In Touching Video, Artist Marina Abramović & Former Lover Ulay Reunite After 22 Years Apart

In 2010, Serbian artist Marina Abramović had the honor of being the subject of a popular retrospective at New York’s Museum of Modern Art. Throughout the show, Abramović performed a grueling piece entitled “The Artist Is Present,” sitting in the museum’s atrium and inviting the swelling crowds of viewers to sit directly opposite her, in silent dialogue. Abramović was no stranger to challenging performances. By the time that MoMA staged the retrospective, the then 63-year-old artist had engaged in countless taxing exhibitions, earning her self-given title, “the grandmother of performance art.”

In her first performance at 27, Abramović explored the idea of ritual by playing a knife game on camera, stabbing the surface between her splayed fingers with a knife and occasionally hurting herself; she would then watch a video recording of the violence, and attempt to replicate it. Subsequent performances included her explorations of consciousness through the ingestion of pills for catatonia and depression; another comprised a 1974 incarnation of her MoMA performance, where Abramović  sat passively before a table littered with objects for six hours, inviting the audience to put them to use on her person (of this piece, Abramović says, “What I learned was that… if you leave it up to the audience, they can kill you… I felt really violated: they cut up my clothes, stuck rose thorns in my stomach…”)

In 1976, Abramović  met Ulay, a West German artist who would become her lover and collaborator for the next twelve years. The duo fell into an impersonal abyss, losing their selfhoods and attempting to become a single entity through arresting performances such as Breathing In/Breathing Out, where they locked mouths and breathed each other’s exhaled breath, eventually filling their lungs with carbon monoxide and falling unconscious. By 1988, their romance had run its course; in typically atypical fashion, the pair decided to part by walking from opposing ends of the Great Wall of China until they met in the middle, and then said goodbye.

On the opening night of Abramović’s retrospective in 2010, the erstwhile lovers were reunited. The video above shows Abramović, sitting and steeling herself for her next silent interlocutor. Ulay approaches, and Abramović, a veteran of such difficult performances, looks up to what may have been the single most unexpected sight of the night, jolting her dignified composure. Their reunion is a deeply tender scene.

via Enpundit

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Ilia Blinderman is a Montreal-based culture and science writer. Follow him at @iliablinderman.


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  • Kika says:

    Phenomenal Finding. Thank you.

  • Stefan says:

    Words are just useless luxury between the two of them…

  • JON says:

    I have my reservations about this work. I don’t like the way her dress is designed to cover up the aperatus she has for pissing in, like she’s superhuman and can go for 7 hours without a piss. Or queenlike and simply doesn’t do those kind of things. There’s also the implication that she is telepathic. I read a description with the phrase ‘silent dialouge’ somewhere, which sounds paradoxicle to me. I do like paradoxes but I don’t get the feeling that she was trying to communicate this contradiction, it was a byproduct. I like the idea that we have a third eye/pineal gland, whatever, which provides sixth sence, but there is little or no evidence to support this. Call me cynicle if you want, I probably am…

  • Johno says:

    Beautiful video. One tiny dig at the article: carbon monoxide is produced by combustion. It was more likely carbon dioxide (a major part of our exhalations) that caused their unconsciousness.

  • Johno says:

    Beautiful video. One tiny dig at the article: carbon monoxide is produced by combustion. It was more likely carbon dioxide (a major part of our exhalations) that caused their unconsciousness.

  • Johno says:

    Beautiful video. One tiny dig at the article: carbon monoxide is produced by combustion. It was more likely carbon dioxide (a major part of our exhalations) that caused their unconsciousness.

  • Mili Sefic says:

    If needing to mention Marina’s geographic/historical/artistic background, calling her Serbian is not correct. Yes, today it’s Serbia, but back when she was inspired by and was active in the region. it was Yugoslavia. A completely different place, time and system and has nothing to do with Serbia today. Also, she now lives in New York and last time i checked, NY is in the USA.nnnYou claim to be a science and culture write, however you contemplative and investigative skills are at a shameful lever. nnThen again, the arts/culture world is full of you.nnnThis video is 3 years old and you write about it now? Has nothing happened recently worth writing about?nAnd since when does a pathetically tearful meeting of an ex fling have artistic/cultural value worth me reading about it? nnnnThank you for making soccer games seem more artistic than art.

