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Present and Accounted For – Marina Abramovic doc kicks off four film series at UCSB

Marina Abramovic Show ofForce photo

Marina Abramovic
Show ofForce photo

Lautner broke from the Frank Lloyd Wright school of architecture and created some of the 20th century’s most dramatic spaces: from L.A.’s Chemosphere to the Elrod House in Palm Springs. This doc follows his history and vision.

UCSB’s Art/Architecture series was such a hit last year that it has returned for another mini-season of documentaries. There’s a shorter timeline (this Sunday through May 19) and only four films but plenty to mull over this year. Full reviews will continue throughout the series.

Matthew Akers and Jeff Dupre’s doc opens with a montage sequence setting up Marina Abramovic’s installation work at MOMA, “The Artist Is Present.” Ms. Abramovic sat at a table and looked silently in the eyes of whoever sat opposite her. In a small gallery, the effect might have be one of unnerving intimacy. In the MOMA space, the whole work is a circus. Guests in the thousands storm the staircase to get a chance to wait in line for hours — a tedium mocked in a recent satirical video game parody written for the PC.

On the other hand, when has a work of performance art been this culturally known, discounting any pieces worried over in the ’80s by politicians?

The documentary traces the six-month period during which Ms. Abramovic set up her retrospective at MOMA, hiring substitutes to stand in for her while she performs her main piece. Ms. Abramovic has a history of confrontational performance: driving around a Belgrade square for hours on end, shouting numbers through a megaphone; lying on the floor inside a five-pointed star made of fire, eventually passing out from lack of oxygen; taking psychoactive drugs on stage. She used her body brutally, carving a star into her stomach in front of a crowd; inviting audience members to use selected objects against her passive body. Talking heads provide the analysis. Ms. Abramovic says she misses people asking her, “Is it art?” At 63, she guesses her fame has ended that question, even if others still want to ask it.

As a doc, the film faithfully represents Ms. Abramovic as a person, thinker and artist. She has a good sense of humor about herself, even while the film is trying to convince us of the overwhelming importance of her work. However, the film can’t really convey her art that well, as it depends on human interaction, on uncomfortable sojourns into personal space and time. This is a major element in her work, whether through endurance or slowly evolving movement. But the editing cuts things quick quick quick. Ms. Abramovic, naked, running into a wall once is silly. Watching it over and over live would be another. One can only guess at the effect.

The artist had a husband, the singularly named Ulay, and the two made art together until they split in 1988. They did so as a performance piece, walking towards each other from opposite ends of the Great Wall of China to meet in the middle, then part forever. He turns up later for one of the best moments: sitting down opposite the artist during her MOMA performance. Real life and art intersect here and produce a profound result, possibly more than Ms. Abramovic could have imagined.

‘Marina Abramovic’
* * * *
Length: 106 minutes
No rating
When: All films screen 3 p.m. Sundays
Where: Pollock Theater, UCSB
Cost: $10/$5
Information: 893-3535 or www.ArtsAndLectures.UCSB.edu

Other films in the series:

April 28
Portrait of Wally (Dir. Andrew Shea)

This Egon Schiele portrait of his mistress now rests in Vienna’s Leopold Museum. But the path it took to get to the museum is a tale of theft, war, and discovery over the 20th century.

May 5
Gerhard Richter Painting (Dir. Corinna Belz)

The title describes it all: a step-by-step look into the method of Richter’s painting, as the artist creates a large work.

May 19
Infinite Space: The Architecture of John Lautner (Dir. Murray Grigor)

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