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Intimate Loneliness – an investigation of three female artist’s works and their positions in the intimacy relationships

Chang Sun 002234586 Professor Lisa Jaye Young ARTH 787 Research Paper Winter 2020


Sun 1 Thesis Statement The women’s position in the intimate relationship has been questioned continuously in feminist theory. From second-wave feminism to third-wave feminism, the female’s role in the intimate relationship was challenged through constant self-awakening and self-discovery. On the other hand, as gender identity came to the center of feminist politics in the late 1960s, women began facing dilemmas concerning love and marriage, family and domestic life. As a part of the progression, some female artists’ practices reflected this position change and psychological shift. They either questioned identity issues directly or revealed their own identities within the intimate relationship through art. This paper will study Frida Kahlo, Yoko Ono, and Mariana Abramovic’s life and works, with particular focus upon their personalities and identities within the intimate relationships. Though these three artists are unrelated in content and history, what they share is that each was a part of a famous creative duo. Each artist shared her life with another established male artist. The scope of the intimate relationship in this essay will mainly focus on the love, and peripherally touch the areas of the family of origin and parenthood. Starting from a historical investigation into the default heterosexual relationship and social expectations, it will survey these artists’ practices at key moments of transition and life change: before, during and after the intimate relationship with their lover. Works in the 1940s to 1980s correspondingly to each artist will be selected. This paper shall pay particular attention to their gender and sexual expressions, identity shifts, and power dynamics, providing visual analysis, historical and cultural materials, interviews, and statements of artists.


Sun 2 Introduction The socio-political shift and feminism evolution from the 1940s to 1990s provide backgrounds to investigate the artist’s life and understand how intimate relationships affected their art presentation. From the Second Wave to the Third Wave of Feminism, social expectations and stereotypes of intimate relationships, gender roles and identities are center topics.1 On the one hand, stereotypes oversimplify the complexity of a person (or a relationship), using a descriptive way to generalize the complex situation between male and female in heterosexual intimacy.2 On the other hand, the social expectations, based on the historically and socially constructed gender stereotypes, became default settings and patterns when dealing with the interaction of the couple in both domestic and public spheres.3 Through the lens of Frida Kahlo, Yoko Ono, and Marina Abramović’s works, this essay will read their personalities, identities, and emotional situations in their intimate lives under different social settings of cultures, languages, tradition, etc. With a brief discussion of the socio-historical background of the expectations and tensions in couple-hood, each section aims to reinterpret works with a close and intimate view, relating heterogeneity and gender distinctions to art expressions and stories behind the scenes.

Frida Kahlo: Pain and Fierce Living in the postcolonial age with uncertainty and changes, Frida Kahlo’s idenitty as “a bisexual, disabled woman of mixed race” has been embraced by pop culture and the contemporary art world since the 1980s.4 Part of the reasons was the broader discussion for female artists under the second-wave feminism discourse, followed by fictionalized biographical retrospection and Mexican magical realistic interpretation in the 1990s. Yet in the first half of the 20th century, Mexican femaleness was constructed

1

Whitney Chadwick, Women, Art, and Society, Fifth edition. (London: Thames & Hudson, 2012), 9. 2 Anne E. Beall and Robert J. Sternberg, “The Social Construction of Love,” Journal of Social and Personal Relationships12, no. 3 (August 1995): 417–438. 3 Ibid, 422. 4 Tina Olsin Lent, “Life as Art/Art as Life: Dramatizing the Life and Work of Frida Kahlo,” Journal of Popular Film and Television35, no. 2 (July 2007): 68–76.


Sun 3 around motherhood, requiring reproduction as a must for married women.5 Growing up in an excessive Catholic religious family that clashed with her self-developed belief in communism and later intrusive American capitalism, being a disabled female without carrying a child made her an outlier in the patriarchal society dominated by these seemingly contradictory but somehow intersected ideologies.6 It allowed her works to fall in both male and female stereotypes, fabricating her own reality. To be in love is to settle in being tortured -- A Transformed intimacy: From Frida and Diego Rivera or Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera (1931) to The Love Embrace of the Universe, The Earth (Mexico), I, Diego and Señor Xólotl (1949) By torture, it means born with great pains. To Frida, she was visited by two catastrophes in her life. One was the trolley accident on Mexico’s Independence Day, and the other one was being with Diego Rivera.7 Both give her work a life-long traumatic filter, fabricated by the profound physical pain, and the suffering from the intimate relationship for the rest of her life. Physically, Frida suffered from three miscarriages, while mentally, Diego’s constant extra marriage relationships broke her down and exacerbated her health condition.8 With pain rooted in her life, Frida was always alone, as seldom can people understand such a painful life. Her portraiture is powerful: from the subjects, colors, compositions, and imageries, her biographical portraitures conveyed complicated emotions, psyche, experiences, and thoughts in a very Freudian presentation.9 The reverence of each other’s artworks was one of the most important elements combining them together, though Frida held a sense of inferiority as introducing herself as an “talented amateur.”10 Being with Diego became one of the subject matters in her works. The change of the position on the canvas reflected the exploration of her position in the relationship with Diego. The very first time when Diego