  • Yossarian says:

    TO Mili Sefic

    Marina was born and educated in Belgrade, capital of Yugoslavia back then, and the capital of Serbia today. As I can see from your family name, you come from Bosnia, to which Marina never had any connections… Sorry. It is Serbia, still.

  • Ray says:

    Despite the cynical comments about this meeting, I found it to be very touching and moving. For whatever reasons, they went there separate ways – how lovely to meet someone you once loved/lived with, to make that connection albeit briefly, almost like a soulful hello.

    I have lost contact with many loved ones over the years, it would be wonderful to have an opportunity to just sit with them a while and meet on a heartfelt level, either to say hello again or sorry for what I may of done that caused them pain.

    As years slip by we have time to reflect on what once was and what is left now, on our behaviour and the lessons life has taught us, it is called maturity!

    Sometimes in life we have to trust that everything happens for the right reason, that it is all meant to be, these beliefs do not stop us having regrets though!

    If you have ever truly loved you will know that time is not the preverbial great healer we are taught it to be –
    ‘I used to think time would make it all better -But I have learned better as time passed away’

    In life it is easier to criticise, condemn and blame others for things that are wrong or that do not fit into our own belief systems, I try really hard to let go of negativity, being judgemental or wanting to wound others with my words or actions.

    So if anyone reads this – I will say thank you –

    ‘Namaste’ – Be Lucky.

  • Beverley McMullan-Kungl says:

    I just viewed this video on facebook within the last week…the difference between the two is the one I watched had an incredibly beautiful song Ulay Oh playing with the video. Every time I watch it I’m brought to tears! If you wish to see the video I first saw here’s the link… http://themindunleashed.org/2015/05/she-sat-with-many-strangers-that-day-but-when-this-man-shows-up-i-got-goosebumps.html

  • Dana Raftopoulos says:

    Does anyone know what were the words he said to her when their hands touched?

  • Neli says:

    It sounds something like “I’ve waited my whole life for this”..

  • Elizabeth says:

    Ray~

    My friend posted this on her wall and albeit beautiful.. supposedly the back story is…”when they had this grand idea to to walk the Great Wall of China on opposite ends and meet in the middle… It was a loooong-ass feat! By the time they met up with each other he had impregnated his Chinese guide! That is why they broke up!” Kind of makes you understand his expressions and hers.

  • Zaida says:

    A friend posted this on Facebook so I am just now finding this video. It brought me to tears and was very touching. I was interested in knowing more and came across this article. Reading a few comments, it made me sad to see so many negative/ugly comments! Thank you for your comment. It was exactly what I needed to read and more. Words cannot express how perfectly your words resonated with me. Thank YOU!

  • Zaida says:

    That last post was in reply to Ray’s comment.

  • Terrance says:

    I not sure what he said as it was not fully clear.. so if I was to assume some of the sounds.. I will take he said…
    I loved you my whole life.

    Respectfully he keep her wish to part which is what he did.
    It was when she reach out to him that he told her this.

    Love is never lost.. we keep what we had at the time.. It takes a greater love only to replace it.

    God bless.

  • Vialli says:

    Great and touching.

    Great production, great soundtrack by How I Became the Bomb, and really sensible comments by Ray.

    Thank YOU!

  • rachel says:

    i love ur message very powerful.

  • ramona says:

    did they see or spoke to each other again after this magical encounter?

  • Karen says:

    I read in an article that she said “they met and talked the morning of the opening” so it wasn’t the first time she had seen him.

  • Kyle Roberts says:

    There may be no pissing aperatus or the interview could be false

    What sort of preparation did you go through for this performance?
    To do this piece I had to go through really strict training and it took me a long time. Six months before, I became vegetarian. I eat at certain times because of digestion. I never went to the bathroom, and Jerry Saltz (art critic for New York Magazine) made all this effort to find out how I pee. After the second day of the performance, [I realized] it will never happen. I take the last pee at 8 in the morning. In the evening when I sleep, this was really difficult to train. I have to take water every 45 minutes and sleep, and 45 minutes and sleep, because not to dehydrate during the night. But then during the day I didn’t [have to pee]. And then I had this very strict diet with very light food and only eating in the morning very certain things and in the evening. I didn’t engage in any social events. I didn’t talk to my friends, except the curator and the doctor and [a few other] people. I had problems with my eyes. I went to the eye doctor because it was a real problem and I explained to him what I was doing and he said, “Yes, but why are you doing this?” So he could not help.

    http://www.moma.org/explore/inside_out/2010/06/03/marina-abramovic-the-artist-speaks

  • Terrance says:

    Yes they talked the morning of the opening which was the next day.. He showed up opening night and that is when the meet the first time in all that time. The morning opening was the next day, after the opening night. So does that make sense.

