Tag Archives: Ulay

Art for Life’s Sake

This piece has been doing the rounds on Facebook:

[Marina Abramovic and Ulay started an intense love story in the 70s, performing art out of the van they lived in. When they felt the relationship had run its course, they decided to walk the Great Wall of China, each from one end, meeting for one last big hug in the middle and never seeing each other again.

At her 2010 MoMa retrospective Marina performed ‘The Artist Is Present’ as part of the show, where she shared a minute of silence with each stranger who sat in front of her. Ulay arrived without her knowing and this is what happened…]

The way it taps into the pain of love is its immediate appeal, when there are no words that can salve the disappointment of a deep connection rent.

If an artist is someone creating (as opposed, for this purpose, to the naturalist who allows) then artists who make themselves the substance of their art somehow represent the apotheosis of artifice.

Meaning, that I think of the act of art as presenting an idea or a combination of ideas in such a way that a new perspective is offered, on some or any thing in this thing we call life.

To then live this out with deliberate focus- to invest in it personal integrity and have the impulse to share it- is special, and appeals to me in its total re-interpretation or re-imagination of the mundane.

The very idea of sharing a moment’s silence with strangers is compelling; to do it with a loved one intense; to do it with an estranged loved one- wow. (This may not have been Abramovic’s intention but she embraced it.)

Shortly afterwards I came across this prequel, which I really enjoyed on a number of levels:

I love the simplicity and grandiosity of the Great Wall of China project.

I love the nature of their artistic relationship, so perilously close to self-parody.

And I love that it backed up all the non-verbal cues communicated in its sequel, namely that when they parted he (at least nominally) held the power.

(Funny, though, how he does not resist the urge to let slip his grading of the gravity of her betrayal with a friend, even in the context of his own more lasting transgression.)

I experienced many feelings when I watched these two short clips but what I’d like to share is a fantasy.

I would have liked to be the translator who was to become Ulay’s bride- the demon minx who tore apart the Art World’s collaborative darlings, trudging around with a bulging belly just as Abramovic shrank into desolation.

Imagining for a sweet second that all the timings were right, after The Artist is Present I would have installed two gigantic photographs and a pedestal; the first, a photograph of Abravomovic and Ulay in their heyday; the second, a photograph of a pregnant me; and lastly, a real life pregnant me sitting on the pedestal.

In front of them all would be a paint splurter.

And all the people who had spent a silent minute with Abramovic would be invited to take a splurgy shot at one of the two photographs or at the pregnant me.

It would have been a comment on judgment and cathartic anger and honesty, all in one.

I think I would have felt more a part of their Art Thing and maybe a bit less guilty when I had the Ulay baby.

And I would have felt sorry for the people who felt justified at having a pop at the real me and the babe.

Because you can love the idea of something (an image of the happy couple) and hate the idea of something (an image of the one who tore them apart) but if you hate real people that’s sad, even if mediated through art.

And I would have felt scared of the people who would have liked to have a pop at the real me and the babe but thought it would look bad, because they would be sad but cowardly too, and outside of the gallery walls those people might be dangerous.


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