Performance Studies Seminar: The eyes have it: ‘in the gaze…everything happened’
The eyes have it: ‘in the gaze…everything happened’
The aim of this seminar is to explore the seminal performance piece, The Artist is Present, by international artist, Marina Abramovic. The piece was performed in 2010 in New York by the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA). It involved the artist, Marina Abramovic, sitting at a table across from an empty chair that any visitor could sit in for as long as they liked, with the piece attracting a record crowd of over 850,000 visitors. Bonding (Stenglin, 2004), which explores how people align into shared communities of affiliation, was used to try and understand the appeal of The Artist is Present. (Stenglin, 2017).
The Bonding analysis of the piece was challenging because of the key Bonding tools, Field/Appraisal alignment, had limited applicability due to the minimal activity sequences. Abramovic and the sitter are motionless, yet the stilling of all action is highly significant such that the focus on activity sequences needed to be expanded. To analyse the ‘goings on’ in the stillness of this performance, I turned to behavioural processes (Halliday and Matthiesen, 2004/2014). I also explored the tenor variable of register, especially its status, power and contact dimensions as well as the notion of ‘semiotic distance’ described in the seminal work of Edward Hall (1966). In addition the motionlessness of the piece meant the performance resembled a tableau in which the performer is present ‘as if they are a sculpture’ (Bisenbach in Akers and Dupre, 2012). On the basis of this strong resemblance to still life, I also analysed the piece using semiotic tools developed for analysing visual images (Kress and Van Leeuwen, 1996/2004). Finally, I explored the way visitors aligned with the performer(s) and the work using Appraisal resources (Martin & White, 2005).
Even though this was a mono-sensory performance involving the gaze only – it showed the powerful potential of the gaze to join wo people and create a powerful bond – one so strong it can reverberate between the sitters and find its expression in the warm, salty liquid of tears.
Akers, M. and Dupre, J. (2012) Marina Abramovic: The Artist is Present. Show of Force LLC and Mudpuppy Films Inc, SA.
Hall, E.T. (1966) The Hidden Dimension. Garden City, NY: Doubleday
Halliday, M.A.K. & Matthiessen, C. (2004/2014) Halliday’s Introduction to Functional Grammar (4th Edition) London/New York: Routledge
Kress, G, and Van Leeuwen, T. (1996/2004) Reading Images – The Grammar of Visual Design. London/New York: Routledge
Martin, J.R. & White, P.R.R. (2005) The Langue of Evaluation: Appraisal in English. Hampshire/New York: Palgrave Macmillan
Stenglin, M. (2004) Packaging curiosities: Towards a grammar of three-dimensional space.(Doctoral Thesis) University of Sydney]
Stenglin, K. (2017) The eyes have it: In the gaze…everything happened. In M. Grazia Sindoni, J. Wildfeuer and K.L. O’Halloran (Eds) Mapping Multimodal Performance Studies. (pp 85-105) London/ New York: Routledge
The University of Sydney NSW 2006