  • Medeline says:

    Beautifully touching video, I wil apologize for everyone who missed the point here and resorted to fault finding smdh.. yes I am judging you commenters really???

  • Karen says:

    Yes really. Sure it’s a sweet moment but they are writing this like these two haven’t seen each other in 30 years. If you read her interview after this happened she says they had talked “that morning” before the Opening. It was 22 years since they had broken up, and during those 22 years they had kept in touch and worked on a few projects. They make it sound like after 30 years of no contact she was surprised during the Opening by his appearance and that’s not what happened. Yes, it’s a lovely moment between two past lovers but when put in the correct context it’s not as “magical” in my opinion, and yes, I’m allowed to have one.

  • Anna says:

    I frequently go 7 plus hours without peeing. Wake up, pee before I leave the house and return 7, 8, 9, sometimes even 10 hours later without using the bathroom.

  • Karin says:

    The following is from Maria in an interview. I wonder if things improved at all in the months before Marina sat across from Ulay at the opening.

    Marina
    When we split, Ulay literally packed all the material and took it away so I didn’t have access to any of it for 12 years. And I went crazy. For seven years we didn’t talk. Then we got a lawyer. Ulay wanted to sell his things because he was not interested in our collaboration anymore because he wanted to just have money because he had a new wife… Whatever. So, we get this contract with the lawyer, and I had to find lots of money. I found a collector who loaned me the money without interest, but I had to give work in exchange and pay over seven years. I was paying every month to get this…

    Jesse: This chunk of your past back, yeah.
    Right. So he wanted to have cash money, and he got cash money. But the contract was really tough for me because everything, our work together, he always gets 20 percent from every sale. And I can’t sell without a gallery. So if we have 100 percent, the gallery would get 50 percent, I’d get 50 percent. From this 50 percent, he’d get 20. I’d get 30.

    But you were able to buy all the rights back from him?
    For only 10 percent more, I could have control. I have control for 10 percent of that cost. And I didn’t sell one thing because I wanted time to go by. I only started selling now because the price is right. I’d been making my own work, work, work, work till just recently. And now I just sold the first work six or seven months ago, from our file. So I have all control of everything and if it’s sold, he gets 20 percent.

    So we’re talking about stuff that he got, and then you got it back.
    Yes, yes. I bought it 20, 15 years ago. It was a nightmare, and now it’s very clear. I have lots of problems with him because just right now, you know what he’s doing? He’s taking photographs of the work he doesn’t have rights to and putting his name on it. But in any book, you can see historically, I always mention two names because it is a historical fact. I’m so tired of this because I really think it’s not fair. This is why I’m taking care of the work. I, historically, have to be. He’s presented that this whole era is about Ulay.

    [At this point, Richard leaves to get his cameras set up while Marina and Jesse continue to talk.]

    Jesse: You talk about energy fields a lot.
    It’s all about emotions. Now so many works of art are illustrations of theory. You need to know a lot of theory to understand what work means. But sometimes a work of art doesn’t need any theory because you’re emotionally moved. And later on you want to know more about it and you might start reading and looking into theory. But I think that this work is really to do with emotions. With The Artist Is Present, even people who didn’t know about performance, who just came to the museum on a weekend trip with their children, they all had something—there was an emotional impact. So the energy worked on an emotional level. I can’t explain the energy itself, but I can explain that it had certain emotions in different ways—you know, crying, loving, being there, thinking about themselves in a way they never did before.

    So energy to you is sort of like life force.
    But then you can talk about how, in doing the same activity, repetition has huge power. To repeat the same thing creates this kind of zone in this square with the four lights. So that kind of zone, when you enter, the energy is different there. That’s why people came in for five minutes and 40 minutes later didn’t believe that they’d been in there for 40 minutes. That space was charged with that kind of energy by repetition.

    It’s interesting that for a lot of people, and maybe people especially in New York City, you have to set aside a separate zone to stop and experience what we’re talking about in terms of energy.
    They would never do it themselves.

