Ulay & Abramović, 1977

“We are standing naked in the main entrance of the museum, facing each other. The public entering the museum has to pass sideways through the small space between us. Each person passing has to choose which one of us to face.”

The artists’ bodies together form the entrance to the Galleria Communale d’Arte Moderna in Bologna, Italy, which visitors must pass if they wish to gain access to the museum. When the visitors become aware that physical contact with the naked Abramovic and Ulay is inevitable and they will have to make a choice between the woman and the man, they at least try to avoid eye contact.

Once the visitors are inside the museum, they realized that they had been filmed by a hidden camera. Moreover, they were confronted with a text on the wall: ‘Imponderable. Such imponderable human factors as one’s aesthetic sensitivity / the overriding importance of imponderables in determining human conduct.’

The text refers directly to the visitor’s behaviour on entry. Indeed, what this performance actually revolves around is the reaction provoked in the visitors when they enter the gallery. After 90 minutes, the police put an end to this controversial performance, which had actually been intended to last for three hours.

Galleria Comunale d’Arte Moderna, Bologna
Courtesy the Marina Abramović Archives
© Marina Abramović

Marina Abramović is a Serbian performance artist based in New York. Her work explores the relationship between performer and audience, the limits of the body, and the possibilities of the mind.