Seven Easy Pieces by Marina Abramovic

(Babette Mangolte, Germany, 2007)


Babette Mangolte’s Seven Easy Pieces by Marina Abramović offers superb documentation of a 2005 series of performance works by the famous/notorious artist at the Guggenheim Museum in New York.


The work (both performance and film) presents an intriguing case study regarding emotion – the detection, display, interpretation of emotion. At the movies, we often ask: what was that emotion exactly, and where did it come from? These are among the greatest and most profound mysteries of cinema.


Consider this sequence. Abramović sits on a chair, with her leg cocked up an adjacent chair; she is dressed in leather, holding a scary-looking machine gun. She stays in this position for a long time – in reality, seven hours.


Mangolte’s compressed montage boldly foregoes the chronology of the performance in order to create its own mosaic of glimpses of the spectacle and its spectators. Occasionally we hear a muffled voice, presumably a scripted or predetermined part of the piece: “Put down your gun!”


Abramović incarnates a particular kind of media image cliché: she resembles, a little, Patty Hearst in the full flush of her Symbionese Liberation Army fervour. What interests Abramović (we assume) in the play of this image is the clash of male militant heroics with uncertain female identity.


To force that issue, a detail slowly (not immediately) compels our attention: the triangle of leather covering her genitals has been cut out. This particular “easy piece” is, in fact, Abramović’s re-interpretation of Valie Export’s “action” artwork Action Pants: Genital Panic from 1969, documented in a series of posters by the artist. A popular legend – denied by Export – is that she once performed the piece in a porno cinema, brandishing a rifle to spectators’ shocked heads.


And then, suddenly, Mangolte cuts to a close-up to show us, at some indefinable point, the tears that have made Abramović’s face moist. Where did these tears come from? What do they mean? And who is crying, exactly – the artist, or the strange character/figure she is here incarnating?

© Adrian Martin August 2008

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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