    It was like a venue that was given to experience these kinds of things.
    And it’s amazing how it worked. I didn’t have any idea that it would work like it did. I had no idea people would wait in line.

    The line often ran around the block, like at a rock concert.
    It’s just amazing. It’s like first of all you enter the zone, and you have a very strong awareness that you’re being observed by the square of people waiting, you’re being observed by me, and then you’re in this light. I’m just like a trigger for themselves. I’m like a mirror to them. After a while they don’t look at me anymore, their eyes look inward into their selves. That gives them that incredibly precious time that they never had because they’re running around with their BlackBerrys. This was kind of a luxury that they indulged in once that would change everything. The whole piece is about being in the present. Being in the moment, not reflecting on the past.

    And that’s something you’ve thought a lot about in your work, right? The present.
    That’s why I removed the table that was there in the beginning of this piece. The table wasn’t necessary. At the end of one day early on, a man came in a wheelchair. I didn’t even know if this man had legs or not because the table was obstructing the view. I said, “What kind of formality do I need?” Because The Artist Is Present was an extension of an older piece, Nightsea Crossing, which had a table, I thought I needed a table again. But then I thought, “I don’t need a table. I don’t need anything.”

    I’m thinking of a very early piece of yours—the metronomes spread throughout four or five rooms. That’s a piece that was very much about being aware of time. Where do you think your interest in the passing of time and the present come from?
    I can’t remember. There was always this idea of how life is fleeting. I think it had very much to do with meeting the Buddhist way of thinking. I started reading and reflecting on the temporality of everything and how material things aren’t of any kind of importance. The glass, just throw it on the floor and destroy it. We touch things that aren’t important, but then the only thing we really grasp is the present. It’s the only thing that’s real. The future hasn’t happened and the past already happened. So to extend that present, how to extend it and also to involve people, to me it’s become very important. And I’ve always believed that art in the 21st century would be art without objects. When I removed the table it was, like, so clear.

    What you said a minute ago, about people who don’t know much art theory coming upon your work at MoMA—that’s great. Any chance to welcome people from outside the art-world circle jerk into the actual experience of looking at art should be taken.
    It’s also really important now to know how to leave a legacy and how to teach. One thing we always forgot to teach to the public was how to perceive this type of art. Until now, the idea of the museum has been very 19th century. Don’t touch, just look.

    It’s like a zoo for art.
    And I see the enormous need the public has to experience things and to change that. And that’s why the people started waiting. They wanted to be there on that chair, to experience something the museum doesn’t give them. Another very important thing is that the public is always perceived as a group, never as an individual. And by taking that individual and putting him in front of me in the chair, it becomes a one-to-one experience.

    It’s interesting to hear that coming from a former communist. Groupthink was very important to the communist ethos, at least as practiced in Eastern Europe before the various collapses.
    Totally. [laughs] But I was always the black sheep in the group. I want to make some work next, but I have to wait until some fairs because I want to use a black sheep. I need a black sheep.

    A literal black sheep.
    Yeah, yeah. I want a little black sheep.

    This zoo analogy, where the art is trapped like a sad animal—
    Especially at art fairs.

    Especially at art fairs. And you mentioned theory too. Do you find an exclusivity to the art world? The academic nature of the way people inside it talk to each other, along with the insane amounts of money that travel back and forth in it, lead to not a lot of entry points for the average citizen.
    Art is so complex now, what’s happening. First of all, the museums become like modern temples. People don’t go to church, people go to the museum because there is art that can elevate your spirit in certain ways, without necessarily being religious. So that’s one thing. Then art becomes a commodity. So art becomes a way of investment. People buy art without caring about what the art represents. It’s just a way of making money. So then art loses its purpose in many ways. This exhibition by Damien Hirst, “End of an Era,” was very important for me. It opened just before my show did. I was always thinking that yes, this is the end of an era and the beginning of a new one. The whole thing with his diamond-skull piece, it’s such a metaphor and such an incredibly ironic piece to really reflect what society has become.

    The extreme price is actually an important part of the piece.
    I think that we need somebody like Jeff Koons or like Damien Hirst. Every society needs that to reflect our own vanity and what art has become. So the thing with the economic crisis right now, it’s very good for art. It’s actually excellent. The worse the economic crisis, the better it is. Every time when performers have disappeared and then reappeared again, it’s always when an economic crisis has happened. [laughs] It’s really phenomenal, but at the same time, performance art has the biggest possibility for transformation because it’s dealing with the public and the public experience. The public needs to be educated on how to perceive this new form of art. I started to do this thing called public drill, like a military drill, last summer.

