The Art of Being Present

Being Present

A few days ago I watched a documentary that, quite unexpectedly, moved me to tears. It was such a powerful reminder how much we have lost touch with each other and how fear of intimacy is affecting personal connection.

“The Artist is Present” follows performance artist Marina Abramovic as she prepares and shows a retrospective of her work at the MoMA in New York.

The title piece itself is very simple. Two chairs stand in a large open space, facing each other. Marina is on one, perfectly still, all day, every day. Visitors are invited to sit in front of her and do anything they want, as long as no one is harmed.

At first people try very hard to provoke her into a reaction, yet she simply maintains eye contact with clarity and focus. She is truly present for whoever is in front of her, creating an intimacy that takes people by surprise. There is a palpable shift in the audience as everyone realizes that this something much more than a performance.

No matter what the reaction, whether they burst out laughing or burst into tears, it is clear that everyone is transformed by the experience.

Having someone be really present with you, for you, has become so rare that we are starved of this kind of connection.

It’s not surprising that for the next four weeks people queued up for endless hours, even days, some over and over again, for a chance to sit in that chair for the allotted 5 minutes.

You don’t need to be a therapist or Buddhist monk, and clearly even just 5 minutes can make a difference, for both of you. It’s not unusual to feel a little uncomfortable at first, but that’s ok. Just sit with it and be a little uncomfortable. The fear of intimacy will pass and something of great value will take it’s place.

If you want to find out more about Marina’s thought provoking work look at her dedicated page on Artsy

3 comments… add one
  • I love this concept, and the documentary sounds amazing. I know that I would definitely sit in that chair for 5 minutes. It’s so hard to find people to just be “present” with in this generation. People will act like they are listening or paying in attention but in reality, no one seems to care. I am going to try and practice this technique with people in my life, and see how it works. Also going to watch the documentary as well, it sounds extremely interesting!

  • Yes it seems the easier communication gets on a technology level the less we actually connect with each other. Thank you for your thoughtful comment, and I am sure you will love the film, it’s definitely on my favourite list!

  • I remember when the exhibit was being shown in New York. The buzz around the exhibit was surreal. I think what touches me most about Marina Abramovic’s work in this installation is that it teaches the average person how powerful five minutes of THEIR undivided attention can be for someone in their life that they love. People stood in line for enormous amount of time to be in the presence of a stranger for 5 minutes.


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