A few weeks ago, when the museums were still open, I went to the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam with a friend of mine. I had heard of the exhibition “Ulay was here” and I had seen posters in the city, so I was curious and made a reservation online to go there on a sunday.
When we hung our coats in the cloakroom, the girl that worked there warned us about crowds for the exhibition. However, stubborn as we were, my friend and I went anyway and unfortunately had to wait in line for about an hour before we could enter the exhibition about Ulay. An advice: don’t go there on a weekend or choose a time slot on a less popular time during the day.
An hour later we walked into the first exhibition hall, where we could read some background information about Ulay and the exhibition. Ulay is the pseudonym for Frank Uwe Laysiepen (1943–2020). Ulay is known for his performance and body art and, which is less known, as a pioneer in Polaroid photography. Ulay died in march last year, but he started working on the exhibition with the curators before his death. The exhibition really honours him. It shows that he has a great solo oeuvre, instead of only showing his duo performances with Marina Abramovic.
Two rooms were dedicated to his partnership with Marina Abramovic. She was his wife and performance partner for about twelve years. Although the exhibition was mostly trying to show that Ulay was not just the part of a duo, I did find these rooms the most fascinating. Marina and Ulay were famous performance artists. Their performances were radical and experimental and look most of the time unconventional and uncomfortable. The duo really tries to challenge themselves.
One of the most impressive performances for me was Relation in Time (1977). Marina and Ulay sat for 17 hours, back to back, with their hair intertwined in a big braid. The pictures they made during this performance were exhibited in the Stedelijk Museum. You can see how the duo gets more and more exhausted during the performance. They actually sat for 16 hours already before the museum visitors would come in. By this, the duo wanted to push their own limits by using the energy the public would give them.
I found the rooms about his performance art the most interesting, because it doesn’t quite fit in a museum. You can always see pictures, paintings or sculptures in a museum, but a performance is so much less conventional. I wonder how it would be to attend a real life performance, instead of looking at the pictures or movies that were made of it. I think that this would have a greater impact on me. I wonder who the next great performance artist would be…