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Back to Reviews 96

The Lovers

racing forms
by p.c. smith
a gallery tip sheet

Marina Abramovic
at Sean Kelly

Jan. 10-Feb. 15, 1997

In 1988, the performance-art team of Marina Abramovic and Ulay set out from opposite ends of the Great Wall of China, each walking for 90 days over 1,250 miles, to meet in the middle for an action called The Lovers. They planned to marry there in a traditional Chinese ceremony, but in an twist on the expected ending, they decided instead to separate forever. The present exhibition, "Boat Emptying Stream Entering," reflects Marina's walk. Twelve color photographs document it literally, with her tiny figure dwarfed by the serpentine route. Several rubbings are taken from the wall itself. An installation of three video screens underneath giant umbrellas made of oil-paper and bamboo reflect Marina's experience more allusively. Althought it includes walking sequences, the video is dominated by repeated clips of a drooling Chinese man holding a snake in his mouth while making slow-motion shamanistic gestures.

The Lovers action has an epic magnitude, and the documentary photos have a cinematic sweep. Over 20 years ago, in a strongly male-dominated art world, Abramovic fashioned a materialist "body art" that put a premium on endurance, emotional detachment and more than a little masochism; now, at a time when younger women artists are increasingly taking up issues of gender and sexuality, Abramovic's work has evolved away from the body and towards mysticism and a spiritual search.