Not long ago (a couple of hours) I shared an extended embrace with Marina Abramovic. I did not expect it to be a profound experience, but it was.
How did this happen, you might ask. Some time earlier this year I donated some money via Kickstarter to the Marina Abramovic Institute: She is basically creating a place in Westchester where her techniques will be taught to a new generation. It seemed like a worthy cause. You got some video access and other odds-and-ends if you donated, but I never actually availed myself of any of them. Indeed, I don't even remember how much I donated.
But a month or two ago there was an invitation to the "Embrace" event, whereby you would share an embrace with Marina Abromovic if you were a "founder" at the Kickstarter Headquarters in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. And since I knew I would be on my way back from practice with the New York Guitar Circle, I replied and said I'd like to go.
So I went.
Unlike her extended thing at the MOMA ("The Artist is Present"), there were perhaps 10 people ahead of me on line when I arrived, and I don't think I waited any longer than 15 minutes or so.
As my turn approached I was actually nervous and a stray thought that flashed through my head was that I could perhaps leave before the encounter: There was a set of stairs just to the left up to a door to the street. For us males embracing a female is...complex: We're taught that breasts are potentially erogenous zones, so a hug or an embrace must be undertaken carefully. But as I walked up to her a lot of that was just forgotten and I accepted and tried to offer an embrace. She felt me not fully just "embrace" her and told me something like "no, just" and then I just full-fledged hugged her. I could feel her stomach breathing against mine and allowed my own breath to be timed with hers. In that moment too I forgot I was hugging the internationally famous superstar artist but now I was hugging another human being who was hugging me back. It was a physical experience that perhaps occurred below the level of the emotional. It was "profound" in its simplicity and shared humanity that is so very easy to overlook now.
As we pulled apart she thanked me and I thanked her and, nodding towards all the young folks who were waiting on the line I said, "You're embracing the future!" and she replied, "I hope so!".
On the way out the girl, uh, "manning" the door out told us that there'd be a post-event gathering nearby, but when I arrived there were a few others milling about trying to find where the event was. After some queries, it was apparent that there was no event there, so we walked back to where "The Embrace" was occurring and told the folks working there that there was nothing going on. After apologizing (and communicating with each other), they told us about another place nearby we could perhaps hang out in, so we walked over to Greenpoint Avenue, where I ended up talking to a lesbian couple from Chicago for a couple of hours. We had a profound chat on a variety of subjects and really connected. It was cool and beautiful.
Here's a clip of Marina Abramovic at MOMA, duing the moment she encounters her former performance artist partner and lover, Ulay:
Well, the Marina Abramovic folks sent out a link to the "Embrace" event, and after looking through large portions of it found myself. It's odd seeing that, and what's even odder still is how the video of the image doesn't seem to capture my subject experience of the encounter or how I remember it going. BUT, some of my subjective experience IS captured too. It's interesting now to think about whether the video of my experience does or does not impact what I felt was a fairly profound and beautiful moment. Does that change anything in terms of how I should feel about it? Probably not, but I am thinking about that.