Eva Zetterman, “Frida Kahlo’s Abortions: With Reflections from a Gender Perspective on Sexual Education in Mexico,” Konsthistorisk tidskrift/Journal of Art History 75, no. 4 (December 2006): 230–243. 6 Isabel Alcántara, Sandra Egnolff, and Joan Clough-Laub, Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera (New York: Prestel, 2008), 11. 7 Ibid, 34. 8 Eva Zetterman, 230. 9 Gerry Souter, Frida Kahlo: Temporis. (New York: Confidential Concepts, 2015), 162. 10 Ibid, 151. 5


Sun 4 appeared in her work was a double portraiture of their first marriage (1929) in the Frida and Diego Rivera or Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera (Fig.1), where they were standing side by side, hand in hand, mutually supporting each other throughout their art careers.11 Being with Diego gave Frida chances to enter the western art world, communism party, and more publicity.12 The costume of the couple in figure 1 also suggests social expectations in marriage. Frida sticks to traditional Mexican dressing, whereas Diego appears in a westernized decent suit. The twenty years’ younger dove was carefully holding her bright red shawl, looking up to the well-established giant elephant mastering his palette and brushes to make monumental history.13 For a long time, they were in a heterosexual intimacy that fell in the expected and prevailing gender roles in the early 20th century Mexico.14 Frida portrayed herself as a dedicated wife, submissive and devoted in love, only producing little folkloric paintings catered for private needs.15 Even though painting on a small canvas, the power of the Frida’s works was immense. She pierced into the depth of human emotions empathetically on personal and universal levels, while Diego’s epic presentation favored grand narratives.16 Such a division in approaching art resulted from intrinsic differences that went beyond the body shape and dressing preferences accompanied them for the rest of their lives. There are significant distinctions between their personalities, physical conditions, and attitudes towards intimacy relationships, resulting in an uneven emotional commitment that “the center of Diego’s life was painting; the center of Frida’s life was Diego.”17 After suffering from two miscarriages and the adultery between Diego and her sister Cristina, Frida was devastated and finally got divorced in 1939.

Hayden Herrera, “Beauty to His Beast: Frida Kahlo & Diego Riviera,” In Significant Others: Creativity & Intimate Partnership with 76 illustrations, ed. Whitney Chadwick and Isabelle de Courtivron (New York: Thames and Hudson, 1993), 119-156. 12 Alcántara, Egnolff, and Clough-Laub, 32. 13 Herrera, 132. 14 Zetterman, 232. 15 Souter, 59. 16 Herrera, 120. 17 Alcántara, Egnolff, and Clough-Laub, 67. 11


Sun 5 Their self-imposed separation was not long lasting, and Diego involved in Frida’s self-destructive lifestyle soon.18 However, the one-year experience back to being single was long enough to reset and transform her attitude to marriage dramatically, particularly in the sexual intimacy and financial association with Diego. With the negotiation of “no cash, no sex,” Frida became stronger than ever in her remarried life.19 Self-realization and self-supporting brought her a short period of peace in marriage, and their intimacy became more spiritual than corporeal.20 Nevertheless, her health condition was not supporting her by the end of the 1940s, when death, nature, and the universe became the central motif on her canvas. Meanwhile, the number of double-portraits with Diego Rivera increased dramatically in the last decade of her life, where more dynamics appeared than previous works in terms of positioning two figures.21 This tendency suggested a retrospection of her relationship as an outsider. She interpreted it into a multifarious interdependence, which was a second transformative moment. In The Love Embrace of the Universe, The Earth (Mexico), I, Diego and Señor Xólotl (Fig. 2), hugging the baby Rivera revealed a cure to her painful miscarriages of both a physical inability and psychological incompleteness.22 This work can be considered as a continual effort and the accomplished version of her earlier unfinished painting, Frida and the Caesarean (1931-1932) (Fig. 3). 1930 and 1932 witnessed her first and second miscarriage.23 Even though some scholars hold different opinions that the loss of children was an abortion (or even not pregnant), there is no doubt that Frida was always perplexed and ambivalent in carrying a child.24 Her letter to Dr. Eloesser in 1932 suggested Diego, who had a strong ambition in painting but less interest in being a father, was in the first place to her when facing the chance of giving birth.25 Nevertheless, Frida’s paintings tell a different story. The imagery associated with giving birth, as shown in figure 3, embryo, fetus, and baby, appeared in her paintings frequently since her first

Souter, 197. Alcántara, Egnolff, and Clough-Laub, 75. 20 Ibid 21 Ibid, 86. 22 Ibid, 93. 23 Zetterman, 231. 24 Ibid, 238. 25 Souter, 86. 18 19


