Profile: Matthew Akers on Marina Abramovic: The Artist Is Present

Profile: Matthew Akers on Marina Abramovic: The Artist Is Present

Director of documentary about celebrated performance artist

1975, Dallas, Texas

Matthew Akers landed a plum job when he got the chance to make his debut feature Marina Abramovic: The Artist Is Present. He’d previously worked on documentaries covering subjects as diverse as life on a US nuclear aircraft carrier and in a New York circus. His experience with such grand dames like Elaine Stritch and Jon Bon Jovi came in hand when dealing with Abramovic, whose life and work he’d studied at art school while doing a degree in painting and sculpture.

On capturing the work of one of the world’s most celebrated performance artists
‘It was all very spontaneous, I was asked by Jeff Dupre, who I’d worked with on Circus, and he told me about her plans for a retrospective at New York’s Museum of Modern Art, and the performance she planned to go with it. I was initially skeptical, I didn’t want to make some kind of hagiography, but she turned out to be very charming and cool to hang out with. She didn’t mind the cameras, she liked them, she said we could have editorial control, and complete access to her; she even handed me the keys to her house.’

On the unexpectedly wide audience the film has reached
‘We’d initially had no idea that the way Marina would interact with the audience would create such unpredictable results. And I wanted the film to be more than a document of her performance, but something separate. I don’t think you can ever transmit the power of someone else’s art, I think you have to try and make a separate work of art that exists on its own right.’

On future plans
Akers is fairly tight-lipped about his next project. ‘I never anticipated that my film about Marina would strike such a chord with so many people, the film’s success is beyond my wildest expectations. I’m in New York right now, we opened in Paris last night, the day before I was in Cuba. My time is fairly full right now with the film’s promotion, but I do have plans for a new project, this time, a narrative-based one.’

Marina Abramovic: The Artist Is Present is on selected release from Fri 6 Jul.

Marina Abramovic: The Artist Is Present - Official Trailer [English] - (HD/HQ)

Marina Abramovic: The Artist is Present

  • 4 stars
  • 2012
  • US
  • 1h 45min
  • 15
  • Directed by: Matthew Akers
  • Cast: Marina Abramovic, Ulay, Klaus Biesenbach
  • UK release: 6 July 2012

Akers' documentary about Serbian performance artist Marina Abramovic offers a helpful crib-sheet to her career. There are revealing interviews and some shocking clips of her earlier work, some of which involves self-mutilation; but Akers' film manages to make the artist's disconcerting and disturbing work seem accessible…

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