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Marina Abramović and Ulay, “Relation in Time” (1977)
Marina Abramović and Ulay, “Relation in Time” (1977)

Marina Abramović pens a tribute to her former lover and collaborator, Ulay

Ulay, the groundbreaking performance artist and photographer, passed away earlier this year

On March 2 this year, the pioneering performance artist and photographer Ulay – born Frank Uwe Laysiepen – passed away as a result of complications caused by treatment for lymphatic cancer. 

At the time, Ulay’s longtime collaborator and former lover Marina Abramović provided a short tribute in an Instagram post, writing: “He was an exceptional artist and human being, who will be deeply missed. On this day, it is comforting to know that his art and legacy will live on forever.” Now, writing for Artforum, Abramović has gone deeper on her reflections about Ulay, and what their relationship meant.

In the passage, Abramović recalls their first meeting, which fell on their shared birthday, November 30: “in many ways we each felt as though we had found our other half.”

“Our meeting was male and female energy coming together to create a third unified element we called ‘That Self.’” (This connection would later form the basis of some of the pair’s most boundary-breaking work.)

Abramović also shares a manifesto titled ART VITAL, which represented her and Ulay’s shared values as they travelled to performances across Europe, living in a Citroën van with their dog. She calls this time period: “some of the happiest years of my life.”

Of course, the performance artists’ relationship was also filled with conflict, famously ending as they met in the middle after a 90-day walk from either end of the Great Wall of China in 1988.

“As wildly compatible as we were,” Abramović writes, “our relationship could also be extremely combustive. Yet, somehow, we managed to harness that energy and use it in our lives and work – work that I’ll remain proud of for as long as I live.”

“All that remains today is love and gratitude.”