Marina Abramović walks China’s Great Wall only to break up

 Marina Abramovic - The Lovers - The Great Wall Walk
Marina AbramovicThe Lovers: The Great Wall Walk (still), 1988/2008, performed for 90 days along The Great Wall of China. 16mm film transferred to two-channel video

Marina Abramović’s & Ulay’s preparation for the project

Artists Marina Abramovic and Ulay are known in many parts of the world as the lovers whose relationship ended at the Great Wall of China. Initially, when the couple planned the trip, they intended to get married at the center of the wall. However, it was years later when the couple finally acquired all the authorization required from the Chinese government and were able to raise funds for the projected. Sadly, by then, the couple’s 12-year relationship has crumbled and what started out as a marriage celebration turned into last goodbyes for the couple.

The Lovers: The Great Wall Walk

Abramovic would start walking the wall from the east while Ulay would start from the west. It would take three months for the couple to meet in the middle, where they would break up and go their separate ways. The couple titled the piece The Lovers. The couple had planned to be the first people to walk the entirety of the Great Wall, however, they were beaten to the punch by a Chinese railway clerk.

Why does this work matter?

The piece is still talked about today because it was tragically poetic. Throughout the process of creating the project, both the subjects must have experienced tremendous levels of emotion and intimacy levels. The pair had shared a certain level of intimacy when the projected started, however, by the end of it, that intimacy had to be dissolved, which was done with an affectionate hug. The fact that the project was heavily emotional and physically tasking made it more impactful and meaningful.

Analysis

Because of the piece, audiences were forced to evaluate how geography and temporal distance can affect life. This pieces, which was performed in 1988, helped to unbound the limits of conventional theatrical practice. The Lovers turned out to be pioneering, passionate and extremely powerful. The couple’s extraordinary relationship, which lasted from 1976 to 1988, will live on forever.

Aftermath

Since the release of The Lovers, both artists are well known in many parts of the world, however, it is Abramovic that has managed to attain critical acclaim. Her 2010 retrospective at the MoMA in New York helped to consolidate her status in the world. This, and a HBO documentary, celebrity friends such as Lady Gaga and Jay Z, as well as a series of commercials, have allowed her to become a household name. Ulay, on the other hand, continued with art, however, the pair was the subject of controversy once more after disagreeing about profits from their joint collaborations.

Videos

Marina Abramović & Ulay about ‘The Lovers’

3min 52sec
Excerpt from the 2012 documentary The Artist is Present

Full documentary about ‘The Lovers’ (VHS quality)

1h 4min 43sec
Marina AbramovicThe Lovers: The Great Wall Walk, 1988/2008, performed for 90 days along The Great Wall of China. 16mm film transferred to two-channel video

Photos & video stills

Marina Abramovic & Ulay – The Lovers - The Great Wall Walk (still), 1988:2008, performed for 90 days along The Great Wall of China. 16mm film transferred to two-channel video
Marina AbramovicThe Lovers: The Great Wall Walk (still), 1988/2008, meeting Ulay at the Great Wall of China

Marina Abramovic & Ulay – The Lovers - The Great Wall Walk (still), 1988:2008, performed for 90 days along The Great Wall of China. 16mm film transferred to two-channel video 2
Marina AbramovicThe Lovers: The Great Wall Walk (still), 1988/2008, meeting Ulay at the Great Wall of China

 Marina Abramovic - The Lovers - The Great Wall Walk
Marina AbramovicThe Lovers: The Great Wall Walk (still), 1988/2008, performed for 90 days along The Great Wall of China. 16mm film transferred to two-channel video

 Marina Abramovic - The Lovers - The Great Wall Walk
Marina AbramovicThe Lovers: The Great Wall Walk (still), 1988/2008, performed for 90 days along The Great Wall of China. 16mm film transferred to two-channel video

 Marina Abramovic - The Lovers - The Great Wall Walk
Marina AbramovicThe Lovers: The Great Wall Walk (still), 1988/2008, performed for 90 days along The Great Wall of China. 16mm film transferred to two-channel video

All images: Marina Abramović Archives unless otherwise noted.

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