Standing naked in the main entrance of a museum, facing each other while the audience passes sideways through the small space. Legendary performance artists Marina Abramović and Ulay here share the story behind their poetic work ‘Imponderabilia’.
The most famous couple in performance art made the ‘Imponderabilia’ work in Bologna, Italy, in 1977 – a groundbreaking performance in many ways, not least in terms of re-imagining the role of the audience. 350 people passed through the two artists before the police stopped it. Abramović argues that she and Ulay were “living doors,” which she finds very poetical: “if there were no artists, there would be no museums, so we are living doors.”
When people passed through, they had to choose between turning towards the male or the female: “That was of course the game that’s called ‘imponderabilia’. That in a flash of a second you have to make a decision and you make your decision before you figure out why,” Ulay comments. Abramović adds that it’s equally important that the piece is reperformed “because it says something about performance as a time-based art, says something about the emotions of the public, integration of the artists in the public …”
Marina Abramović (b. 1946) was born in Belgrade in former Yugoslavia and is now based in New York, US. She began her work as a performance artist in the early 1970s and is now regarded as one of the most important artists in the field. Her work explores the relationship between the performer and audience, the limits of the body and the possibilities of the mind. In 2017 the retrospective ‘The Cleaner’ was shown at Moderna Museet in Stockholm, Sweden, and at Louisiana Museum of Modern Art in Humlebæk, Denmark, among other places.
Ulay (Frank Uwe Laysiepen, b. 1943) is a German artist, now based in Amsterdam, Holland, and Ljubljana, Slovenia. Ulay received international recognition for his work as a photographer, mainly in Polaroid, from the late 1960s, and later as a performance artist, including his collaborative performances with Marina Abramović from 1976 to 1988. His work has continuously dealt with politics, identity and gender. In 2016 Schirn Kunsthalle in Frankfurt, Germany, held the first major retrospective show of his work ‘Ulay Life-Sized’. In recent years Ulay’s work has also been on show at the Nederlands Fotomuseum in Rotterdam and GNYP Gallery in Berlin. Ulay’s work, as well as his collaborative work with Marina Abramović, is featured in many collections of major art institutions around the world such as Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, Centre Pompidou in Paris, Tate Modern in London and Museum of Modern Art in New York.
In the video, Marina Abramović and Ulay discuss the performance ‘Imponderabilia’, 1977. Documentary clip from Italian Television, Rai 1.
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