Michael Klein, Inc., New York, New York
Purchased by Akron Art Museum, 1987
2014 - 2015: Haslinger galleries, 4/26/14 - 8/9/15, Akron Art Museum
2007: "Opening exhibition Haslinger galleries" 7/7/0 -1/20/08, Akron Art Museum
2003: "Eyes on the Body: Selections from the Collection" 8/23/03 - 02/28/03, Akron Art Museum
1997 - 1998: "75th Anniversary Celebration of the Collection" 11/15/9 - 1/11/98, Akron Art Museum
1996: "Akron's Own Rings: Five Passions in World Art" 6/22/96 - 8/11/96, Akron Art Museum
1991 - 1992: "Focus on the Collection: A 70th Anniversary Celebration" 11/3/91 - 1/5/92, Akron Art Museum
1990 - 1991: "Focus on the Figure" 12/1/90 - 6/23/91, Akron Art Museum
1987: "Arts 87" 1/23/8 - 3/14/87, Cincinnati Art Museum, organized by the Contemporary Arts Center, The Cincinnati Art Museum and the Cincinnati Ballet, Cincinnati, Ohio
1986: "Emerging Artists '86" 10/27/86 - 11/14/86, Cleveland Center for Contemporary Art, Cleveland, Ohio
1985: "Modus Vivendi - Lebensweise" 9/14/85 - 10/13/85, Van Abbe Museum Eindhoven, Eindhoven, Netherlands
10/20/85 - 11/17/85, Kölnischer Kuntsverein, Cologne, Germany
Four prints; each framed panel 80 7/8 x 42 1/2"
Marina Abramovic and Ulay Marina Abramovic
Modus Vivendi (Way of Living), 1984
Collection of the Akron Art Museum
Marina Abramovic and Ulay (F. Uwe Laysiepen) worked and lived together for twelve years following their meeting in 1975 on their mutual birthday. They settled in Amsterdam, but the city was less a home than a congenial base for worldwide artistic pursuits. During the 1980s they explored the philosophical issues of ethical living and inner consciousness, rejecting postmodern preoccupations with consumerism and artificiality that characterized so much of the decade.
When they met, both were already engaged in performance art, a hybrid discipline combining a variety of expression—such as poetry, theater, dance, video—into a symbolic artistic experience. In performance art the artist is usually both conceiver and performer. Themes can range from mystical allegory to something verging on cabaret entertainment. Abramovic and Ulay eschewed the latter in favor of extreme concentration and meditative, symbolic acts that explore what it means to think, to feel, to love, to trust, and to fear. They poetically summarized their art as "no fixed living place\permanent movement\direct contact\local reaction\self-selection\passing limitations\taking risks\mobile energy."1
The title Modus Vivendi was first applied by the artists to a 1983 performance in Italy. Moving with extreme slowness, Ulay uttered incantations such as "hearing, hearing; moving, moving; touching, touching," lyrically conveying human conditions like weightiness, loss, separation, or union. The same title was later given to a series of Polaroid photographs, including the major work owned by the Akron Art Museum. Each of the series’ four life-size images was carefully staged in front of a giant experimental camera in Boston built by the Polaroid Corporation. Used primarily for research purposes, the camera was made available to artists through a special corporate initiative. Like the familiar hand-held Polaroid cameras, it ejects one-of-a-kind photographs employing similar technology.
In Modus Vivendi the artists rejected the camera’s ability to portray external physical appearances in order to create a gleaming golden atmosphere in which the human body becomes a symbolic icon. The dark silhouettes of the two artists recall certain performances in which, backlit, they appeared as black shapes on a stage. Their slow movements were almost imperceptible; viewers only intermittently realized that the poses had changed, each new gesture summoning rich emotions and some evoking a particular time period or culture. The four separate Polaroid images reflect the restrictions of the camera, but this limitation is used symbolically. The multipart structure suggests how entities—in this case archetypes of male, female, and nature—may appear to exist separately but are in fact part of a whole.2
Ulay assumes a dynamic pose, thrusting a pike downward, suggesting both farmer and warrior. The image illustrates humanity's bond to the land and male energy as active penetration. In another print Abramovic stands frontally, goddesslike, pointing to both earth and sky. Her dramatic personification of a new kind of Mother Nature is also metaphysical, perhaps suggesting that mankind is the result of joining physical matter with heavenly creation. A third print captures an embrace that brings together male and female forces. And the fourth is of a delicate, haunting tree, which elicits thoughts on fruitfulness and the relation of humanity to fragile nature.
If the golden background implies a timeless, almost fairy-tale allegory of life, the achingly thin tree and the soulful embrace introduce a vein of melancholy. Elsewhere Abramovic reminds us that "in the end you are really alone, whatever you do," which, like the work itself, reflects the artist's ancient role as seer, philosopher, and seeker of truth, wherever it may lead.3
- Mitchell D. Kahan, 2001
1. Quoted in Dorine Mignot, “Marina Abramovic/Ulay,” Het Lumineuze Beeld/The Luminous Image (Amsterdam and Maarssden: Stedelijk Museum and Gary Schwartz, 1984), 93.
2. This key tenet of Tibetan philosophy is discussed in John F. Avedon, “Emptiness, the Two Truths: Excerpts from ‘An Interview with the Dalai Lama,’” in Modus Vivendi, 75.
3. Quoted in C. Carr, “Where Angels Fear to Tread,” The Village Voice, February 14, 1989, 32.
Modus Vivendi: Ulay & Marina Abramovic 1980–1985. Eindhoven: Stedelijk Van Abbemuseum, 1985.