If I should meet thee.
After long years.
How should I greet thee?
With silence and tears.
— Lord Byron
It would be easy to dismiss Marina Abramović’s 736.5-hour staring contest as highfalutin farce. But for those volunteers who sat in the chair across from her at New York’s Museum of Modern Art in 2010, as well as the visitors who looked on, it was a moving moment of performance art they will never forget. And no one, it seemed, was more moved than Abramović herself.
In the video shown here, Abramović’s former companion and collaborator, Ulay, tours the retrospective Marina Abramović: The Artist Is Present, commenting on some of the works they had created together. But what Abramović doesn’t know is that, after a twenty-two year absence, Ulay is also present and will soon sit down across from her. It’s their history that makes the moment so visceral, though onlookers at the time — who knew nothing — said they felt the electricity as well.
In December 1987, Abramović and Olay officially began a three-month process to end their tumultuous and passionate relationship. In an interview with The New Yorker, Abramović said, “people put so much effort into starting a relationship and so little effort into ending one.” Known as the Godmother of Performance Art, Abramović has never been one to choose the banal way out. Olay went to one end of the Great Wall of China, and Abramović to the other — and thousands of miles later on March 30 1988 they met in the middle, embraced and continued walking. And that was that — or so they thought.
Glittersnipe spoke with photographer Matthu Placek, whose lens has captured everyone from Kiki Smith to Jeremy Irons to Debbie Harry, about his experience sitting across from Abramović. “In my eleven minutes with Marina, I can say that I was completely ‘present’ with her for a full two minutes,” he said. “It was an incredible challenge to tune out and give of myself completely as Marina had done with so many people. Being put on the spot in public was a forced moment of focus. The eyes say everything if you listen closely.”
Placek, who has worked with Abramović on several occasions, was watching on the night that Ulay made his surprise appearance. “Yes, I was there that night, and it was very moving — and I didn’t even know the dynamics of their relationship at the time.”
“Even without that backstory,” he said, “their energy completely infused the room and it was incredibly emotional.”