    Drill like in boot camp?
    Yeah, I made this big piece in Manchester called “Abramović’s Choice,” which is 14 international young artists who performed for 17 days.

    Right. It’s also been referred to as “Marina Abramović Presents…”
    Each day, only 250 people can come to the museum. The museum had been emptied—for the first time in history we asked the museum to be empty of collections. It took six months to empty it just for the performance. Then the public come in, and they have to give their word of honor that they would not leave the space for four hours. They had to dress in white coats. Once they have white coats on, they can go into the space. Then I spend one hour with them. For 17 days, each day, 250 new people. And in this one hour I tried to slow them down. I tried to get them to forget about time. I tried to give them exercises in breathing, lying on the floor, everything. And then after that they’re allowed to see the other three hours of 14 other performances that were happening parallel to this, all simultaneously. Then they take their white coats off, get a certificate of accomplishment, and they go out. I think that what I wanted to create was a school for the public to perceive a new form of art—to learn how to do something when nothing’s happening.

    Do you think that kind of stuff needs to happen outside of institutions like MoMA? Sort of in more populist places?
    I made this historical jump to finally becoming mainstream art at the MoMA in this exhibition. It was never mainstream art, just as video and photography weren’t mainstream art and then became it. But I propose that institutions do these kinds of workshops, and my institution would deal with that—to educate the public how to perceive when nothing happened.

    Is this the thing that you’re doing in Hudson, New York?
    Yes, you have to pass through Hudson to see the building. It’s on the way back to the city. It’s this huge building with columns.

    I think I know the building you’re talking about. When does it start and what will happen there?
    2012. By 2012 I have to raise enough money to restore it and make it very simple. I want to start with video, music, theater, dance, performance, and cinema, but only commissioned works of art by young artists and known artists who’ve never done performance pieces but would consider doing it, with a minimum of six hours. Everything has to be a long duration. This is an institution for long-durational work. I actually wanted to create these chairs with reversible beds, so you can last ten hours. If you want to you can sleep, there’s a blanket. In this arm there’s a cold drink, and in this one a hot meal. So you never leave.

    Like a prefabricated life.
    You’re in the piece all the time, even if you sleep. That’s what I wanted to do. This is a very important area because there is Bard College, MASS MoCA, and the Dia Beacon. And also Columbia would like to collaborate. We have so much interest already, so this is the right moment to develop this.

    I was really excited when I was reading the catalog from the MoMA show and I saw that you’d selected a text by Alexandra David-Néel. I love her. I think she was amazing.
    Me too, her and Madame Blavatsky are my favorites. I like Blavatksy going to the candles looking for the truth.

    So good. And the photos of Alexandra David-Néel in her Tibetan-explorer gear. How did you discover her?
    I was very interested in the beginning, before Tibetan Buddhism, in philosophy. So I was reading a lot about Madame Blavatsky’s automatic writings. She was Russian, living in London, and she was a friend of David-Néel’s.

    Did you identify with her? Did you take inspiration from her?
    Yeah, I did. I really did. I’m not taking inspiration from other artists because other artists take inspiration from something else, so it’s like taking secondhand. I’m not interested in secondhand.

    Sloppy seconds.
    Traveling and nature for me are huge inspirations. Anything to do with, as I call them, spaces of power: waterfalls, earthquakes, or volcanoes, some kind of incredible, tremendous energy. Arizona, with the cactus, it’s just a mystic place.

    There’s a lot of power there.
    Incredible. You have to be at that power place and you just start being and you have your own experience. I love this thing that, like, in rocks, there is a certain memory in rocks. So you go to the landscape and you have the same vision. And another person goes to the landscape and has the same vision because the actual idea is in it.

    It’s embedded in the rock.
    I lived for one year with the Aborigines in the Australian desert. And there I saw lots of things, I mean I experienced the most amazing things. They have an extra sense of perception. They can walk on ectoplasm without touching the ground. I’ve been with the tribes. One entire year is a long time. That changed my life. That changed my life completely. The Aborigine is the person who is born with this ability already. We practice the technique to get there, but the Aborigine doesn’t need it. They don’t need to do anything.

