The Love of Abramović

At “The Cleaner”, the Marina Abramović retrospective which just ended in Bonn, I was deeply impressed by the work with her former partner Ulay. A few lines on love and art.

Everybody knows the big artist Marina Abramović, if only from her work “The Artist Is Present” from 2010 which had her sit silently across altogether 1565 people in the New York MOMA over the course of three months and a subsequent documentary film. A particularly emotional moment of this performance and the film was the encounter with her former lover and professional partner, the German artist Uwe Laysiepen aka Ulay.

In Bonn there were many videos of the pair’s performance pieces from the 70s and 80s on display. Marina and Ulay, sitting across and taking turns slapping each other. Marina and Ulay, yelling at each other. Marina and Ulay, only a bow and arrow between them. Even the one where the visitors had to scramble between the two in an entrance was staged, if only with other people. Yes, I too shoved through the naked pair. And yes, it was weird.

Both the love and the collaboration of Marina and Ulay ended with the performance “The Lovers”, which saw each partner walk 2500 km in 90 days from the opposite ends to the middle of the Great Wall of China, only to meet and hug once more and then go their separate ways. That made a big impression on me – what a poignant and powerful finale to what was certainly the most important artist relationship of the late 20th century!

Nothing against the solo works of Abramović – whoever eats a huge raw onion while complaining about their own “first world problems” has won me over. However, after visiting the exhibition, the relationship between Ulay and Abramović was what kept resonating. After some research I came across this relatively recent video which has both artists remember their time together and the resulting works in their own words.