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Marina Abramović and Ulay Meet: The Artist is Present with Video

Updated on April 5, 2015
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Amanda is a retired educator with many years of experience teaching children of all ages and abilities in a wide range of contexts.

Marina Abramović

Performance Artist Marina Abramović.
Performance Artist Marina Abramović. | Source

...for we never stop loving silently those whom once we loved out loud

Marina Abramović and Ulay

Marina Abramović and Ulay began a working realtionship and a love affair of extraordinary intensity towards the end of the 1970s. For the next decade, they lived and worked together, performing theatre/art from the tour van they called home.

Eventually, they felt that they needed to part and go their separate ways. They decided to leave each other just as they had met and lived: as artists, collaborating and working together. So they agreed to walk along the Great Wall of China, each starting from one end and then meeting in the middle. Then they would embrace one last time and part, never to see one another again.

In 2010 Marina Abramović had a retrospective exhibition in which she performed ‘The Artist Is Present.' In this performance she sat for seven hours every day for three months in the gallery in which her other work was being exhibited. During that time she neither spoke, nor ate nor drank. She shared one minute of silence with each visitor that came to sit in front of her.

A quarter of a century after they had parted, they thought forever, Ulay arrived without her knowing. The performance was being filmed for a documentary about her work. This is what the video below...

Marina and Ulay Meet

The Artist is Present

An aerial photograph of a moment from Marina Abramović's performance piece, The Artist is Present.
An aerial photograph of a moment from Marina Abramović's performance piece, The Artist is Present. | Source

Marina Abramović

Marina Abramović was born in Belgrade in Serbia on November 30, 1946.

Now based in New York, she is a controversial performance artist. After graduating from The Academy of Fine Arts in Zagreb in 1972, she taught for several years before beginning her career as a solo artist.

She has recently been described as 'the grandmother of performance art.' Performance art remains controversial and many question whether or not the sorts of things that performance artists do is 'really art.' Nevertheless, the artist Marina Abramović has established a huge following and been very influential in the arts scene of the 20th and 21st century.

Her work often is more theatrical than anything else and frequently involves some kind of direct engagement with the audience so that the boundaries between the artist, the art work and the audience become blurred.

Sitting with Marina Abramović

Many who sat and shared a minute's silence with artist Marina Abramović during The Artist is Present, were moved to tears.
Many who sat and shared a minute's silence with artist Marina Abramović during The Artist is Present, were moved to tears. | Source

Awards won by Ulay as an independent artist

The Lucano Video Award
The Polaroid Video Award
Video Award – Kulturkreis im Verband der Deutschen Industrie
The San Sebastian Award


Ulay is the stage name name of the German performance artist, Frank Uwe Laysiepen who was born in the town of Soligen in 1943.

He became one of the most influential and admired performance artists during his heyday in the 1960s through the 1970s.

As an artist, he was always a keen collaborator, often travelling across the globe to fulfil the ambition to work with a particular artist whom he admired or with whom he felt a useful artistic relationship could develop.

However, it was not until the late 1970s that he would meet the expatriate Serbian artist Marina Abramović while both of them were working in Holland.

For the next ten years they lived and worked with each other intensively, undergoing a profound personal, artistic and spiritual journey together. It is commonly thought that Ulay's best work was the fruit of this exceptional and concentrated collaboration..

In the period after his 1,500 mile walk along The Great Wall of China to meet Marina and say goodbye, he taught art and photography for many years before going back to an active artistic life, primarily as a photographer.

His current work deals with issues surrounding water, embracing both biological, political, economic and environmental perspectives.

The Artist is Present


Review of The Artist is Present

"Seductive, fearless, and outrageous, Marina Abramović has been redefining art for nearly forty years. Using her body as a vehicle, she creates performances that challenge, shock, and move us. Marina Abramović The Artist Is Present is a mesmerizing journey into the world of radical performance, and an intimate portrait of an astonishing magnetic, endlessly intriguing woman who draws no distinction between life and art."

Editorial review of the DVD release.

Marina Abramović Documentary: The Artist is Present

The excerpt in the video above now forms part of an arresting documentary about the whole three month performance of The Artist is Present.

Marina Abramović is portrayed sympathetically despite the on-going controversy surrounding her work - largely revolving around issues of disturbing imagery and occasional nudity. In this film, Abramović is given the opportunity to explain her work and we are given the chance to observe not only this particular show but the incredibly powerful and emotive effect it had on the audience.

Marina Abramović was 65 years old during the making of this film. She looks quite stunning and much younger than her years.

In the admittedly small and introspective world of performance art, Marina Abramovic has become a legend in her own time.

Her work has always been shocking, strange, unpredictable and moving in unexpected ways. This documentary film does cover some of her earlier work but focusses on the New York presentation of The Artist is Present.

The simple, yet uncannily powerful idea behind the performance has since been hailed as a masterpiece of its kind.

It seems that for her to simply sit and be present was enough to awaken some very powerful experiences and emotions in those who came to witness and participate in the work.


