Marina Abramović: The Artist Is Present by Marina Abramović, Music Box Films, 2012.
I’ll begin this review by mentioning what it won’t address: I won’t talk about Marina Abramović’s long career of performance or about how she’s often referred to as “the grandmother of performance art;” I won’t discuss my reservations about the less savory aspects of her personality, such as the pathological need to be loved and her rather unabashed fascination with fame. I won’t raise her famous collaborations with her former partner, Ulay, nor will I frame her (as so many others do), as a simple provocateur, because to do so is to diminish the real importance of her work.
I won’t do this because the documentary does a far superior job of providing the necessary context. What I will discuss is the performance from which the documentary takes its name: The Artist Is Present, which was recently unveiled as part of a retrospective exhibition of Abramović’s work at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, is a deceptively simple, yet unexpectedly complex piece. On the surface, the premise of The Artist Is Present is absurdly simple: Abramović sits in the main exhibition gallery opposite an empty chair for all the museum’s opening hours (about eight hours per day), for the entire length of the exhibition, which runs a total of three months. Patrons of the museum can sit opposite her and look at her. People line up by the thousands, with many camping out overnight for the chance to sit in the chair across from her. There is no time limit: people can sit for as long as they’re able. Some sit for hours, others for only a few minutes. There are other guidelines: no one can speak to or touch Abramović – they can only look at her, and have her look at them. One participant says that Abramović slows down people’s minds, and in doing so, transforms them.
The second half of the documentary (which, to my mind, is the most interesting part of the film), shows Abramović struggling with the physical demands of sitting completely still, for hours each day and for months on end, yet still having the presence of mind to give her full, undivided attention to each of the thousands of people who came to sit before her. In the documentary, she says that attentiveness is one thing you can’t fake: “people know if you’re not paying attention,” she says at one point.
The reactions of the audience (all of whom are also participants) are equally fascinating. Some appear angry or intense; many others (an astonishing number, in fact) weep. “So many of the people carry around so much pain,” says Abramović at one point in the film. During the exhibition, there was actually a Tumblr page called Marina Abramović Made Me Cry, in which people who had very emotional reactions to the performance would discuss their experiences.
Even patrons who don’t sit opposite Abramović are shown staring from the boundaries of the room, often for long periods, at her and others as they search one another’s faces. As months pass, and the exhibit goes on, there is a real question whether Abramović’s body will tolerate the strain of sitting for so long and even MOMA’s curatorial staff and security guards begin to worry that she won’t be able to finish the performance. Says one curator: "The Artist Is Present is revolutionary precisely because it could fail.” And risk, as anyone will tell you, is central to any successful artistic endeavor. If the viewer is able to risk a bit themselves, they’ll find The Artist Is Present more than repays their attention.
Wrap up in this engaging memoir about a doctor whose passion to learn the best way to practice medicine has taken her on some interesting journeys. When Dr. Sweet takes a position with the last almshouse hospital, Laguna Honda, in San Francisco, it is just temporary and part-time so that she can pursue her dream of studying medieval medicine. However, she ends up staying for 20 years at this old hospital that was initially for very sick people that had nowhere else to go. She finds the “slow medicine” practice at the hospital intriguing. Her compassionate tales about patients and the staff that work at the hospital and what she learns from them are fascinating.
Along the way, she achieves her dream of studying the famous nun, Hildegard of Bingen, a healer and mystic of 12th century Germany. Hildegard practiced a “garden model” of medicine which looked upon the body as a garden to be tended as opposed to the modern medicine model which views the body as a machine to be fixed. This study and her experience at Laguna Honda would transform the way Dr. Sweet practices medicine.
Those interested in health care and practice of medicine or anyone just looking for a unique memoir will find this an enjoyable read.
From time to time, I’m sure all of us have wished for our own far away island where we could escape. If you’re looking for a virtual escape to some really, really remote places, Judith Schlansky’s book the Atlas of Remote Islands: Fifty islands I have never set foot on and never will is just the answer. Schlansky profiles fifty of the most isolated pieces of land on Earth, discussing their historical, geographical and maritime significance (or lack thereof). Hand-drawn maps accompany each island’s entry adding to the mystique of the remote and uninhabited. A must-read for armchair travelers, map nerds or those planning a VERY adventurous vacation!
Yes, it's summer – but that doesn’t mean that learning should stop! Jefferson County Public Library has resources that make it easy to access the information you need to finish a degree or start a new career, namely the Learning Express Library database.
The database has loads of stuff to help elementary, middle and high school students as well as some guides for college students. For those working toward their GED, the site also has practice exams for writing, math, social studies and science portions of the test as well as online skill-building workshops. We’ve had a number of patrons use this here in Arvada lately and everyone seems to have the same response: this database is awesome!
But it also has a treasure trove for those of us not in school, too. That includes professional exam prep guides for a wide range of careers ranging from Air Traffic Controller to WorkKeys Preparation, including civil service exams for firefighters, police, security guards, nurses, plumbers and electricians. They also have general workplace and job searching skill workshops where you can fine-tune your resume, brush up on interviewing tips and learn better ways to search for jobs online.
Among the most requested resources available on Learning Express Library are the Praxis I and II study guides and practice tests for people going into the field of education. We’ve had several Arvada patrons ask for these in the last few weeks. Or if you simply want to become better at math, writing, science or reading there’s an entire section devoted to skill building for adults.
