WORKS WITH ULAY
RELATION IN SPACE, 1976
Marina Abramovi?: “I was invited to come to Amsterdam for the television program about body art. I was one of the first East European artists doing body art. So, it was like the first woman walking on the moon somehow. I arrived there on my birthday, and I remember very well that my grandmother once said to me, that everything you get on your birthdays is important, it's like destiny. And the first person I met was Ulay. The same evening we really fell in love with each other. It was a really very important period of my life, which took 12 years.
Ulay and me, after meeting and starting working together, made our first performance, Relation In Space, in 1976 at Venice Biennale. This [idea of this] piece was two naked bodies running and hitting each other frontally and increasing the speed for one hour. We really wanted to have this male and female energy put together and create something we called That Self. It was very important to collaborate and to mix our ideas together and not ever say to anybody who of us created the idea. It was the mixture that really made sense to us and created that kind of third energy field”.
RELATION IN TIME, 1977
Marina Abramovi?: “We wanted to start this piece without public. So, we tied our hair together, sitting back to back for 16 hours in the gallery just with the gallery staff, and every hour we took three minutes of video and photographs. After 16 hours, when we were really very close to the total exhaustion of our bodies, the public was invited. We wanted to know how we can really use the energy of the public to push our limits even futher and to sit one hour longer, so actually the entire performance took 17 hours. We decided to reperform this piece today at the museum by the four couples rotating every two and a half hours, for the entire duration of three months, which will definitely become the unique experience”.
RELATION IN MOVEMENT, 1977
Marina Abramovi?: “We bought a car from the French police. It was this kind of little Citroen bus. We lived in that car, and when we were not performing we would go to the country and spend long times at nature. We even used our car in the performance in 1977 for the Paris Biennale in the front of the museum. It was the piece called Relation In Movement: while Ulay was driving the car in circles, I had the megaphone and shouted out of the window, naming the numbers of the circle we were passing, on and on and on. We wanted to find out who will break first: we or the car. After 16 hours, the motor burned out and created this minimal trace on the marble as a black circle. For us, each circle was a kind of imaginary year”.
The idea of the piece was to turn the artist into an enter to the museum. Marina Abramovi?: “We were invited for the big Performance Festival in the Museum in Bologna then. We decided to rebuild the main entrance of the museum smaller, and stood there completely naked, so the public who have come to the museum to see the performances had to make a choice: to face one or another of us, because the entrance is so narrow they could not go frontally. The performance was intended to last six hours, but only after three hours the police came and they asked our documents, which, of course, we didn't have. That was the end of that piece”.
REST ENERGY, 1980
Almost every performance by Abramovi? has an element of extremism. It is enough to remember Rhythm 0 when Abramovi? gave herself up to an unpredictable public. In Rest Energy, she again placed herself in a vulnerable position, although this time she entrust herself to Ulay. Marina Abramovi? remembers: “Rhythm 0 and Rest Energy were the most difficult pieces in my entire life of performance artist, because in both pieces I was not in charge. In Rest Energy we actually held an arrow on the weight of our bodies, and the arrow is pointed right into my heart. We had two small microphones near our hearts, so we could hear our heartbeats. As our performance was progressing, heartbeats were becoming more and more intense, and though it lasted just four minutes and ten seconds, I’m telling you, for me it was forever. It was a performance about the complete and total trust”.
POINT OF CONTACT, 1980
Marina Abramovi? works not only with her own body, but with energy that she collects and accumulates. The expression of this energy may be shared between participants of a performance. That’s what Marina says about this piece: “Point of Contact is a very static, minimal piece. We were pointing our index fingers towards each other and just a millimeter before we touch, we felt this kind of aura and energy field for a long period of time, pure presence is the most essential thing to really be in, and if you live in this presence and perform with your body and your mind, you really can reach the transformative quality of transcendence and elevate your own spirit and spirit of audience”.
Point of Contact is re-performed throughout the duration of this exhibition by Russian performers who have undergone special training with Marina Abramovi?.
NIGHTSEA CROSSING, 1981 / CONJUNCTION, 1983
In the early 1980s, Abramovi? and Ulay immersed themselves in the study of different cultural traditions. They lived in the Australian outback for a year and travelled to India, Thailand, Japan, China and Brazil, engaging with a wide range of customs and ideas. In Nightsea Crossing (1981-87), which is a series of 22 performances, they demonstrated their growing interest in various forms of spiritualism and mysticism, performing in 19 locations around the world where they sat silent and motionless at either end of a table facing each other.
Conjunction followed Nightsea Crossing and was directly linked to it. For the creation of this work, Abramovi? was inspired not only by her deep interest in Tibetan spiritual practice, but also by the time spent by her and Ulay with Australian Aborigines, immersing themselves fully in their culture. She says: “We chose this culture for many reasons. First, it's nomadic; the second, this culture doesn't have possessions. It's the culture which believes in, accepts the idea of here and now, which is exactly the main thing about performance. And the third thing is that the entire life in this culture is ceremony.
The Conjunction piece was really historically important because it was the first time ever that Aborigine and Tibetan Lama physically ever met. We decided to construct very large table, covered with 24 karat gold leaves, and at that table Ulay and me were sitting in the Western position, and the Tibetan Lama and a high degree medicine man sitting in cross leg position, in Eastern way, on the opposite side. We were sitting there four days at seven hours a day, just sitting in meditative state”.
THE GREAT WALL WALK, 1988
The final performance of Marina and Ulay together was The Great Wall Walk (1988).
When Marina and Ulay lived in Australian desert with the Aborigines, they watched the report of astronauts who said that the only human made constructions that can be seen from moon are the Pyramids and the Great Wall of China. They concluded that the Great Wall of China was built not just as a defense from the Genghis Khan and intruders to China, but it was really more like a metaphysical structure, a replica of the Milky Way on earth.
Ulay as the fire, as the male, started his walk from the desert, and Marina started from the sea as a female. The original plan of the couple was to walk towards each other from either end of the Wall, to meet in the middle and to get married. However, during the eight years which it took for them to acquire official permission from the Chinese government, their personal relationship dissolved. Abramovi? says, ‘Each of us walked two and half thousand kilometers to meet in the middle and depart from each other and continue working as a single artist. It was very dramatic and a very painful ending.’