Amir Baradaran's The Other Artist is Present is a performance in four acts wherein he honors, questions and ultimately departs from Marina Abramovics performance at the Museum of Modern Art NYC, titled The Artist Is Present (March 9th-May 31st). Abramovic has invited the public to participate in her latest performance in which participants engage her in a one-on-one encounter in the museums atrium.
In a sea of light, seated at a spare wooden table, Abramovic silently engages patrons with only her eyes. Baradaran accepts her invitation as an impassioned fellow artist looking to engage her in a sohbat a Persian term for a conversation with a spiritual dimension. Meticulously responding to concepts and imagery developed by Abramovic, he adds his own layers of interpretation to pay homage to a pioneer of performance art. Baradarans creative implementation of his own cultural background and interest in hyphenated cultural identity inform his performance. Baradarans performance speaks to the notions of timelessness,(dis)continuity and consciousness central to Abramovics work while illuminating issues such as authorship and authority.
The Other Artist Is Present- As Baradaran enters the meditative, luminous space in a red flowing gown—a close facsimile to Abramovics deep blue robe- he adds symmetry to the scene. Viewers familiar with Abramovics work will recognize the reference to her 1984 piece, Nightsea Crossing. Out of earshot of the audience, Baradaran expresses his deep and sincere devotion to Abramovics artistic legacy: I love you Marina, I love your bodies of work, I love this particular body and I would love to be wedded to this body.... do you accept this marriage, here and now?
Baradaran subtly alludes to the importance of the here and now which has long fascinated Abramovic. He also evokes the Shiite provision of temporary marriage: a fixed-term, noncommittal relationship by which intimacy could be shared for a specific time. He goes on to playfully describe a national tradition in which the woman coquettishly hesitates to respond when asked for her hand: in my culture they say she is out making rose water. Baradarans proposal represents a merging of passions and creativity expressed though contradictions inspired by the tongue and cheek sensibility of Abramovics 1997, This is How We Kill Rats in the Balkan. In it she clinically describes a national tradition of killing vermin only to later break joyously into dance. It is this juxtaposition of the sacred and the commonplace Baradaran wishes to celebrate.
The Other Artist Is Present- Baradaran returns to the table his face now concealed by a series of four overlapping canvases. Each is emblazoned with an enigmatic message. The first canvas, In/out, sets the tone as it refers to borders. The second message, I am a nurse from New Zealand appears to break Abramovics concentration for a moment, moved as she recognizes the reference to a persona she dons when traveling. Baradaran, unaware of the effect he has had on Abramovic, reveals the next canvas: a non resident alien a status familiar to both artists. The final layer, passing of the author, references Roland Barthes essay, The Death of the Author, which advocates the separation of the artist from his/her artistic creation. Baradarans infiltration makes the audience question: who is the performer? Who is in / out?
For, in that moment, it is no longer simply her piece alone but has been subverted into a product of the artists shared passions. Baradaran pauses and then lays the canvases onto the table; he removes his wallet and an inkpad from his pocket, and ritualistically stamps the canvases with his fingerprints.
In the overwhelming light of a sterile performance space, security guards seem ready to spring into action as Baradaran removes his hands from his pockets. The artist evokes the traumatic discomfort felt by a person detained at a security checkpoint.
http://www.amirbaradaran.com - The Other Artist Is Present. In contrast to the dynamic actions he has just performed, Baradaran solemnly bows his head and enters a transcendental state. He begins chanting the words of a Sufi mantra in Arabic- their meaning unclear to the majority of the audience. The fact that Arabic is a foreign tongue to Baradaran, whose mother tongue is Persian, further blurs his national identity. Nonetheless, he passionately intones the words, Huwa Jameel wu Yahebbu Jameel, (He is beautiful and he loves beauty), alluding to one of Abramovics early works, the 1975 Art Is Beautiful; Artist Must Be Beautiful. Baradarans voice, slowly builds in volume until it fills the atrium, well beyond the perimeter of white tape. One could wonder: have Baradarans assertive actions altered the space differently than the silence of other participants?
By the time his meditations have ended, Baradaran is moved to tears. His catharsis complete, he leaves the table abandoning his belongings, thereby forcing a guard to approach and fetch them. By awkwardly disrupting the clean, composed atmosphere, Baradaran has forced the museum to violate its own minimalist quarantine zone. By doing so, he has left a lasting poetic resonance.
The Other Artist is Present. After being escorted outside the confines of the museum, Baradaran embarks on the final act of The Other Artist is Present. No longer able to gain entry to the MOMA, he resumes his dialogue- this time symbolically, with the museum itself. Positioned at a wooden table recalling Abramovics, but now facing a glass curtain wall beside a door.
Patrons proceed to enter the museum, some curiously stopping and examining the man sitting in the rain confronted with his reflection, at first silent and still, then trembling and chanting loudly. The artist is well aware of the glass-thin distinction between those expressions deemed artistic versus those labeled as nuisance- this in/out relationship made all the more palpable by the desks proximity to the threshold. The public passes the other artist so as to enter and see what they are told is art by the institution, a veritable gate keeper giving access only to those paying the toll.