If you live in New York, by now you’ve probably had a chance to check out the Marina Abramović retrospective at the MoMA, which runs through the end of this month. Perhaps you even waited in line to sit opposite Marina as she performed The Artist Is Present. (Sharon Stone, Rufus Wainwright, Isabella Rossellini, and most recently, James Franco, all have. ) According to the MoMA’s Inside/Out blog, there are a number of visitors who regularly drop by to sit with the performance artist; in fact, “the guards know them by name, and fellow visitors waiting their turn to sit with Marina regard them with an air of what may best be described as reverence.” Strange. Even stranger: Paco Blancas, a New York-based make-up artist, has faced off with Abramović a whopping 14 times now.
Blancas reports that his repeat visits are a result of the performance piece’s strong magnetism. “Sitting with her is a transforming experience — it’s luminous, it’s uplifting, it has many layers, but it always comes back to being present, breathing, maintaining eye contact,” he says. “It’s an amazing journey to be able to experience and participate in the piece.” He also likes meeting new people in line.
When asked why he appears to be crying in several of Marco Anelli’s portraits in the Marina Abramović: The Artist Is Present Flickr gallery (where he can be intermittently spotted, kind of like a more bipolar version of Where’s Waldo?), Blancas explains that Abramović is a catalyst who “presses the button that makes you feel all these emotions and feelings.” It’s also important to note that they are tears of joy — at least most of the time.
You’re just being and thinking about somebody or something that’s important in your life. And then just acknowledging this person or situation and moving on into being present because yeah, the tears come, but I don’t want to cry for the entire sitting. I want to move on and continue to be with Marina, to be present.
Beyond free therapy sessions, Blancas’ visits achieve a feat that most busy New Yorkers would write off as the impossible — for him, they manage to stop time.
…when I come here, I don’t make any plans because I know I’m going to be here and I don’t care what time it is. I just let go and forget about it. Sometimes we’ve been there for so many hours on line and you don’t even notice it, it’s like “Oh, how come it’s so late?” You don’t feel time anymore. Time stops, and there’s just this energy.
So is he just a groupie who’s high on the Abramović “no fear” Kool-Aid? Or is this make-up artist batshit crazy/in need of a hobby/just a really good sitter? You decide. And while you think on it, check out Howard Silver’s web documentary on the The Artist is Present.