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Marina Abramović and Ulay Meet During "The Artist Is Present": A True Love Story

"Since the sad passing of my beloved husband," Amanda said, "I've been fascinated by stories of true love's endurance, even after death."

Marina Abramović

Performance Artist Marina Abramović.

Performance Artist Marina Abramović.

...for we never stop loving silently those whom once we loved out loud

— Marina Abramović

Marina Abramović and Ulay

Marina Abramović and Ulay began a working relationship and a love affair of extraordinary intensity towards the end of the 1970s. For the next decade, they lived and worked together, performing theatre/art from the tour van they called home.

Eventually, they felt they needed to part and go their separate ways. They decided to leave each other just as they had met and lived: as artists, collaborating and working together. So, they agreed to walk along the Great Wall of China, each starting from one end and meeting in the middle. Then they would embrace one last time and part, never to see one another again.

In 2010 Marina Abramović had a retrospective exhibition in which she performed “The Artist Is Present”. In this performance she sat for seven hours every day for three months in the gallery in which her other work was being exhibited. During those hours, she neither spoke, nor ate, nor drank. She shared one minute of silence with each visitor that came to sit in front of her.

A quarter of a century after they had parted, they thought forever, Ulay arrived without her knowledge. The performance was being filmed for a documentary about her work.

This is what happened (play the video below).

Marina and Ulay Meet

Marina Abramović

Marina Abramović was born in Belgrade in Serbia on November 30, 1946.

Now based in New York, she is a controversial "performance artist". After graduating from The Academy of Fine Arts in Zagreb in 1972, she taught for several years before beginning her career as a solo artist.

She is known as “the grandmother of performance art”. Performance art remains controversial and many people question whether or not the things performance artists do are “really art”. The artist Marina Abramović has established a huge following and been very influential in the arts scene of the 20th and 21st century.

Her work is often more theatrical than anything else and involves a direct engagement with the audience so that the boundaries between the artist, the artwork, and the audience become blurred.

Sitting with Marina Abramović

Many who sat and shared a minute's silence with artist Marina Abramović during The Artist is Present were moved to tears.

Many who sat and shared a minute's silence with artist Marina Abramović during The Artist is Present were moved to tears.

Ulay

Ulay is the stage name of the German performance artist, born Frank Uwe Laysiepen in the town of Solingen in 1943.

He became one of the most influential and admired performance artists during his heyday in the 1960s through the 1970s.

As an artist, he was always a keen collaborator, often travelling across the globe to fulfil the ambition to work with a particular artist whom he admired or with whom he felt a useful artistic relationship could develop.

However, it was in the late 1970s he would meet the expatriate Serbian artist Marina Abramović while both were working in Holland.

For the next ten years they lived and worked with each other, undergoing a profound personal, artistic and spiritual journey together. Ulay's best work was the fruit of this exceptional and concentrated collaboration.

In the period after his 1,500 mile walk along The Great Wall of China to meet Marina and say goodbye, he taught art and photography for many years before going back to an active artistic life as a photographer.

His current work deals with issues surrounding water, embracing biological, political, economic and environmental perspectives.

The Artist Is Present

An aerial photograph of a moment from Marina Abramović's performance piece, The Artist is Present.

An aerial photograph of a moment from Marina Abramović's performance piece, The Artist is Present.

Awards won by Ulay as an independent artist

YearPrize 

1985

The Lucano Video Award

 

1986

The Polaroid Video Award

 

1986

Video Award – Kulturkreis im Verband der Deutschen Industrie

 

1984

The San Sebastian Award

 

Sitting With Marina Abramović

Marina Abramović Documentary: The Artist is Present

The excerpt in the video above now forms part of an arresting documentary about the whole three-month performance of “The Artist is Present”.

Watching the film, I felt that it portrays Marina Abramović with sympathy despite the ongoing controversy surrounding her work which revolves around issues of disturbing imagery and occasional nudity. This film gives Abramović the opportunity to explain her work and us the chance to see not only this show but the powerful and emotive effect it had on the audience.

Marina Abramović was 65 years old making the film. I thought she looks stunning and much younger than her years.

In the small and introspective world of performance art, Marina Abramović has become a legend in her own time.

Her work has always been shocking, strange, unpredictable and moving in unexpected ways. This documentary film covers her earlier work but focuses on the New York presentation of “The Artist is Present.

The simple, yet powerful idea behind the performance stands out as a masterpiece of its kind.

For her to sit and to be present was enough to awaken powerful experiences and emotions in those who came to witness and take part in the work.