To access educational material, you’ll have to sign up for free by clicking the “login” button and then selecting “New Users Register Here.” Follow the steps to create the account and you’re ready to download all the materials you need.
Tim Hetherington was a photojournalist who died in 2011 while covering an uprising against Muammar Gaddafi in Libya. His book Infidel is a poignant photographic look at a small battalion of US soldiers stationed in the Korengal Valley of Afghanistan. Tim Hetherington was a well-respected photographer because he used his lens to reveal the humanity of his subjects as well as the historical significance of the moment. The pictures are allowed to speak for themselves since they are the only thing you see until the back of the book, where there is commentary describing each picture. In addition, some of the soldiers write about their experiences themselves. The introduction is written by Sebastian Junger, the author of The Perfect Storm and War, among other books. Junger worked with Tim Hetherington on the documentary Restrepo, which looks at the same outpost in the Korengal Valley. Restrepo was the winner of the 2010 Sundance Best Documentary.
Book of Killowen is the newest installment in Erin Hart’s Nora Gavin/Cormac Maguire series of archaeological crime novels set in modern Ireland. She is a pathologist, he is an archaeologist and together they find themselves investigating cases built around bodies found in bogs of Ireland. Book of Killowen came out in March and offers up more than a few surprises, chiefly, the discovery of not one but two bodies in a bog, one ancient and one modern! If you like a good blend of history, archaeology and forensics, check out this series.
Haunted Ground (2003)
Lake of Sorrows (2004)
False Mermaid (2010)
Book of Killowen (2013)
Another great resource is the glossary she created to help readers learn how to pronounce things properly.
When I was young, our family lived near my grandmother. On some evenings I spent the night with her at her very splendid apartment in a beautiful building on Connecticut Ave. in Washington, DC. My earliest memories of that apartment were the elevator operator, Calvin, taking my parents and me and up in the creaky elevator with the accordion door he would carefully open and close and the flowery, dusty and a bit dank smell of the apartment. My grandmother and I would have Ritz Crackers, “rat” cheese and apple slices for dinner. She would enjoy hers with a glass of sherry and I would have a small green glass bottle of Coca Cola. After dinner, I would watch her put her hair up in pin curls using bendy fabric covered strips. She was a force in my young life and I loved her. My mother never lived close to my family and still my children had a rich relationship with her. I am entering that wonderful world of grandmothers and am thinking of my mother and her mother. I will be far away from my first grandchild. I will visit often and finally learn about Skype and FaceTime.
Wondrous child: the joys and challenges of grandparenting edited by Lindy Hough; foreword by Jane Isay
Some assembly required: a journal of my son's first son by Anne Lamott; with Sam Lamott
Making toast: a family story by Roger Rosenblatt
I always love hearing about the inspiring efforts to build libraries or bring books to children in third world countries, such as the Donkey Mobile Libraries and The Camel Bookmobile (fiction based on a true story). Turns out a nonprofit group here in Arvada is doing the same thing. They are called SCOPE International, and among other projects, they develop school and community libraries in Kenya. They have an exhibit of bright and interesting photographs on the display wall at Standley Lake this month, and they are having a reception this Saturday, July 13 at 2:00 in the Standley Lake meeting room. Come learn more about their noble endeavors and adventures!
Buettner is a longevity expert who has traveled around the world and talked with folks who have lived extraordinarily long lives – many over 100 years! He worked with both local and international experts to do a more formal study of the habits and traits that these long-lived folks exhibit. The results are useful for anyone who wishes to live a healthier, longer life. Social contact is vital, along with certain diets and exercise that have proved helpful time and again. Personal stories from all over the world make this lively and interesting reading.
Ever heard of Minority Report, Blade Runner, or Total Recall? These are movies based on novels by Science Fiction writer Philip K. Dick. Writing mostly in the 1960s and 1970s, this prolific author has had ten novels and short stories (so far) turned into movies. He’s received a number of Science Fiction writing awards as well. PKD’s works often deal with the idea of reality. Protagonists are faced with determining the true nature of the world in which they exist. Memory is suspect; assumptions turn out to be wrong. The author’s common man hero must work his way through a morass of obstacles to arrive at the truth. Here are three good introductions to his work:
Selected Stories of Philip K Dick
This book is a good introduction to the author and his works and the stories are arranged in order of when they were first written. In the third story, “Paycheck,” PKD hits his stride and keeps on going. Read “Autofac,” “We Can Remember It for You Wholesale,” and “Imposter” to get a sense of the author at his best.
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?
The question here involves what it means to be human. If androids can pass as humans - and not just in the way they look - does that make them the same as flesh and blood people? PKD paints a world destroyed by war, where live animals are rare and precious, and most people have left Earth to colonize other planets. This is the novel on which the movie Blade Runner is based.
The Man in the High Castle
A Hugo award winner, this novel postulates an alternative world, circa 1962, in which Germany and Japan won World War II. America has been split between those two countries. Slavery is legal, the few remaining Jews are hiding, and the two former Axis allies are not too happy with each other. A complex and thought-provoking book in which the I Ching figures prominently, PKD creates a vision of America as a third world country struggling to find its way.