What, if anything, can be said about what is unsayable? | Aeon Essays
In 2010, the artist Marina Abramović performed for 700 hours at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, in a piece called The Artist is Present. It involved her sitting still in the middle of the gallery’s soaring atrium, wearing one of a selection of striking, block-colour dresses that pooled over her feet. Members of the audience could come and sit with Abramović, and face her across a table or empty space, in silence. The emotion and intensity of their responses was astonishing. Some laughed; many cried. Arthur Danto, the late Columbia University philosopher and art critic, compared his time with Abramović to ‘a shamanic trance’, and described the show as ‘magic’ in The New York Times. More than 1,500 people came and sat with Abramović, and 750,000 attended as observers. A recurring sentiment among the visitors was that the performance was a deep revelation for which words were not sufficient. If this is true, then something about it was ineffable.