Sun 6 miscarriage since 1930.26 Because Frida never achieved in Caesarean section nor a fulfilled pregnancy, the motifs and the signs used in the paintings are more of rhetorical elements and psychological representations, suggesting a deep desire to be a mother.27 In figure 3, interestingly, Diego on the upper right of the work is not associated with the baby, nor the female nude, representing a disconnection between himself and Frida and parenthood. By contrast, Frida portrays herself with diffused female facial features and pregnant at the center, indicating a spontaneous confusion of her position in this fragile relationship. Both paintings (figure 2 and figure 3) had a disproportionate, yet representative and highly recognizable figure of Diego compared with Frida, referring to her strong affections and obsession with him. Consecutive miscarriages reshaped their relationship into a baby-mother dynamic. The motherly relationship with Diego was also a compromise to the patriarchal marriage system and a confrontation against his previous oppressed treatments. Standing behind Diego for years, her position in the relationship nurtured Diego, no matter as a lover or a mother. As Herrera summarized: it was a “deeper, more complex interdependence [...] They appeared to have needed each other in order to maintain separateness.”28 To Frida, Diego is her son, her friend, her husband. He is everything, a universe, a "diversity in unity."29 Frida Kahlo’s twilight-year double portraitures witnessed how she developed a comprehensive understanding of Diego Rivera across the entire life. Figure 2 visualizes the entanglement between Frida and Diego and their multifarious relationship. Embraced by the mother earth, she was strong enough to conquer the thirty-year lifelong pain to protect Diego and their beloved dog, which are the whole universe to her. The eye of super-visibility was the highest compliment to Diego, showing Frida's profound understanding with deep love and appreciation to this giant baby, a wise, sensitive, indefatigable revolutionary architecture of painting.30 In her letter to Bertram and Ella Wolfe (1944), she wrote: “Love:

Zetterman, 238. Zetterman, 238. 28 Herrera, 135. 29 Quoted in Alcántara, Egnolff, and Clough-Laub, 93. 30 Herrera, 126. 26 27


Sun 7 Better than ever because there is a mutual understanding between the spouses without getting in the way of equal freedom for each spouse in similar cases."31 At the end of their journey, all she had was love, and their love transformed.

Yoko Ono: Seminal love Shifting away from the colonial and the post-war period in Mexico, the American landscape is more proactive, along with the spread of second-wave feminism movements. Heading to the 1970s, the expectation of intimate relationships evolved with more complicated layers.32 According to Kellner, the concept of intimacy captures one of the deepest needs and longingness connecting to another person who is different from us to make us happy.33 Companionship, love, and friendship were embraced as the essential ingredients to most Americans since the second half of the 1960s, when Yoko Ono was experiencing two dismal marriages with the arrival of her daughter.34 Trapped by the unhappy relationship with her second husband, Yoko went to London and met the other half of her, John Lennon. Double-edged Sword – Struggling in symbiotic: From Rape (1969) to Plastic Ono Band (1969) and Fly (1970) “John and I are so exclusive to each other,” Yoko recalled.35 By exclusive, it not only means a co-habitation after meeting and marrying each other, but a complete belongingness in the spiritual and art world. At the forefront of the American Fluxus Movement, Yoko’s philosophy background gave her work a meditative nature, injecting Japanese Zen and poetic aesthetic to the Avant-garde performance scene.36

Quoted in Souter, 215. Beall and Sternberg, 425. 33 Judith Kellner, “Gender Perspective in Cross-Cultural Couples,” Clinical Social Work Journal 37, no. 3 (September 2009): 224–229. 34 Tazuko Shibusawa, “A Commentary on ‘Gender Perspectives in Cross-Cultural Couples,’” Clinical Social Work Journal37, no. 3 (September 2009): 230–233. 35 Alan Clayson, Barb Jungr, and Robb Johnson, Woman: The Incredible Life of Yoko Ono (New Malden: Chrome Dreams, 2004), 110. 36 Gunnar Kvaran Grete Årbu and Hanne Beate Ueland, Yoko Ono - Horizontal Memories, published on the Occasion of the Exhibition Horizontal Memories, Astrup Fearnley Museum of Modern Art, Oslo, 2005.01.22 05.08, ed. Grete Årbu (Oslo: Astrup Fearnley Museet for Moderne Kunst, 2005), 9. 31 32


Sun 8 Her unconventional concept and multi-disciplinary practices in film, text, sound, photographic, and telegraphic works deeply inspired John Lennon’s music production and concept development. Meanwhile, marrying John helped Yoko’s creativity with emotional and financial support, giving her a broad publicity but also access to master music and composition. 37 However, such a mutually beneficial creative partnership unavoidably fell in a skewed male-female relationship, involving observable factors, for instance, age, gender, ethnicity, fame, and latent factors like intellectuality.38 The film Rape (Fig. 4) and the conceptual music Plastic Ono Band made right after their marriage exemplifies how Yoko Ono and John Lennon are exclusive to each other and how such exclusivity influences their art practice. Rape is never an easy film to watch, nor was it easy for Yoko, a Japanese female marrying an eight-year younger British superstar and living with him after WW2.39 It brought a sudden violent scrutiny and over public exposure. Thanks to the paparazzi, the annoying disturbance faced by the couple became worse and worse. Rape visually and audibly reflects an omnipresent invasion of privacy, where Ono adopted an introspective and meditative approach to staging a shared situation and feelings.40 They chose a random woman on the street and chased her for the rest of the day. On the one hand, the close shot, the wavering camera, the random sound in the city, unknown language, and high-heels’ knock in the film lead to intense anxiety, irritation, fear, and designation. Such ill-treatment to a female unacquainted with London symbolized the extreme embarrassment faced by Yoko and John. The film crystalized a shared feeling, where Yoko’s production and performance experiences helped to express their situation in an empathetic and theatrical presentation. Under the rape culture in the 1960s to 1970s, the film could also be interpreted as a confrontation of the couple against violence.41 To Yoko, public gaze, broad

