Marina and Ulay’s intense 12 year love affair and artistic working relationship began in the 70s, and ended with a walk along the Great Wall of China in 1988. Each started from each end, then met in the middle for a last embrace, then parted. It was their final piece of artistic performance work together, poignant and dramatic, and the last time they had seen each other.
More than 20 years later. artist Marina Abramović shared one minute of silence with successive strangers as part of her work, The artist is present, at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. She was not aware that one of the apparent strangers would be Ulay. He waits in line. When his turn arrives he approaches the table a little nervously and sits. Marina looks up and the recognition on her face is instant. They smile slightly awkwardly at each other. The emotion builds over the minute they share, watching each other, remembering. They clutch each other’s hands and Marina sheds tears openly while Ulay struggles to keep his emotions more contained.
At the end of the minute he leaves. She wipes her tears, smooths her hair, and takes a few moments, attempting to regain her composure, ready for the next stranger to arrive and sit.
It is impossible to watch this video and not feel the powerful emotions that they feel. The strength of love that has carried over the years is apparent in their eyes. We are left wondering if they will continue seeing each other again afterwards, and yet sensing that they probably will not. It feels like both a privilege and an invasion to share this moment with them, and forces us to reflect upon and value our own loves, past and present.
Featured photo credit: Marina Abramović, The Artist Is Present/Andrew Russeth via flickr.com