Marina Abramović & Ulay

Marina Abramović (°1946, Belgrade, Serbia) and Ulay [Uwe Laysiepen’s pseudonym] (°1943, Solingen, Germany - †2020, Ljubljana, Slovenia) met each other in 1975. Up until 1989 they lived and worked together, testing their own and each other’s physical and mental endurance in a variety of performances. Prior to their meeting, each had already experimented with this medium. Marina’s earliest performances had aspects of violence at their core. In 1974, for instance, she invited the public to use, or not use, a range of torture (and pleasure) instruments on her body (Rhythm 0, 1974). Ulay’s early work, as well, comprises performances and polaroids where questions of identity and alienation are central themes.

Their artistic collaboration takes the form of a range of performances where, initially, they investigated the possibilities of their artistic and amorous relationship. All these performances fall under the heading Relation Works (1976-1981). In 1977, for example, they sat for 17 straight hours back-to-back, their hair tied together (Relation in time, 1977). The public’s presence during this sort of performance is deemed essential by both artists to provide them with the necessary strength.

Starting in the 1980s, their interest shifts from the personal relationship to the specificity of cultural interactions. Together they travel the world, looking into the different cultures they encounter. This results in a second series of performances, where more universal themes are broached. Symbolism makes an entry into their work. Their last joint project, The Lovers (1988), is a combination of relational and intercultural investigation. They spent three months walking towards each other (Ulay starting in the Gobi Desert and Abramović at the Yellow Sea), finally meeting at the middle of the Great Wall of China, where they embrace and then separate for good. Since then, they have pursued their own individual paths.

After this break, Abramović next focuses on sculptures in strange materials, upon which the members of the public can lie down on, sit or stand, and this contact induces a boost of energy. Ulay has  been making photographic series, including portraits of Afro-American homeless people in New York and contemporary vanitas still lifes with everyday objects.

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