away. Man and technology become a jointly-acting mechanism, the potential becomes the actual, while reality is never full but always open to evermore novel experiences of parallel realms and of coinciding timescales.
In conclusion, what do we learn from the fact that the old divine presence can now be replaced by a mere technological trick? Does technology have the potential to return the aura that Walter Benjamin claimed to be lost with the increased physical reproductiveness, which seems to be especially missed in the contemporary day, of the increased pressure on the artist’s subject to
Subject’s presence in form of a holographic image makes one realise that we exist among man-made and technologically constructed, but perhaps also natural phenomena, which cannot always be perceived without technological equipment that might be even still waiting to be invented. It is not the fact that one could confuse a hologram with a fleshly body that resulted in the feeling of presence in Marina Abramovic’s latest performance at the Serpentine Gallery, but rather the fact that energy constantly circulates and does not necessarily have to materialise to be felt. Work of performance art is about energy and thanks to technology, through which one is able to transcend the physical body, there lies an increased potential for affective sharing not necessarily derived from the essence of forms but rather generated by electrically-powered digital devices, as a way of establishing bonds between organic elements of the material world. Already the eighteenth-century German physician Franz Anton Mesmer advocated animal magnetism, the force generated by lifeforms that flows between all inanimate and animate things. In the present day, though, the energy we experience does not even have to belong to the natural material world but can be carried through digitally coordinated electromagnetic waves.
What Marina Abramovic achieves through her performances is bringing attention back to the importance of contact between human beings, while in her latest performance ‘The Life’ she highlights the fact that technology, when rightly used, helps us bond at a distance, while reinventing our idea of what it means to be present. I, thus, suggest