The way we interact with others in the past 20 years has changed dramatically. Whereas the only form of communication was physically being present or speaking through a telephone, the advances in technology have broadened our scope and changed the definition of what it means to ‘be with someone’ in today’s age. As the world has opened for everyone, we are all accessible to each other, creating new opportunities to interact with one another. This creates a form of artificial intimacy: having all the characteristics of a friendship/ relationship/acquaintanceship, bar the physical aspect. To have artificial intimacy is to amplify other aspects, such as seeing someone in real-time (skype, FaceTime), there’s heightened emotion – relief, joy, ecstasy – yet there is that subconscious admission that it’s not as real as it could be. No longer is the face of another person the most seen shape in our lives: it is the screen that encompasses the face, whether it be in front of us in similar proportion or it be in our pocket and vibrating to inform us we’re being spoken to. There is still a world around us, surrounded by people; we have made ourselves oblivious because of the world in our hands, with the people we care for, an arms width away.
Initially, the premise was to artificially interact with a group of strangers, showcasing a sense of isolation in a new atmosphere. However that shaded too close to other pieces, which left a sour taste in my mouth. Using that feeling, a conversation was had between a friend I’ve yet to physically meet and myself. In that discussion, there was a spark for an idea and a purpose why. To this end, the idea of strangers was removed, in favour of a more personal touch: friends and family. The reason for this was born from two questions: ‘Why is performance art done in front of or towards strangers?’ and ‘Is there any significance when the audience are loved ones?’
The instructions for this piece amplified a sense of trepidation: you were not interacting with a person: you were simulating it. They were invariably strict but with openness to interpretation: record yourself staring at a screen, almost as you normally would when checking on things (such as browsing the internet, switching between applications). There is very little emotion on our faces when doing these actions, although there can be at times a different reaction depending on what is in front of you. As it turned out, one of the submissions was an outlier: it is visually contrasting with the rest, showing a different interpretation while still following the instructions. As an example for this, Marina Abramović’s “The Artist is Present” installation at MoMA, – where the audience was a vital part of the piece – the second audience member to participate was none other than her former lover and artistic partner Ulay who, during his brief contribution, reached out and held Abramovićs hand in his, resulting in tears by the artist. Another exemplary participant not only spent an entire day – 7 hours – sitting across from Marina, actually re-contributed several other times to the piece, metamorphasising the piece into something more personal than anticipated.
However, this metamorphosis can only take place if the audience fully immerses themselves into taking either an emotional resonance or a personal visualisation. Therefore, the piece itself is defined by the experience of not just the audience, but by the participants. The risk in that is invariably similar to “Undertone”, where you are the audience, the viewer, sitting across from Acconci as he details what is happening, while pausing to speak to the viewer in the hopes that they are still there, still watching. There is either immersion, wherein you become a part of the piece with willingness, or it is seen as incoherent and uncomfortable.
With performance art, there is generally a personal or emotional indifference between the artist and the audience. With this, there remains a form of intimacy that cannot be created or emotionally replicated: personal intimacy. And yet this piece shows a distorted connection: intimacy that isn’t there, it is the connections that have been temporarily severed and then those moments that are connected, resulting in emotionless intimacy within personal connections. At the end, however, the sight of seeing those closest to you after a lengthy period of time can result in an expected physical reaction.
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Observed, A 2010, ‘AO-On site – New York: Marina Abramović “The Artist is Present’ at MoMA, March 14 through May 31, 2010”, March 31, 2010, viewed 11 March 2015, <http://artobserved.com/2010/03/ao-on-site-new-york-marina-abramovic-the-artist-is-present-at-moma-march-14-through-may-31-2010/>.
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