Marina and Ulay:
Rest Energy (1980):
The tense collaborative piece Rest Energy involved the artist and Ulay holding a taut bow and poised arrow: the weight of their bodies put a tension on the bow with the arrow pointed at Marina’s heart. Small microphones were attached to their chests recording their increasing number of heartbeats.
Relation in Space (1976)
Two bodies repeatedly pass, touching each other. At a high speed they collide.’ Just as in the other thirteen performances from the Relation work series, the basic principle is ‘No rehearsal, no predicted end, no repetition’. Approaching each other from different sides of the space, Ulay and Abramovic collide with each other in the middle and then disappear from view. Sometimes they do not reappear for another twenty seconds before the process starts to repeat itself. During the early stages, Ulay and Abramovic softly touch each other when they pass, almost as if by accident. But the walking gradually turns into running, and the impact of the two bodies grows steadily. As they continue to collide, Ulay proves to be stronger than Abramovic, who is sometimes close to falling over. ‘Relation in Space’ goes through a remarkable development. The first time Abramovic loses her balance, Ulay reaches for her hand, and later he also tries to prevent her from falling. Their contact goes from being businesslike to personal. Due to this emotional development, ‘Relation in Space’ turns into an entirely different performance from what it looked like at the start. But the question is: Is it out of love or to save the performance that Ulay comes to Abramovic’s aid?
Breathing In Breathing Out (1978)
Breathing In, Breathing Out, which was performed twice, in Belgrade (1977) and Amsterdam (1978). For this performance the two artists blocked their nostrils with cigarette filters and pressed their mouths together, so that one couldn’t inhale anything else but the exhalation of the other. As the carbon dioxide filled their lungs, they began to sweat, move vehemently and wear themselves out; the viewers could sense their agony through the projected sound of breathing, which was augmented via microphones attached to their chests. It took them nineteen minutes in the first performance and fifteen in the second to consume all the oxygen in that one breath and reach the verge of passing out.
Something tender and violent at the same time emerges from the performance: the couple are decided to stick together despite the effort, the danger, the damage; but this kind of interdependence can harm the two parties involved, so it cannot last for very long.
Relation in Time (1977)
Sitting quietly for seventeen hours, Abramovic and Ulay were connected to each other by means of their hair. They spent the first sixteen hours doing this alone, but visitors were allowed in to witness the final hour. The form of the performance ‘Relation in Time’ is sober, while the content is complex, a fusion of many ideas. Ulay and Abramovic are sitting in front of a white wall, their backs turned towards each other. Abramovic’s hair, pulled back tightly into a ponytail, is tied to Ulay’s (‘Hair is a kind of antenna, like air roots of trees’). The spectator sees them in profile, each looking in a different direction. At the start of the seventeen-hour marathon, they are sitting up straight. Later, when fatigue sets in, Abramovic in particular begins to slump a little, so that their hair, which was tied together tightly, begins to become looser. The process makes heavy demands on both the physical and mental stamina of the artists. In a very simple way, the artists try to reach a state of harmony between body and mind. Ulay and Abramovic have to rely on their mental strength to be able to sit still for seventeen hours, without speaking. This process of the submission of the body to the mind is a central element in ancient eastern meditation.
Aaa Aaa (1978)
During their first years, they performed together a work based on Freeing the voice, facing each other and screaming. However, in AAAA-AAAA (1978) the dynamic is very different. First they start in a calm manner, as if they were saying out loud a prayer, with synchronized voices and breaths; then, as they start to increase the intensity of their screams, the two performers express a competitive mood, trying to outdo each other in tone and persistence. They open their mouths wide open, like two animals that try to scare each other away. In the end, Ulay gives up, leaving Abramović alone before her voice wears out.
Descriptions of works primarily from Netherlands Media Institute Catalogue
images via likeafieldmouse