Marina Abramović
Marina Abramović | Source

Although critics have cruelly likened the performance to 'an extended kid's game of staring and see who blinks first' and inevitably asked the question, 'is this really art?' the piece was conducted with great naturalness and solemnity and, in fact, had an overwhelmingly electrifying effect on the public who witnessed it - and not just the unexpected and deeply moving encounter with Ulay.

One of the most striking effects of the performance was the number of people who, simply sitting and looking and being looked at, were moved to smiles or more often tears - both of sadness, joy and some sense of a deep, shared experience.

The performance was carefully documented with film and photography and reveals that many 'sitters' made unconscious gestures such as placing the hand on the heart or lowering the head.

I don't know if it is 'art' or 'theatre' or something else, perhaps just 'life observed.' What I do know is that I was very moved by the video (it inspired me to write this hub, even though I had thought I would only write for children or adults as parents of children) and wanted to share it.

I believe this performance has something both real and important to say to us. And it is this:

How often, in our busy lives, do we take the time to stop, even just for one minute, and really look into the eyes, into the soul, of those around us?

I believe it is simply this experience that caused both the smiles and tears. I believe that it led to a profound recognition, perhaps beyond words, of what we are and what we can mean to one another.

In a way, it is a beautiful and tragic love story - in which we all play a part.


Your Opinion Matters!

Do you think 'The Artist is Present' is a meaningful work?

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A Word of Advice

If you are interested in exploring Marina Abramović's work further, please be aware that it is not all as gentle as this. Much of it is very shocking and uncompromising and can involve deeply disturbing imagery and nudity. If you think that might upset you, please be cautious. It is certainly not work to share with younger children.

Original, unique articles for kids, parents and teachers, written by expert author, Amanda Littlejohn.
Original, unique articles for kids, parents and teachers, written by expert author, Amanda Littlejohn.

About the Author...

Articles at stuff4kids are written exclusively by expert author, Amanda Littlejohn. Amanda is a retired educator with many years of experience teaching children of all ages and abilities in a wide range of professional and informal settings. She now specializes in writing and publishing valuable resources for use in educational contexts.

You are welcome to refer to these pages on your own site so long as you include a live link and the copyright attribution. Copying and pasting the article content itself, in whole or in part, is strictly prohibited. All articles on this subdomain ( are original, unique content and all rights remain with the author.

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    • stuff4kids profile image

      Amanda Littlejohn 3 years ago

      Hi Audrey!

      Thanks for your visit. I'm glad you enjoyed this piece about Marina Abramovic and Ulay meeting at the famous MOMA retrospective.

      I find it very moving and interesting. As you imply, some of her other work is much more challenging, but I do think that she remains one of the most extraordinary and creative forces in performance art.

      Thanks for your comment. :)

    • AudreyHowitt profile image

      Audrey Howitt 3 years ago from California

      Thank you! I had not heard of either artist--and thank you for taking us our of our comfort zone a bit!

    • stuff4kids profile image

      Amanda Littlejohn 4 years ago

      Galadriel? (Samwise/Frodo?)

      I am beginning to suspect some kind of plot here - this can't be mere chance that the entire cast of TLoTR has started commenting on my hubs!

      Still, many thanks for you very original and creative comments. Weird but wonderful. Bless :)

    • profile image

      Galadriel 4 years ago

      Now you are making crystal tears cascade from the eyes of the Elvish Queen...

    • stuff4kids profile image

      Amanda Littlejohn 4 years ago

      Hi DD,

      Thanks for your comment. yes, I think this beautiful, moving story has had that effect on quite a few of us! Thanks for sharing.

      Bless you :)

    • profile image

      DD 4 years ago

      Made me cry so lovely.

    • stuff4kids profile image

      Amanda Littlejohn 4 years ago

      Hi Cindi!

      Thank you for your amazing comment! I so agree with you.

      Thank you again and bless you :)

    • profile image

      Cindi Dawe 4 years ago

      Thank you for writing about this and showing the beautiful video. I think it is so emotional, so moving. We all want some kind of undying flame of love like that. Some strong spiritual connexion between souls that will last forever in life, art and all time. So amazing, so true and so deep.

    • stuff4kids profile image

      Amanda Littlejohn 4 years ago

      Hi Insightful Tiger,

      Oh I'm so happy that you found this - no-one on HubPages had commented yet - and above all I'm happy that you found it beautiful and moving.

      Yes, do take the warning seriously, however. Venture beyond this at your own risk!

      Thanks again so much. Bless you :)

    • Insightful Tiger profile image

      Insightful Tiger 4 years ago

      I thought their love story was beautiful! I was moved by their encounter and I want to find out more about them. Although, I appreciate the warning. Great hub! I look forward to reading more from you. Voted up and pinned.

    • stuff4kids profile image

      Amanda Littlejohn 4 years ago

      Yes! I think so too. :)

    • profile image

      Iris 4 years ago

      Awesome. Just awesome.

    • stuff4kids profile image

      Amanda Littlejohn 4 years ago

      Thank you so much for that comment. I shed a tear, too. I think, as I wrote at the end, that whatever you may think of this as 'art' there is a valuable lesson we can learn from it if we wish.

      Bless you. :)

    • profile image

      Maria Carlos Mazzini 4 years ago

      A deeply beautiful love story and art. In the video, I cried. So beautiful.