I loved the documentary as much as I found it challenging. But for me the most powerful element was the extraordinary story of the love between her and Ulay which comes out with such power in the performance.

Although critics have likened the performance to “an extended kid's game of staring and see who blinks first” and asked, “is this really art?” the piece has great naturalness and solemnity and had an electrifying effect on the public who saw it - and not just the unexpected and moving meeting with Ulay.

One of the most striking effects of the performance was the number of people who were sitting and looking and being looked at, who smiled or more often wept, tears both of sadness, joy and the sense of a deep, shared experience.

As the performance was filmed and photographed, it shows how many “sitters” made unconscious gestures such as placing the hand on the heart or lowering the head.

I don't know if “art” or “theater” or something else best describe it, or perhaps just “life observed”. What I know is that I had a powerful emotional response to the video. It inspired me to write this article.

I believe this performance has something both real and important to say to us.

How often, in our busy lives, do we take the time to stop, even just for one minute, and look into the eyes, into the soul, of those around us?

I believe this experience caused both the smiles and tears. I believe it led to a profound recognition, perhaps beyond words, of what we are and what we can mean to one another.

It is a beautiful and tragic love story in which we all play a part.

We Never Stop Loving

A Word of Advice

If you are interested in exploring Marina Abramović's work further, please be aware that not all her work is as gentle as this. Much is very shocking and uncompromising and can involve disturbing imagery and nudity. If you think that might upset you, please be cautious. It is certainly not work to share with younger children.

Your Opinion Matters!

© 2013 Amanda Littlejohn

Have something to share? I'd love to hear from you!

Amanda Littlejohn (author) on December 09, 2018:

Hi LJ!

Thanks for your comment. Yes, I believe that, too!

LJ Scott from Phoenix, Az. on December 08, 2018:

Amazing article... love has a power that transcends time and space I truly believe

Amanda Littlejohn (author) on September 10, 2014:

Hi Audrey!

Thanks for your visit. I'm glad you enjoyed this piece about Marina Abramovic and Ulay meeting at the famous MOMA retrospective.

I find it very moving and interesting. As you imply, some of her other work is much more challenging, but I do think that she remains one of the most extraordinary and creative forces in performance art.

Thanks for your comment. :)

Audrey Howitt from California on September 09, 2014:

Thank you! I had not heard of either artist--and thank you for taking us our of our comfort zone a bit!

Amanda Littlejohn (author) on November 28, 2013:

Galadriel? (Samwise/Frodo?)

I am beginning to suspect some kind of plot here - this can't be mere chance that the entire cast of TLoTR has started commenting on my hubs!

Still, many thanks for you very original and creative comments. Weird but wonderful. Bless :)

Galadriel on November 28, 2013:

Now you are making crystal tears cascade from the eyes of the Elvish Queen...

Amanda Littlejohn (author) on July 11, 2013:

Hi DD,

Thanks for your comment. yes, I think this beautiful, moving story has had that effect on quite a few of us! Thanks for sharing.

Bless you :)

DD on July 10, 2013:

Made me cry so lovely.

Amanda Littlejohn (author) on April 05, 2013:

Hi Cindi!

Thank you for your amazing comment! I so agree with you.

Thank you again and bless you :)

Cindi Dawe on April 05, 2013:

Thank you for writing about this and showing the beautiful video. I think it is so emotional, so moving. We all want some kind of undying flame of love like that. Some strong spiritual connexion between souls that will last forever in life, art and all time. So amazing, so true and so deep.

Amanda Littlejohn (author) on March 31, 2013:

Hi Insightful Tiger,

Oh I'm so happy that you found this - no-one on HubPages had commented yet - and above all I'm happy that you found it beautiful and moving.

Yes, do take the warning seriously, however. Venture beyond this at your own risk!

Thanks again so much. Bless you :)

Insightful Tiger on March 30, 2013:

I thought their love story was beautiful! I was moved by their encounter and I want to find out more about them. Although, I appreciate the warning. Great hub! I look forward to reading more from you. Voted up and pinned.

Amanda Littlejohn (author) on March 14, 2013:

Yes! I think so too. :)

Iris on March 13, 2013:

Awesome. Just awesome.

Amanda Littlejohn (author) on March 12, 2013:

Thank you so much for that comment. I shed a tear, too. I think, as I wrote at the end, that whatever you may think of this as 'art' there is a valuable lesson we can learn from it if we wish.

Bless you. :)

Maria Carlos Mazzini on March 12, 2013:

A deeply beautiful love story and art. In the video, I cried. So beautiful.