This story has inspired my weekend. In 2010, artist Marina Abramovic performed “The Artist is Present” during her retrospective at MoMA. This type of work reminds me of Brene Brown’s position that we should dare greatly and take the risk of dropping the mask of who we think people want us to be and be authentic. In this piece, a stranger sits across from her, and she spends one minute in connection and silence with that person.
If you have not done it before, spending a minute in silence is akin to torture (in U.S. culture). We fill up our moments with noise, chatter, and distractions. A minute of silence can kill some people. Add looking directly at someone for that minute. Unless you’re into some type of tantric sex, that just doesn’t happen every day.
All is going well, and she is wearing a red dress that slays my spirit. Then her former lover and artist collaborator Ulay shows up without her knowledge and sits across from her.
They had more than a decade together. When they decided to end it, they undertook a monumentally epid project to say goodbye to the relationship. The two artists bissected the Great Wall of China and picked a route. He walked from the Gobi Desert. She started from the from Yellow Sea. They met at the middle of the Great Wall. They shared a great hug and walked away.
That’s a helluva way to close a relationship.
After the Love Is Gone?
Seconds into the video after she realizes who it is, her eyes begin to fill with tears. The emotions are real. Two former friends and lovers who have been in sporadic touch are communicating with their eyes.
She stretches across the table, her hands reaching out to him. He grasps them, and their hands clasped, they stare at each other as the crowd claps and hoots in approval. (Who knew that you could whoop and holler in MoMA?)
When his assigned time of a minute arrives, she pulls away. The shared moment is gone, but it will never be forgotten. but the aftershock of seeing him there in that moment rippled into the next participant who sits down after him.
This video (and a secondary behind the scenes video) just shows me that we can close the relationship, but closure–the complete resewing of the piece of your heart that someone opened and broke–is an ephermal, mythical thing we seek.
I always wanted closure from my relationship: to place a seal on this door to say “been there, done that, now know what I need to know” and then wash my hands of the situation and the man. Easier said than done. We are made up by our life experiences, and the relationship will always be a part of us. We don’t terminate the love. We may end the relationship, take back our things (like my waffle iron or my record collection), and go through the motions.
But if we are honest, the weight of the love, the emotional entanglement with that person is never gone. There’s always a transmuted, changed love there for that person and the something that was shared, the some thing that made us a couple.
Something that bonded us intimately. Something new that was learned. Something that was blue. Something we cried over together. Something that we laughed about together. One some thing shared with that one person that defines that relationship and shapes our view of that person.
What got me even more was the person who came after Ulay. Watching the video, I saw that she had to time more time to debrief with her emotions and to digest what just transpired. When she finally locked gazes with the next person, she was more open and vulnerable.