    And what about us?
    Oh, we are totally desperate. We are invalids because technology cut us off from that kind of perception.

    We made technology into a crutch.
    They say of us, “Oh poor white man, doesn’t have his own dream.” Because they have their own dream, they are connected to nature. Everything is connected to everything. By the urban way of life, by covering the floors with concrete and parquet, we don’t know where the genetic lines are anymore. We can’t tap the energy from the planet.

    It seems like through your work you can tap into some of it, though.
    My work changes me because it has such high aims, almost unreachable, and I go through them, and then that changes me. But if I’m just in my own life I always use the easy way, like everybody else. You never get anywhere with that.

    Is the danger and pain in your work a means to amplify the present?
    No, it’s more to understand the physical limits of the body. I was very interested to see what the physical limits were. In the early stages of these performances, I went to see operations in hospitals. The brain, the hip— I’d be in there for three or four hours. They use saws, they use wires, they use everything, testing the physical limits. And later on in life through these performances I got very interested in mental limits, which I think is so much more difficult. Everyone’s like, “Oh, she’s not doing such difficult pieces.” But it’s not true. The other ones were short, I could do a piece in whatever—one hour, two hours—and then have six months to rest.

    Yeah, and physical pain is sort of tangible. Psychic pain is kind of abstract and harder to confront, right?
    Yeah, totally. Because it’s like you’re dealing with a kind of material you don’t really know, you know?

    You’ve said that around 1989, you felt the need for change, for laughter, pleasure, and glamour.
    Yes, yes. Did you see my new Riccardo Tisci?

    Oh, you mean for the celebration? The closing reception for the MoMA show? Yeah. You looked very glamorous.
    God. He made haute couture for me. I looked the best ever.

    How do you feel in stuff like that?
    I love it. You know, most artists want to present themselves in one certain way to the public. It is like they are shy. After this Great Wall piece that I did with Ulay—

    Just for those who don’t know, this was your final piece with Ulay. You each started at one end of the Great Wall and then walked until you met each other.
    Right. I understood that I was always presented, probably, as very skeptical and tough. I was just so fed up with this because I had the other side too. I love bad jokes. I’ll tell you the dirtiest jokes ever. I love eating, endlessly, chocolates. I love glamour.

    You do come off as very much an ascetic in your work.
    It’s all rolled together. And I think that people can relate to me much more because of this human thing. Because everybody has this contradiction in themselves. But they are ashamed to show it.

    I’ve often thought that artists who like to be seen as working class just feel defensive about having art as a career. Let’s talk a little about The Artist Is Present. How did you feel at the moment it ended?
    Did you see the ending?

    Yes.
    It was insane.

    The ovation lasted for like 15 minutes.
    Sixteen, they told me. And they only stopped because they were laughing. Then my ex-husband appeared there and he kissed me. And I was like [gasps]. He left me two years ago, and now I’m still in love with him. It was so emotional for me, this ending.

    When somebody would start to cry while sitting with you, what would be going on inside your head?
    Sometimes I cry with them because you develop this unconditional love, which is a really incredible feeling to have for a total stranger—with people you never saw before. I saw this huge man. He was like, this biker or something. He sits on the chair, very angry. Ten minutes later, he was weeping. But we’re not talking crying. It was like, tears running down his face. He was so incredible. I had to cry. I mean, just right away there was this reaction. I cry a lot, by the way, because there’s so much pain and loneliness in New York. It’s just unbelievable.

    There’s a lot of inner turmoil going on in New York, yeah.
    And people are not used to looking in each other’s eyes. It’s amazing how simple this concept was.

    Looking strangers directly in the eyes is usually seen as some kind of a challenge. It’s like the animal kingdom, like dogs locking eyes with each other.
    When I was traveling in the Muslim countries, in Arab countries, I taught myself to avoid men’s eyes. Because if he looks at you nice, he owns you. The moment you catch his eyes there’s the idea of ownership, which is unbelievable.

    There’s also this idea of a staring contest.
    It’s only the beginning that’s like a staring contest. After a while, you’re sitting there and thought processes start, and soon, you don’t even look into my eyes anymore. You’re actually… you can look inside yourself. It’s just another thing. I create the stage and certain rules. And then everything else that happens is up to you. It triggers all these emotions, and emotions are overwhelming. You know, during the last week of the show, people would wait for hours. The museum closed at 5:30, and the ones who stayed all day but didn’t get in would just go down to the corner and wait from 5:30 till the next day, which is insane.