Clayson, Jungr, and Johnson,135. Ibid, 137. 39 Kvaran, Årbu and Hanne Beate Ueland, 135. 40 Ibid, 139. 41 Nancy Princenthal, Unspeakable Acts: Women, Art, and Sexual Violence in the 1970s (New York, NY: Thames & Hudson Inc, 2019), 39. 37 38


Sun 9 stigmatized commentaries, and abusive verbal assaults were the byproduct and the price of this relationship, which are metaphorically narrated by the camera-subject dynamics.42 On the other hand, Rape indicates the powerful position of Yoko Ono in the relationship on an intellectual level. As written in her draft: “depending on the budget, the chase should be made with girls of different age … may chase a man as well,”43 Yoko showed a strong empathy and impacted John from a more feminist vision. Through the engagement of the arbitrary body, the film elevated to a broader scale regardless of gender and age.44 In fact, she was always on the concept and idea generation side of the collaboration. Instead of being shadowed by John, Yoko’s talent and longingness for individuality and freedom transformed her conceptual art.45 From 1968, Yoko and John began to work together on audio projects, Plastic Ono Band, whose concept was initially brought up by Ono. In her self-published work, To My Sisters, With Love (Fig. 5), Plastic Ono Band is described as “a music group which believes that ‘the message is the music,’ and the communication of it is the performance. Whoever has a message is therefore part of the group”, which indicated the fluid, all-inclusive, and participatory characters of Yoko’s Shinto inspired art, recharged by Lennon’s music practice.46 Exploring music, or rather, sound, is not a new study to Yoko. At a lecture (1966) after unveiling her Cut Piece and Bag Piece, she once compared a violinist’s arm movements with violin’s bow sound, and concluded that “the only sound that exists is the sound of the mind.”47 Taking music as a “gyo” (practice), Plastic Ono Band, as a collective mind, is the most imaginative liberal band. It was John giving this concept a human version. In September 1969, Lennon and other Beatle members played at Toronto Rock and Roll Revive Festival, with Ono's Bag Piece performance at the stage center.48 Despite a flexible line-up performed under the name of Plastic Ono Band in the later years, this performance

Clayson, Jungr, and Johnson, 135. Quoted by Kvaran, Årbu and Hanne Beate Ueland, 138. 44 Ibid, 139. 45 Clayson, Jungr, and Johnson, 67. 46 Quoted by Klaus Biesenbach et al. eds., Yoko Ono: One Woman Show,1960-1971 (New York: Museum of Modern Art, 2015), 214. 47 Quoted by Klaus Biesenbach et al., 204. 48 Clayson, Jungr, and Johnson, 149. 42 43


Sun 10 marked an encounter of two artists’ idiosyncratic co-performance in the public space for the first time, giving a multiplying effect in its physical realization, with Ono’s “Bagism” and John’s music.49 Delving into conceptual sound and music was also a key moment marked Yoko Ono’s art format shift, from a referential approach to a biographical approach.50 It signified a transition from her multi-media interpretation to crystalizing and consolidating previous work. Despite the exclusivity, a strong propensity to freedom and independence confused her, leading to a struggle within the relationship. Being emotionally connected with Lennon confined her creativity, particularly a celebrity lifestyle during the time in England, where she was treated as the subordinate partner.51 The relationship became a double-edged sword to her career as an artist, not only for the hatred stigmatization and verbal abuse, but the position as women in dealing with the heterosexual relationship from her inner self. This pressure motivated her to go back to New York for an emotional distance (though they eventually go back to the U.S. together)52. The film Fly (Fig. 6) was produced right after returning to New York. Growing out from her 1968 film score, “Let a fly walk on a female body and fly out of the window,” it documented an introspective and mindful reflection of the female position, as a continuum of her early film series.53 In figure 6, the nude, inanimate, lying female body symbolizs an entrapment situation, contrasting the freely wandering fly as the liberation.54 The scene of an annoying fly intruding a seemingly dead woman’s body was self-relating to Yoko, as well as referencing women’s selfsacrifice for survival. The tender, blurry, contradictory, and intensive film was finished by the couple’s collaboration, in which the soundtrack combined Yoko’s soft primal screaming, sighing, singing, and John’s guitar together.55 It was a twenty-five minutes acoustic experiment dealing with all human emotional responses, the love, the fear, the pain, the longingness, the worries, and the anger.56 Together

Ibid. Klaus Biesenbach et al., 191. 51 Ibid, 67. 52 Ibid, 79. 53 Quoted by Biesenbach et al, 144. 54 Klaus Biesenbach et al., 204. 55 Clayson, Jungr, and Johnson, 150. 56 Ibid. 49 50


