Marina Abromovic 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.
This video has such a powerful life lesson it wants to communicate to the viewers. After watching it, i started to think what if we had one chance to meet again with that one person who is no longer in our life. It could be anybody from a family member, an old acquaintance or a close friend. What would would we do if we we’d come face to face with them again. Would we say the things we left unspoken? Surrender to forgiveness? Or say I love you for the one last time? Whatever it is, i think this video teaches us to be thankful for the people who are around us.
Ulay and Marina first met in Amsterdam in 1975 when the gallery director sent Ulay to the airport to pick up Marina. In one of the documentaries about Marina, Ulay mentioned that the first time they met, there was an immediate fascination, like he have found a lost sister or brother.
They fell in love and created art together for 12 years. Most of the art they produced had a connection with their relationship.
Eventually, the two decided they couldn’t be together anymore. In one of the documentaries, Ulay mentioned that the two of them were sleeping with others outside of their relationship. To commemorate their separation, they planned for a final work called “The Lovers” where they would walk toward each other from the opposite end of the Great Wall of China and meet in the middle to say their final goodbyes. This final act would end their relationship and come to an agreement to never meet again afterwards. They got the permit from Chinese Authorities to perform this event after 8 years. By that time, they were already separated.
Notable lines from Documentaries and interviews:
Marina: I fell in love with a German artist who lived in Amsterdam. I had been invited to appear on a television program called Body Art there. I was the only one from Eastern Europe who was asked, and just to be there in Amsterdam on my birthday… my grandmother said, “Whatever comes on your birthday is important.”
So I went there, and on my birthday, I met Ulay.
Ulay, when I met him, had half of his face like a woman—complete with makeup and the hair wavy—and the other with short hair and a beard. He was doing all this research into transsexual things about man, woman, transvestites. Very complicated.
When he met me, the woman half of him disappeared.
It was incredible. It was this enormous attraction at first. We went to sleep, and for like ten days we didn’t leave the room. And we were both born on the same day, and we met on our birthday. There were many strange things that happened.
UPDATE: The event at MoMa wasn’t really the first time they met after 22 years. It was confirmed that Ulay visited Marina at her house the morning before the event. But, she wasn’t expecting him to come sit with her. You could still see how Marina is surprised and affected by the way she conveyed her emotions.