Marina and Ulay

HeadsWhen I first found this video a few weeks ago, I watched it about forty times in a row.

This is a portion of a past performance piece by the artist Marina Abramovic titled, “The Artist is Present”. For the performance, she sat silent and still in the atrium of the Museum of Modern Art for just over 736 hours.  Museum-goers were invited to take turns sitting opposite her for short periods of time.

Now before you roll your eyes and click away sighing, “UGH! Stupid performance “art”,”—yes, I can hear the quotes you put around the word art—let me just say that I also have a difficult relationship with performance art. Sometimes it’s tough to grasp or too vulgar or absurd, or just pointless. But for some reason I really dig Marina Abramovic’s work.

The “art” of the piece is not a physical thing (although she certainly put quite a bit of thought into the physical objects like her desk, the design of her chair, and that amazing red dress) but the art is the takeaway experience of each person who sits across from the artist.  When someone so focused and silent stares into your eyes, do you feel awkward? Judged? Giddy? Curious? Connected? At peace?  Why do you think you have this reaction?  Your feelings and your reaction are the art of the piece.

So, back to the video and why I can’t stop watching it.  The end of the video shows a bearded man who comes to sit across from Marina.  His name is Ulay and he was Marina’s former collaborator and lover. Marina and Ulay had an intense affair that started in the 70s, and when they decided to end it in the late-80s, they each walked the Great Wall of China from opposite ends, met for one last hug in the middle, and then went their separate ways.  Even their breakup was a performance.  I love that.

What you see in the video is Ulay arriving at the performance without Marina’s knowledge. Former loves who have barely seen each other in 25 years sitting and gazing at one another in silence.  It plays out like an amazing silent movie scene and the progression of emotions that wash over Marina’s face break my heart every damn time. When she reaches out for him I cheer, too.

Watch it and tell me what you think.  Amazing, right?

More about Marina Abramovic here.


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