I want to share a clip that my colleague showed me today. It was a 2010 performance art exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art in New York by the artist Marina Abramović. Her exhibition, titled The Artist is Present, gives one stranger her full-fledged and undivided attention in an undisguised minute of silence. Throughout the clip, the audience sees Marina sitting and staring at complete strangers with a blank, glossy-eyed expression. Both pairs of eyes read emotionless. Then, a pepper-haired man in a black suit and Converses sits down across the table from her. Except he’s not like everyone else. His name is Ulay. He and Marina shared an intense love affair from the ’70s to late ’80s, both in art and in life. When they felt their relationship had run its course, they walked the Great Wall of China, one from either end, meeting for one last hug in the middle and never seeing each other again.
To me, this exhibition shows that with complete strangers, we are often mentally and emotionally absent. On the subway and in the street, we go about our daily lives with blank stares, stone faces, and deafening earplugs. Because there was, is, and perhaps never will be a connection. But certain people, or perhaps particular thoughts or memories, are capable of evoking that artist-is-present response in us. Who, or what, do you think would stir such a raw and emotional response in you? How can we be more present in our day-to-day interactions?