A study in human emotion

There is a video that is making it’s way around Facebook lately that some of you may not have seen and it’s really worth watching if human emotions are of any interest to you.  I’ll give you the official backstory and the video so you can watch it with the same information I had, then I’ll share my comments afterward.

“Marina Abramovic and Ulay started an intense love story in the 70s. When they felt the relationship was ending, they walked the Great Wall of China, each from one end, meeting for one last big hug in the middle and never seeing each other again.

“At her 2010 MoMa retrospective Marina performed ‘The Artist Is Present’ as part of the show, where she shared a minute of silence with each stranger who sat in front of her. Ulay arrived without her knowing and this is what happened.”

No, don’t keep reading just yet.  Go back and watch the video.  Seriously.

Have you watched the video now?  Okay, you may proceed.

For starters, just plain “wow”.  What a powerful display of emotion, by both performers.  There are several different cuts of this video out there but I prefer this one because it shows how the artist treats the other people who choose to sit with her before Ulay takes his turn.  They guy with the “what the hell is the point of this” expression is great.  They guy with the hint of a smile.  The woman who looks like she sat down just as her overdose of Prozac kicked in.  Each of these sets the baseline for her bland appearance and reveals the hidden strength of her subdued reaction to Ulay.  I also love the way he managed to communicate using only his facial expressions.  You get the sense that they’re bonded on some other plane or having a full conversation telepathically or something.  Again, very powerful.

Then the skeptic in me starts to make himself known, and I realize that these are art people, performing art people for that matter, certainly the type of people who purposely blur the line between performance and real-life, and who very well may be the type of people who are simply always performing.  Don’t judge me, you know the type.  The backstory has several red flags in it.  Normal people do not break up by walking the Great Wall of China alone towards a final encounter with each other.  Then there’s the whole bit about “… she shared a minute of silence with each stranger who sat in front of her.”  I mean, seriously?  And got paid for this?  Because people bought tickets to watch or participate in it?  Really?  I generally believe that the art world is inbred and pretentious in equal parts, and this sort of thing is why.  The skeptic then starts to wonder just how much of the emotional responses shown in the video are instinctive and how much is part of her improvisational performance.

And then I realize, it just doesn’t matter.  If this whole thing is a put-on piece of performance art (and I really don’t think it is) then it’s real enough that I buy into it.  The emotions are so real, so believable, and so amazingly communicated without words that they combine to make this one of the best video clips I’ve ever seen.

I eagerly look forward to your thoughts.

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2 thoughts on “A study in human emotion

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