March 2nd, 2020. The art world echoes with mourning bells. On the horizon, a character who appeared in the books died; magazines have written about him, movie were made on, students have studied him. Even I found the photos of his expressions while shouting or standing without clothes against the door jamb, between the pages of the voluminous “Art from 1900” by Krauss, Foster and Co. Indissoluble originality, unbreakable its link with the hair blacks of Marina, his face halved irresistible between the makeup of an actress and the points of a growing beard
A beauty that of Frank Uwe Laysiepen destined to merge with an incredible creativity, expressed through his body and that of his partner. Ulay has been a performer and artist active since the 1960s, when he became interested in the anarchist atmosphere of the Provo movement in Amsterdam, the city he moved to after leaving his native Germany and the family’s political heritage.
The search for a new form of identification, starting from the renunciation of the name and citizenship; up to the search for new forms of study and training. These were the basis of his artistic approach. It is not unusual that when it comes to identity research, we choose to use our image as a test subject. We ask for the help to the wonderful immediacy of photography. The formation of one’s (artistic) ego, perhaps fueled by a difficulty in recognizing oneself in the social image that someone else had in mind, is answered with the self-portrait, with the exploration of one’s face and body.
His first research focused precisely on alternative forms not only of ways but also of subjects. Ulay deals with the issue of identity, dressing up, appearing other than himself with analog photography, with autobiographical collages and with avant-garde and scandalous images of him and others. The road traveled by Marcel Duchamp and Rrose Selavy continued in all its wealth.
Then when Ulay met Marina in 1976, from the search for the ego, they pass to the physical, carnal, noisy, improper, sanguine representation of a Super-ego and his relationship with another human being, another body, a double feminine. With their captivating performances, they represented the concept of endurance, loyalty, physical pain, betrayal, symbiosis. They represented what it meant to be two halves and live in a relationship.
The life, the works, the strong relationship with Marina, which ended in the 80s with the performance “The Lovers” on the Great Wall of China, their iconic encounter at MoMa in 2010 (she in red, he in black, the moved and proud smiles…), the legal battles, his tackling the disease with his “Project Cancer” by Damian Kazole.
All of this was Ulay, and much more.
Marina said of him: “It takes a long time, maybe even a life, to understand Ulay.” And what’s more, these days Ulay, like many before and at the same time as him, is experiencing the wave of when a famous person goes away The dear extinct is really dear: waves of articles, quotes, videos to remember him, to pay homage to his disappearance and his glorious life. Books, interviews are reopened, it is said “I knew him!”, art magazines do a piece about him, his works and his biography.
Here we try to doing something different. Homaging. Yes. Writing about him? Also we do.
I could never describe his personality. I think less people can do that.
I could write about his works, ma this many people will do that.
I personally am always very interested in your research on identity, on image, on recognizing and deceiving yourself, on appearing someone else. We write this piece trying to do something that was close to him, even before Marina arrived. Let’s try to take his example for good, in this era where Polaroids are much more immaterial but with a much wider diffusion. As his 1973 project was titled “She“, mine could be titled “To Her – Homage to Ulay, 2020“.
I take this opportunity to play with my face… To do something of his inspiration to pay homage to his individual work, to give thanks to a series of beautiful “psychic acrobatics” (as in some psychology files the self-portrait), to always blend art with something else in order to bring out an extra layer. To suggest that everyone’s body and face can always be art forms.
Not imitation, but deferential homage.
Ps: The rest of pictures you can find on the namesake gallery here:
Ulay, “Her”, 1973, Nederlands Fotomuseum
This post is also available in: Italian