Mouth to month: Abramovic and Ulay in Breathing ln/Breathing Out
Extreme and shocking, performance art duo ABRAMOVIC and ULAY pushed their bodies to the limits, but were divided by the Great Wall of China.
Words: Susanna Beaumont
As double-acts go. they were nothing less than extraordinary. For twelve years. performance artists Marina Abramovic and Ulay put their bodies through denial. discipline and pain. trespassing on territory that many would see as evidence of madness. if not masochism. In one video piece. they continuously slapped each others‘ faces for twenty minutes. In another. they rammed their naked bodies into a pillar. slowly shunting it across the performance space.
At Glasgow‘s Tramway. recently remastered video installations from Abramovic and Ulay‘s collaborative years are to be screened. A UK premiere for this restored oeuvre. Relation Works. will show alongside new commissions from Scotland- based performance and visual artists in a season entitled [ftp/oration ()fDaa/ism.
Perhaps unsurprisingly. Abramovic and Ulay have attained near-mythic status in the art world for their flesh-wounding work. Their break-up as a collaborating duo also gained the mark of legend. and provided a universal note on collaborative mishaps. ln I988. they set out to walk the Great Wall of China. with a view to meeting halfway. Entitled The Lovers: The Great Wall Of China Walk. the piece saw Abramovic and Ulay start from opposite ends of the Wall. with a 90-day walk ahead of them. En route. however. Ulay was waylaid when he met a local woman. allegedly over a bowl of rice. The partnership was over.
‘Our bodies became our medium, undergoing; discomfort to explore different asgsects of male and femaie.’ rams-rs .s’tiiramrmir:
Abramovic and Ulay first became acquainted in
Amsterdam back in l975. when both were in their early 30s. Abramovic came from Belgrade in former
Yugoslavia; Ulay from a town just north of (‘ologne From the start they were big on asceticism. As t'lay has said of the time. it was ‘simply a necessity. In order to work we must reduce our needs to the minimum.‘
They lived in a van and spent an itinerant life
cruising the European circuit of ‘happenings‘. 'l‘heir
performances were frequently held in small galleries or cultural centres. for an audience made up of the hardcore art eognoseenti rather than the Saturday gallery-going crowd.
One memorable piece. Breathing lit/Breathing ()ut. was staged in Belgrade in 1977. With nose-plugs in place. they passed air from mouth to mouth. resuscitation style. without taking additional breaths. After 7() minutes. the oxygen in their shared breath was exhausted and they collapsed.
‘Our bodies became our medium. undergoing discomfort to explore different aspects of male and female.‘ Abramovic has since said of their work together.
The body was both the canvas artd the tool of their art. As .-'\bramovic prosaically puts it. ‘you cart only work with your own shit.’ It was a means of exploring limits. pushing back socially sanctioned boundaries. not for voyeur titillation but to prevent the body being dulled by everyday routine. Grounded in rigorous discipline. Abramovic and Ulay"s work was out to explore energy and stamina reserves. They fasted. spent time living among the Aborigines in Australia. and led a life more like medieval penitents than 20th century hedonists.
Today. ten years on from their separation. Abramovic and Ulay work independently. They might be middle-aged. but they still spark with the best of them.
Explorations Of Dualism is at Tramway, Glasgow Sat 14 Feb—Sat 14 Mar.
News and views from the gallery scene.
AFTER A COOL SPELL, Tramway seems to be warming up. An application for Lottery funding is currently being chewed over by the Scottish Arts Council (SAC). The proposal is to carry out plans put forward by the young Glasgow architect team, 200, to revamp the cavernous space and bring currently redundant rooms into action. A curatorium is in place to assess proposals for future art shows. Included on the board are artist Douglas Gordon and writer Judith Findlay. Glasgow School of Art's Sam Ainsley is chair.
FUTURE PLANS INCLUDE a show of Scotland-based and nationwide artists this spring, curated by Rebecca Gordon-Nesbit, who recently put together Girls High at Glasgow’s Old Fruitmarket. Filthy Swan, the Glasgow-based, boys- own group may present a show; and negotiations are underway with local artist Anya Gallaccio. Gallaccio has covered walls with chocolate; and made a giant chain of gerbera flowers at Edinburgh's lnverleith House for the British Art Show in 1996. She was born within spitting distance of Tramway, and could produce something special at the building if all goes to plan.
DUNDEE CONTEMPORARY ARTS has been producing an intriguing line in ads. Currently under construction, the new venue is to open this autumn and over the past few months aperitif ads having been appearing in the cool culture mag, Frieze. First there was a picture of boat moored on the Tay, then a combine harvester, and now a light aircraft. Director Andrew Nairn is rumoured to be the one out there with a camera: what, we wonder, will his eye fall on next?
CALLUM INNES WAS unfairly represented in last issue’s Artbeat. We gave the impression that he has received only criticism of his work in Scotland. He wishes to make it known that Scotland has been highly supportive of his work over the years.
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6-19 Feb 1998 THE U3T81