Sun 11 with visual presentation, Fly is the loudest scream for freedom from Yoko Ono by speaking for the little buzz creature. The soundtrack was collected into Yoko’s 1971 album under the title of Yoko Ono / Plastic Ono Band, Fly (Fig.7). She also participated in the visual development of Plastic Ono Band, including Lennon’s album, John Lennon /Plastic Ono Band, Imagine (Fig. 8). In fact, Plastic Ono Band was therapy for the couple, long wishing for complete spiritual freedom.57 Yoko Ono once mentioned in an interview that “both John and I have a lot of to do with emotional issues,” and they sought help from Primal Scream Therapy to get rid of the psychological consequences of their unhappy childhood memories in war.58 The vocal practices allowed Ono to reiterate her Shinto and Zen philosophy, while the songwriting process helped John in music production.59 Imagine, later recognized as Lennon’s most iconic song, exemplified Yoko Ono’s talents and powerful capacity as an intellectual leader against the defamation and a sense of inferiority in the relationship. Marrying and collaborating intensively with John Lennon healed Yoko Ono’s traumas from early years, and gave her the most precious gift, their son Sean Ono Lennon. Yet, the downside of their strong emotional attachment to each other rather than his/herself remained somehow problematic.60 To Ono, it was not about “get togetherness,” but about “dealing with herself” and “dealing themselves.”61 From Rape to Plastic Ono Band and Fly, we can see a tough, independent, and thoughtful woman searching and persisting her voices in mind.62 In her 1992 interview with Kate Pierson, what is appreciated most is that she never gives up love and sincerity, from pre-Lennon’s unhappy marriage and public judgment, withLennon’s stigmatization and negligible existence, to post-Lennon’s parenting and art practices.63 With or without John, one forever truth in her fragmented identities is love.

Cornelia H. Butler, Lisa Gabrielle Mark, and Museum of Contemporary Art (Los Angeles, Calif.), eds., WACK! Art and the Feminist Revolution (Los Angeles: Cambridge, Mass: Museum of Contemporary Art ; MIT Press, 2007). 58 Clayson, Jungr, and Johnson, 77. 59 Ibid, 79. 60 Judith Kellner, “Gender Perspective in Cross-Cultural Couples,” Clinical Social Work Journal 37, no. 3 (September 2009): 224–229. 61 Quoted by Biesenbach et al, 184. 62 Cornelia H. Butler, Lisa Gabrielle Mark, and Museum of Contemporary Art (Los Angeles, Calif.), 276. 63 Yoko Ono, “Yoko Ono Interviewed by Kate Pierson ,” TV, The B-52s (New York, 1992), accessed March 1, 2020, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7qgsaC4VEZI&pbjreload=10. 57


Sun 12 Marina Abramović: Moving on If Yoko Ono and John Lennon were the muses for each other, then Marina Abramović and Ulay stepped further, integrating their art career as one. From the late 1970s, the intimate relationship’s expectations had a new layer, which is “vehicle for self-development” as a product of the individualistic culture.64 Marina, the talented radical performance female artist, was led to a new world in 1975, at first glance in meeting Ulay, an eye-opening door: “He was different from any other person I saw.”65 The gentle, tender, and warm-hearted visual artist brought a distinctive world to Marina. The beginning of the relationship is as epic as their ending, where the couple decided to meet at the exact geographical midpoint between Belgrade and Amsterdam.66 Soon, upon giving up their independent art careers, this couple became a symbiotic union under the name of Ulay/Marina Abramović (1976-1980) (and Marina Abramović/ Ulay, 1981-1988), marking the start of a predetermined separation with the span of twelve years.67 A predetermined separation -- From the Nightsea Crossing (1981-1988) to The Lovers (1988) In 1976-1980, when the artist duo finished working intensively on power dynamics with the sexual presentation of two people in love, such as AAA-AAA, Breathing in and Out, and Rest Energy, the couple came to the spiritual side with Nightsea Crossing (Fig. 9), which is the beginning of their separation.68 It was an epic ninety-day of twenty-two performances around the world, where two artists were sitting facing each other, sharing silence motionlessly, fasting.69 The settings and presentation varied at each location, but they always gazed at each other across the same mahogany table and two chairs.70 The ambitious artist duo challenged themselves too much to achieve the transcendence of their inner

Shibusawa, 231 Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, The Story of Marina Abramović & Ulay, produced by: Christian Lund. (Louisiana Channel, 2017), Video, 30:59. https://vimeo.com/224530065. 66 James Westcott, When Marina Abramović Dies: A Biography (Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press, 2010), 94. 67 Ibid. 68 Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, The Story of Marina Abramović & Ulay. 69 Westcott, 166. 70 Ibid. 64 65


Sun 13 spirituality through still-life painting technique. It discusses the anarchical power of the architectural body in Tableau vivant manifestation.71 However, beloved artists went too far. The end of the utopian relationship was marked in 1981, when Ulay was absent in the first performance of Nightsea Crossing. He stood up and left Abramović alone at the table. During six years’ performance of this work, the different limitations they can bear reached the ceiling, emotionally and physically. It was their differences that attracted and bonded them together, but also the root cause separating them. First of all, the concept they tried to convey through this work is different. According to Abramovic, the performance was a still-life, a “silent life,” whereas Ulay noted that his main interest was in the process of remaining motionless. 72 Secondly, their physical situation is unmatched. Ulay confessed that he was unable to sit for a long time and his body reached it maximum tolerance.73 Consecutive incidents and changes happened throughout the years of Nightsea Crossing's performance, including several extra-relationship affairs and the death of Ulay’s mother, leading to worsening health conditions and more frequent failures in performances.74 Meanwhile, due to fasting, their relationship skewed, where Marina got stronger and more cheerful while Ulay was weaker and shivering.75 Thirdly, the ego of each counterpart rises. It was the dark side of the intimate relationship resulting from the gap and conflicts between them. From a sanguine perspective, staring in each other is a soulful communication they achieved by channeling their spiritual world and mental consciousness together.76 However, pessimistically, their interactivity see through the ego, by harshly and mindfully reflecting their get-together moments. There is an inherent contradiction between pursuing art and

