Ulay, on His Personal Phrases
AMSTERDAM — Many know Ulay as the person who walked into Marina Abramovic’s efficiency “The Artist is Current” on the Museum of Fashionable Artwork a decade in the past, and introduced her to tears. That two-minute encounter between the previous collaborators and lovers throughout her three-month sit-in on the New York museum has been seen greater than 18 million occasions on YouTube.
Ulay, who met Ms. Abramovic in 1974, was her most necessary collaborator, and the 2 labored and lived collectively for a dozen years. Or, as she put it in an interview, “He was the large love story in my life.”
However Ulay, who was a conceptual photographer and a efficiency artist earlier than and after his work with Ms. Abramovic, had a robust oeuvre of his personal, as a sprawling retrospective on the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam attests.
A current coronavirus lockdown within the Netherlands has pressured the museum to shut till a minimum of Jan. 20, however the present, “Ulay Was Right here,” is scheduled to run by way of April 18, and might be prolonged, a spokeswoman for the Stedelijk stated.
The exhibition was organized in session with Ulay as he was dying from lymphatic most cancers final yr and within the first months of 2020, his widow, Lena Pislak, stated in a phone interview from their house in Ljubljana, Slovenia. “Until the final, we had been working,” she stated. “He was actually having fun with the method.”
Ulay died in March, at age 76, and Ms. Pislak stated that she and Hana Ostan Ozbolt, the director of the Ulay Basis, labored with the Stedelijk to complete the present. “It was therapeutic course of for us,” Ms. Pislak stated. “He would have been so proud.”
The story of Ms. Abramovic and Ulay is a uncommon case in artwork historical past through which a feminine artist vastly eclipses her male counterpart. In the present day, Ms. Abramovic is world well-known, whereas Ulay is little recognized. That leaves many with the impression that Ulay was solely a subsidiary determine in her world.
“That’s an image we wished to right,” stated Hripsime Visser, a images curator on the Stedelijk, who oversaw the exhibition of about 200 artworks. “That interval of 12 years was actually a collaboration between the 2 of them, however all of the themes that had been developed with Marina had been themes he was already working with earlier than he knew her.”
Born Frank Uwe Laysiepen in Germany throughout World Conflict II, Ulay struggled along with his id as a German, and a person. He moved to Amsterdam in 1969, to discover a extra countercultural, experimental environment, the place he might stroll the streets in half-drag — female on one facet, masculine on the opposite — and create gender-bending self-portraits.
“There have been completely different scenes right here that he couldn’t discover in provincial Germany, the place he grew up,” stated Rein Wolfs, the Stedelijk’s director. “He discovered the queer scene, the trans scene, scenes asking id questions on ‘Who am I?’ That is what you see very a lot mirrored in his early work.”
His major medium was images, and his instrument was a Polaroid digital camera, Ms. Visser defined. He explored concepts utilizing the moment digital camera, making composites of Polaroid photographs out of female and male physique elements to create hermaphroditic characters.
He discovered a house base for his experimental work at De Appel, a up to date artwork middle in Amsterdam, turning into “one of many driving forces when it got here to selling efficiency artwork and time-based media,” Mr. Wolfs stated.
It was by way of De Appel that Ulay met Marina Abramovic on Nov. 30, 1974, which occurred to be their shared birthday. He picked her up on the airport to drive her to the gallery, the place she offered a efficiency through which, bare, she lower the form of a star into her abdomen.
They instantly acknowledged one another as kindred spirits, Ms. Abramovic stated.
“He finds his feminine facet in her, so he now not must query his personal feminine facet,” Ms. Visser defined.
Their work collectively was usually centered on the interdependency and rigidity of intimate relationships. Ms. Abramovic stated that the piece that greatest represented their romance and collaboration was “Relaxation Power,” from 1980. In that piece, Ulay holds a bow and arrow aimed toward Ms. Abramovic’s coronary heart; microphones pasted to each their chests permit the viewers to listen to their more and more fast heartbeats.
“This piece is the shortest piece we ever did, 4 minutes and 20 seconds,” she stated. “It appeared like a lifetime. It is a very symbolic work for us, based mostly on whole belief. What’s necessary on this piece is the stress. You’ll be able to solely do that work with whole love and belief.”
Ms. Abramovic described their interval of working collectively as “9 years of unimaginable love and happiness, and three years that had been very troublesome.” They completed it, of their signature performative means, with a three-month efficiency artwork work on the Nice Wall of China, strolling towards one another from reverse ends of the 13,000-mile construction. After they met within the center, they broke up.
“Ulay Was Right here,” features a scenic 15-minute excerpt from the tip of the hour lengthy video they made to doc the journey, “The Lovers: The Nice Wall Stroll,” closing the three-room part dedicated to their collaboration. The subsequent room begins with works from two years later, when Ulay returned to creating solo work after a profession pause.
Within the early Nineteen Nineties, Ulay returned to photographic work, to provide what he referred to as “photograms.” For these, he would flip a gallery area right into a form of darkish room, place a chunk of photosensitive paper on the ground, ask topics to lie on the paper, after which briefly flood the room with gentle.
His 2012 “Candy Water Salt Water” is a sequence of Polaroids of personal bodily fluids, like tears and sweat, in consuming glasses. He collected them whereas he was present process therapy for lymphatic most cancers, which he discovered he had in 2011.
Ulay briefly recovered from most cancers, Ms. Pislak stated, and continued to work for a yr, however then had a relapse. His ultimate piece, “Performing Mild,” offered on the Richard Saltoun gallery in London in 2019, is represented by a black-and-white “photogram” of his personal frail physique that ends the present.
Ms. Visser stated that earlier retrospectives of Ulay’s work have targeted both on the collaborative interval with Ms. Abramovic or solely on Ulay’s solo work. “I attempted to point out the entire image; to provide the interval with Marina the eye it deserves — which is so necessary for artwork historical past and efficiency,” Ms. Visser stated. “However I hope that by displaying all the opposite works we are able to present a extra complicated, even image of who Ulay was.”
Though Ms. Abramovic and Ulay struggled through the years, together with in a lawsuit over rights and royalties from their collaborative work, they had been on good phrases by the tip, Ms. Abramovic stated. The final time they spoke, she added, was on their shared birthday, Nov. 30, a number of months earlier than he died.
He was a “very sincere, very complicated, fantastic man,” she stated. “You want a lifetime to know him — you want multiple lifetime to know him. I attempted my greatest.”