Sitting with Strangers

Sitting with Strangers 

Welcome back folks.  Today I wanted to share with you an intriguing story of an incredibly thought-provoking artist by the name of Marina Abramovic and her unusual relationship with eccentric German artist, Ulay, after an incredibly moving display at Abramic’s live art show back in 2010.   I came across the video of this on my iPhone as it had been submitted to youTube and immediately went viral.  Within a very short space of time it received much acclaim, as well as sparking a wave of good energy throughout the social media world.  As so much of the media today is laced with negativity, anger and attempted division, I thought it would be fitting to share with you something that is of the very opposite nature.   

Marina Abramovic

You could call it romance, and as much as I’m a gentleman I’ve never really been big on romance, namely that I’ve always failed to seize the right moment.  The best I’ve ever achieved is spontaneously whisking my better half off to the local mart for a can of cider and a packet of crisps.  I’ve never quite managed to engineer the right set of circumstances to dangle a bunch of grapes into her mouth while she lays back on a chaise longue.  Anyway, I digress. 

In the recent viral video, it shows Abromovich’s latest live art show back in 2010 called ‘The Artist is Present’, where she is sat before an empty table looking at an empty chair across from her, calming her resolve and readying herself for her next human encounter.  The audience simultaneously forms an orderly queue and one by one, each visitor - who is a complete stranger to Abramovic  - takes their place in the seat opposite her. For one silent minute, they share together a mutual silence while maintaining eye contact. 

The Artist is Present

Marina Abramović is a Serbian performance artist who now lives in New York. She is known for her powerful art, which explores the relationship between performer and audience, the limits of the body, and the possibilities of the mind.  

In 1976, Abramović  met a German artist by the name of Ulay, who would soon become her lover and collaborator for the next twelve years. In an incredibly short time the artistic duo fell into an impersonal selfless abyss, and attempted to become a single entity through compelling and incredibly moving performances such as ‘Breathing In/Breathing Out’, which was enacted live in Belgrade in 1977.  In this performance, Abramovic and Ulay both blocked their nostrils with cigarette filters and locked mouths, causing them to inhale only the exhalation of the other. In order for the audience to appreciate and feel the agony and intensity, the pair were rigged to microphones attached to their chests which augmented the experience.  As the carbon dioxide slowly filled their lungs, they began to sweat and writhe intensely before losing control and falling to the floor unconscious.   The concept was decided to express the simultaneous predicament of tenderness and violence which supposedly exhibits the decision of the couple to stick together despite the effort, the danger and the damage, ultimately showing that this kind of mutual dependence eventually becomes futile as it inevitably causes harm, hence the short lived performance. 

By 1988, some eleven years later, their eccentric romance had sadly run its course, but in true Abramovic/Ulay fashion however, they decided to mark the end of their days together by doing something (typically of them) unusual.  They both set off from opposite ends of the Great Wall of China until they met in the middle.  It is there that they embraced one last time before saying goodbye. 

Re-united with Ulay

On the opening night of Abramović’s retrospective in 2010, these past eccentric lovers were reunited. The video shows Abramović, after many silent encounters with visiting strangers, mustering up her resolve for her next visitor.  Ulay approaches the table and sits down, while Abramović, a virtuoso of toilsome performances, looks up to what must have been the single most unexpected sight of the evening, snapping her dignified composure and releasing the emotional valve. Their reunion is a deeply moving scene.  If you haven’t seen the video you can watch it here: ‘A minute of silence’.

As a mild toast - or tip of the hat if you will - to their story, I thought I’d share with you this beautiful lover’s sculpture I found online ( as I feel it symbolises the story of Abramovic and Ulay.  May you all find someone you can fall on the floor unconscious with.