Ibid. Pomeranz Collection, “HISTORICAL PERFORMANCE & ACTIONISM MARINA ABRAMOVIC & ULAY” (Pomeranz Collection, n.d.), accessed March 1, 2020, http://pomeranz-collection.com/?q=node/39#flou. 73 Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, The Story of Marina Abramović & Ulay. 74 Westcott, 193. 75 Ibid, 190. 76 Douglas C. McGill, “Art People,” The New York Times, February 21, 1986, sec. Arts, accessed March 7, 2020, https://www.nytimes.com/1986/02/21/arts/art-people.html. 71 72


Sun 14 insisting love to Marina that making art is the most important thing that must accompany her entire life.77 Ulay was not sure with hesitation. More importantly, the time exposed Ulay’s unfaithfulness across the entire relationship, ended by the explosion of the secret bomb he buried – his son. Being fully aware of the existence of the child shocked Marina and her surroundings. Even though he claimed it was his shameful feeling that pushed him to disguise the truth, being dishonest for ten years from the very beginning was detrimental and heartbreaking.78 For the first and the only time, Marina stood up and left the performance to Ulay alone due to migraine after knowing the secret.79 Nightsea Crossing witnessed Marina’s strong but vulnerable, persistent but confused, happy but tortured sides across years. She stayed the energy of performance every time after Ulay left. There was an unspeakable tension between their Gaze if comparing the 1986’s show to the first 1981 Sydney show. As shown in Figure 9, Ulay and Marina exchanged glances from a mild and warm atmosphere to dodging in awkward silence. Despite the tranquility and the superficial peace in their micro facial expressions, the balance wavered back and forth. Both artists confessed that there is no need to perform ninety times, which is redundant, quotidian, and non-sense except satisfying their ego.80 Physical failure and the revelation of his son brought humiliation and inferiority to Ulay, contrasted by Marina’s ego-centric ambition and persistence. What’s worse, their common ego started to collapse as their anarchical performance was institutionalized by the audience believing they are ideal couple.81 Unavoidably, the stronger their individual ego grew, their psychological needs become more conflicted. The intimacy became a barrier for performance and failed to be “vehicle for self-development,” led to the day of break up. In fact, since Nightsea Crossing requires enormous physical commitment, they adopted an abstinence lifestyle back to 1981: fasting, no sex, no alcohol, and writing notes instead of talking in person to ensure the perfect condition for

Westcott, 169. Ibid, 195. 79 Ibid, 196. 80 Ibid, 171. 81 Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, The Story of Marina Abramović & Ulay. 77 78


Sun 15 performance. However, it sacrificed effective communications, resulting in the disconnection between each other. In 1987, after another disrupted performance in Los Angeles, Abramović was fettered miserably and desperately in an ambivalent situation with drastic emotional unstableness.82 She wrote in her diary with hate and hopelessness: “Everything is wrong,” “Feeling unwanted,” “Burning my possessions,” but still with an emotional attachment with “I can’t let him go.”83 Every effort to remain together turned out to push each other away. The dis-integration appeared as individual consciousness rises and heads to different destinations, which is presented in their final work, the Lovers. The Great Wall Walk, where they originally intended to marry in the middle, become the culmination of their relationship and co-performance.84 Their relationship was exhausted throughout the years of the intensive negotiations with Chinese governments, complex details, and huge capital requirements, along with the behind-the-scene affairs during Nightsea Crossing performances. Even the destination, China, is an unfortunate sign due to Marina’s hate of communism.85 They postponed the walk three times, not only for logistic reasons but because of a deep fear of an unsuccessful relationship. Ninety days' walk in the severe environmental condition was the same number of days as they performed Nightsea Crossing. They felt the rhythm of the earth and walked towards each other, representing every effort they have been made for co-performance and maintaining their love.86 Their meeting, as shown in figure 10, was an alienation but a togetherness, familiar but strange, lonely but accompanied, resonating the mixed feeling she wrote in her diary.87 Upon reunion at Er Lang Shan, they embraced. Marina smiled, but wept sadly. Her soliloquy in the retrospective documentary, The Lovers (The Great Wall: Lovers at the Brink), helps to explain her place:

Ibid, 196. Marina Abramović and Alessia Bulgari, The Biography of Biographies (Milano: Charta, 2004), 38. 84 Westcott, 169. 85 Abramović and Bulgari, 28. 86 Murray Grigor and Marina Abramovic and Ulay, The Great Wall: Lovers at the Brink (BBC, 1988) 16mm film, transferred to video, 64min. 87 Abramović and Bulgari, 53. 82 83