    That’s incredible.
    Actually, waiting is a part of the process too.

    Right, that’s what I got the day that I was there. A woman was sitting with you. She was dressed in these clothes that were just like yours, but they were black instead of white. She had her hair done like yours too. I thought it was kind of goofy. And then she stayed there for hours. I thought, “I’d be angry if I were waiting behind her.” But then I realized that, of course, that’s part of it.
    And at some point you give up. Just totally give up. And then something else takes place, so it doesn’t matter if you’re there or not. I changed on so many levels because of this show. I really am different. So many things don’t bother me anymore. Nothing can raise my anger. It’s amazing.

    Do you think that will fade?
    I hope not.

    Do you remember the woman I was just talking about?
    Oh yeah. She had the same robe as me but in black, and I was in white. So it created a strange image, like the Bergman movie The Seventh Seal.

    Max von Sydow playing chess with Death, yeah.
    Yeah, he’s playing chess with his death. And I had this impression. And then I was reflecting on Mozart. Close to the end of his life, he was very sick with fever and he had no money at all. And this strange man appeared, all dressed in black and gave him this envelope with lots of money in it and said, “My master sent me with an order for you to write a requiem.” So he’s writing this requiem, and he’s wondering why this master never appeared or asked about the progress of the work, and he still has a fever the whole time. And at the end, you know, he didn’t finish the requiem. But he started hallucinating that this requiem was actually for his own death, and that the person who ordered it was Death himself. So I started thinking about that while I was sitting there. Maybe my own death has come to visit me. But I think very often about that. In American culture, you’re so scared of dying. And everything about dying is removed. You have to be ever young, and you can’t age, and all the rest. But to me, death has to be part of everyday life because only when you understand that it can happen any minute can you enjoy life.

    That’s something I was going to ask you about. I wondered if issues of mortality had anything to do with you thinking about time so much in your work.
    Oh, so much work is about that. I was always thinking how every artist, in his own work, you could see the way that he’s going to die. It’s so strange.

    How do you mean?
    So many artists die on the toilet. But they dress them up and say they died in the studio. It’s amazing. I even studied it—how many artists died on the toilet.

    Give me some names.
    Oh, there are tons of names. I have it written down somewhere. But we’ll just leave it that way. Let’s not diminish the importance of the artist.

    People will need to do their own research.
    If I think about my own death, the most important thing to me is to die consciously. Consciously happy and without regret and without anger. It’s incredibly important. The Sufis say that “life is a dream and death is waking up,” so I really want to wake up nicely. But you know, one of my grandmothers lived to 103. Her mother lived to 116.

    You’ve got a ways to go.
    I’m 64 in November! That is a serious age. But I don’t feel it at all.

    ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN VICE MAGAZINE IN 2010

  • Karin says:

    Why I didn’t mean to post the entire interview, only the part pertaining to Ulay and Marina after the Great Wall. Regardless if they did or didn’t have much contact Ulay showing up to having a sitting with Marina, my heart just breaks watching them meet. It reminds me of how people in love, at always at great risk of hurting each other. The expression “You hurt the ones you love.” rings true. Their intensity when they came together as artist and lovers burned them up like a shooting star. Like being on a carnival ride where you are spinning fast with your body pressed against a huge drum wall, suddenly the floor just falls away. How could it have not felt like that, these two people sitting across from one another? I was overcome with emotions watching the video – The Bomb. The sense must have been flooded., and I do believe the words he probably spoke when she reached our her hands to him were ones of : I always loved you, and I’m sorry for the pain I caused you. , and you are as beautiful today as you were then. This is, what I want to believe.

  • Aleksandr says:

    From an individual who can neither spell nor produce a cohesive argument the obvious emotional value of this piece is lost. Yes drunken brute sports such as soccer are better for you than this type of art.

  • MJ says:

    I loved the way they met, however I watched a documentary on them and while watching I noticed something a little off. When Marina was mentally and physically preparing herself for her big exhibition at the MoMa, she and Ulay saw each other during this time. She had dinner with him and they exchanged ideas and thoughts about her performance. In conclusion, as saddening as it may be, I think the “meeting for the first time” was just for show. They had seen each other prior to the performance that Marina was in.

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