Sun 16 “[…] Two aliens are meeting. Estranged from each other and strangers to each other. I can hardly speak. He speaks continuously about himself, his walk, his experiences. […] in one split second he holds my finger in his hand. At that very moment I felt togetherness again. The intensity of the feeling we once had for each other returns. Somehow this finger contact brought back feelings for a moment. […] We met unhappily. It was very human in a way, is more dramatic. More like a film ending than actually having this romantic story of two lovers. Because in the end, you are really alone. Whatever you do.”88 From her sad tone, failing to be together was a predetermined ending. They co-performanced because of a shared feeling, while departuring because of failing to empathize. Their relationship went to two extremes, the most intimate while the most distant. Effort intensive performances and maniac workaholic marked Marina Abramović as more tough person than Ulay.89 She was always testing her limits and her relationship. In Nightsea Crossing, they pushed themselves to enhance the spiritual capabilities, as so in the Lovers, crossing a half China to say an epic goodbye.90 Their twelve-year companionship finally reduced to a several minutes video clip, diminishing shared emotions and memories. Upon the recovery from the separation, she became tougher and more uninhabited, like a fighter, and moved on her performance art journey alone, firmly believing that “an artist must be solitude that away from home, away from the studio, family, friends.” 91 Twelve years after the breakup, Ulay once responded “I thought I deserve less,” while two years ago, after everything has gone, he said, “we are just good friends now, which is good.”92 Both artists are separated but somehow shared the "togetherness" again. There is no right or wrong, only time counts, and only themselves count.

Grigor, and Marina Abramovic and Ulay, The Great Wall: Lovers at the Brink. Cornelia H. Butler, Lisa Gabrielle Mark, and Museum of Contemporary Art (Los Angeles, Calif.), 210. 90 Westcott, 186. 91 Marina Abramović, History, ART21, Aired April 26, 2012, on PBS, accessed March 1, 2020, https://www.pbs.org/video/art-21-history/. 92 Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, The Story of Marina Abramović & Ulay. 88 89


Sun 17 Conclusion Differences between two people spark attractions and bring up romantic stories. However, they also cause conflicts, crushes, and separations. By differences in intimate heterosexual relationships, it refers to family of origin, age, educational background, and fundamentally, gender, etc.93 These female artists’ art expressions intertwined with their personal experience, demonstrating nuances of their position with their creative counterparts, with unmatched expectations and confusions. When dealing with intimate relationships, all three artists seek help from art to construct their own reality and to channel a friend-like relationship with their male counterparts. Their works, in a highly personal approach, uncover ups and downs, wounds and cure in the relationships. Their friendship-like dynamics coincide with the social expectation of the heterosexual marriages in the 1970s.94 Difference and heterogeneity cannot be eliminated as long as each individual, with their own interests and wills, independently exist.95 Yet, they are never in unfortunate states. While distinctions create tensions and hazards associated with vulnerability, it nurtures and enriches a meaningful relationship.96 Intrinsically, every relationship has its dark side, but it is not a failure when one cannot manage a perfect act to satisfy his/her counterpart with a complete, ideal, and emotionally safe harmony. 97 Extrinsically, arbitrary forms of power exacerbate the unreasonable social valuation of the relationship. The end and the possible happiness can be realized when one distances himself/herself from his/hers body, will, mindset, and everything under the label of “you,” and looks at the relationship as an outsider to understand your “self,” your partner, and the togetherness. As Abramović quoted: “In the end, you are alone.”98 It seems to be against the human needs of belongingness. Yet, intimate relationship is a difficult and self-contradictory lifelong task. Being intimate is ultimately getting prepared for loneliness.

Beall and Sternberg, 437. Ibid, 438. 95 Seana Valentine Shiffrin, “Promising, Intimate Relationships, and Conventionalism,” The Philosophical Review117, no. 4 (2008): 481–524. 96 Ibid, 521. 97 Ibid. 98 Grigor, and Marina Abramovic and Ulay, The Great Wall: Lovers at the Brink 93 94


Sun 18 Bibliography Abramović, Marina. Marina Abramovic: the Biography of Biographies. photos by Alessia Bulgari. Milano: Charta, 2004. Abramovic, Marina. History. Season 6, Episode 3. “Art 21”. Aired April 26, 2012, on PBS. https://www.pbs.org/video/art-21-history/. Alcántara, Isabel, Sandra Egnolff, and Joan Clough-Laub. Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera. Munich; New York: Prestel, 2004. Beall, Anne E., and Robert J. Sternberg. “The Social Construction of Love.” Journal of Social and Personal Relationships 12, no. 3 (August 1995): 417–38. doi:10.1177/0265407595123006. Biesenbach, Klaus, Christophe Cherix, Julia Bryan-Wilson, Jon Hendricks, Clive Phillpot, David Platzker, Francesca Wilmott, Midori Yoshimoto, Yōko Ono, and Museum of Modern Art (New York, N.Y.), eds. Yoko Ono: One Woman Show, 1960-1971. New York: Museum of Modern Art, 2015. Chadwick, Whitney. Women, Art, and Society. London: Thames & Hudson, 2012. 5th ed. Butler, Cornelia H., Lisa Gabrielle Mark, and Museum of Contemporary Art (Los Angeles, Calif.), eds. WACK! Art and the Feminist Revolution. Los Angeles: Cambridge, Mass: Museum of Contemporary Art; MIT Press, 2007. Clayson, Alan, Barb Jungr and Robb Johnson. Woman: The Incredible Life of Yoko Ono. New Malden: Chrome Dreams, 2004. 1st ed. Grigor, Murray, and Marina Abramovic and Ulay. The Great Wall: Lovers at the Brink. BBC, 1988. 16mm film, transferred to video, 64min. Herrera, Hayden. “Beauty to His Beast: Frida Kahlo & Diego Riviera.” In Significant Others: Creativity & Intimate Partnership with 76 illustrations, edited by Whitney Chadwick and Isabelle de Courtivron, 119-156. New York: Thames and Hudson, 1993. Kellner, Judith. “Gender Perspective in Cross-Cultural Couples.” Clinical Social Work Journal 37, no. 3 (September 2009): 224–229. Kvaran, Gunnar, Grete Årbu, and Hanne Beate Ueland. Yoko Ono - Horizontal Memories. Published on the Occasion of the Exhibition Horizontal Memories, Astrup Fearnley Museum of Modern Art,


Sun 19 Oslo, 2005.01.22 - 05.08. Edited by Grete Årbu. Oslo: Astrup Fearnley Museum of Modern Art, 2005. Lent, Tina Olsin. “Life as Art/Art as Life: Dramatizing the Life and Work of Frida Kahlo.” Journal of Popular Film and Television 35, no. 2 (July 2007): 68–76. Louisiana Museum of Modern Art. The Story of Marina Abramović & Ulay. Produced by: Christian Lund. Louisiana Channel, 2017. Video, 30:59. https://vimeo.com/224530065. McGill, Douglas C. “Art People.” The New York Times, February 21, 1986, sec C, Page 28. Accessed February 21, 2020. https://www.nytimes.com/1986/02/21/arts/art-people.html. Ono, Yoko, Interview by Kate Pierson. The B-52s. 1992. New York, NY. https://youtu.be/7qgsaC4VEZI. Pomeranz Collection. “HISTORICAL PERFORMANCE & ACTIONISM MARINA ABRAMOVIC & ULAY.” Pomeranz Collection. Accessed March 1, 2020. http://pomeranzcollection.com/?q=node/39#flou. Princenthal, Nancy. Unspeakable Acts: Women, Art, and Sexual Violence in the 1970s. New York: Thames & Hudson, 2019. Shibusawa, Tazuko. “A Commentary on ‘Gender Perspectives in Cross-Cultural Couples.’” Clinical Social Work Journal 37, no. 3 (September 2009): 230–233. Shiffrin, Seana Valentine. "Promising, Intimate Relationships, and Conventionalism." The Philosophical Review 117, no. 4 (2008): 481-524. Accessed March 3, 2020. www.jstor.org/stable/40606045. Souter, Gerry. Frida Kahlo: Temporis. New York: Confidential Concepts, 2015. 2020. Also available from EBSCOhost. Westcott, James. When Marina Abramović Dies: A Biography. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2010. Zetterman, Eva. “Frida Kahlo’s Abortions: With Reflections from a Gender Perspective on Sexual Education in Mexico.” Konsthistorisk tidskrift/Journal of Art History 75, no. 4 (December 2006): 230–243.


Sun 20 List of Artworks

Fig. 1. Frida Kahlo, Frida and Diego Rivera or Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, 1931, oil on canvas, 100 x 79 cm, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco (Frida Kahlo: Temporis, 187).

Fig. 2. Frida Kahlo, The Love Embrace of the Universe, The Earth (Mexico), I, Diego and Señor Xólotl, 1949, oil on canvas, 70 x 60.5 cm, Private collection, Mexico City (Frida Kahlo: Temporis, 146).

Fig. 3. Frida Kahlo, Frida and the Caesarean, unfinished, dated to 1931-1932, oil on canvas, 73 x 62 cm, Private collection (Frida Kahlo: Temporis, 82).


Sun 21

Fig. 4. Yoko Ono and John Lennon, filmstrip from Rape, 1969, 77min (WACK! Art and the Feminist Revolution, 66).

Fig. 5. Yoko Ono, THE PLASTIC ONO BAND in self-published book To My Sisters, With Love (detail), 1971, offset 58.3 x73.7 cm (Yoko Ono: One Woman Show, 1960-1971, 214).


Sun 22

Fig. 6. Yoko Ono, filmstrip from Fly, 1970, 16mm film transferred to DVD (color, sound), 25 min, private collection (Yoko Ono: One Woman Show, 1960-1971, 205-207).

Fig. 7. Yoko Ono/Plastic Ono Band, Fly, 1971,Vinyl LP, 31.6 x 31 cm, Apple Records (est. 1968), photographed by John Lennon (Yoko Ono: One Woman Show, 1960-1971, 197).

Fig. 8. John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band, Imagine, 1971,Vinyl LP, 31.4 x 31.4 cm, Apple Records (est. 1968), photographed by Yoko Ono (Yoko Ono: One Woman Show, 1960-1971, 197).


Sun 23

Fig. 9. Louisiana Channel, filmstrip from The Story of Marina Abramović & Ulay, 2017. Video, 30:59. (https://vimeo.com/224530065)


Sun 24

Fig. 10. Louisiana Channel, filmstrip from The Story of Marina Abramović & Ulay, 2017. Video, 30:59. (https://vimeo.com/224530065)

Profile for Chang Sun

Intimate Loneliness  

Intimacy is a conceptual feeling between one and one’s surroundings. By intimate relationship, it refers to love (couplehood), family (kinsh...

Intimate Loneliness  

Intimacy is a conceptual feeling between one and one’s surroundings. By intimate relationship, it refers to love (couplehood), family (kinsh...

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