Ulay

Ulay

Under My Skin

This is the story of legendary artist Ulay, famous for his collaboration with Marina Abramović. As a solo artist in search for his identity, Ulay’s radical works have pushed the limits of photography and performance using his own body as material.

“From early on I liked to revolt.” Being a “half-orphan” war child, born in the ashes of World War II in an air-raid shelter in Solingen, West Germany, at the age of 25 Ulay took his life in his own hands and joined the provos in Amsterdam. In the early 70s he invented the term "performance photography," taking Polaroid photos of himself performing in front of the camera, often dressed up in women’s clothes. Feeling attracted to society’s outcasts he lived in Amsterdam among transvestites, homeless and marginal existences "sharing the camera," in order to “bridge the relation between the photographer and the model.”

After many series of “auto-polaroids,” Ulay came to the conclusion that the answer to his identity search was to question the surface of photography by going under his own skin. “Photography can only stay on the periphery of things, if I look for my genetics or my identity, I have to go under my skin.” Ulay started to cut, pierce and tattoo his own body bringing it at the center of his work, which culminated in the work 'GEN.E.T.RATION ULTIMA RATIO' (1972), where a piece of Ulay's own skin was transplanted and framed as a paraphrase of the German expression “to sell one’s skin to the market.”

Starting out as a pioneering photographer on “identity search,” Ulay wanted to infuse “life” into the art world, by pushing the boundaries for his “anarchistic" practice. One of Ulay’s most radical works is called ’There is a Criminal Touch to Art’ (1976), where the artist steals Hitler’s favorite painting – made by Carl Spitzweg – at the New National Gallery in Berlin "to stir up a discussion about how immigrants were treated."

“Art needed life, it needed a living”. In the mid-70s Ulay’s exploration of the body led to the historic relationship with performance artist Marina Abramović who he worked and lived with between 1976 and 1988. From the beginning of the 90s until the present Ulay has continued his exploration of the photographic medium still using himself as a tool and target of his artistic search.

Ulay (Frank Uwe Laysiepen, b. 1943) is a German artist, now based in Amsterdam, Holland, and Ljubljana, Slovenia. Ulay received international recognition for his work as a photographer, mainly in Polaroid, from the late 1960s, and later as a performance artist, including his collaborative performances with Marina Abramović from 1976 to 1988. His work has continuously dealt with politics, identity and gender. In 2016 Schirn Kunsthalle in Frankfurt, Germany, held the first major retrospective show of his work ‘Ulay Life-Sized’. In recent years Ulay’s work has also been on show at the Nederlands Fotomuseum in Rotterdam and GNYP Gallery in Berlin. Ulay’s work, as well as his collaborative work with Marina Abramović, is featured in many collections of major art institutions around the world such as Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, Centre Pompidou in Paris, Tate Modern in London and Museum of Modern Art in New York.

Ulay was interviewed by Christian Lund in Ljubljana, Slovenia, in July 2017.

Cameras: Primoz Korosec
Edit: Roxanne Bageshirin Lærkesen
Produced by: Christian Lund
Copyright: Louisiana Channel, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, 2017

Supported by Nordea-fonden

  • Riad Sattouf

    On 'The Arab of the Future'

    Franco-Syrian Riad Sattouf here discusses his emotionally honest graphic memoir, praised as ”a classic within its genre.” Sparked by the civil war in Syria, it is told from a child’s perspective, humorously balancing between two cultures.

  • Joyce Pensato

    Advice to the Young

    Homer, Mickey, Batman! Joyce Pensato – known for her unique work inspired by cartoon and comic book characters – here advises young artists to keep at it, love what they’re doing and, most importantly, “show your work, get it out there!”

  • Ulay

    Advice to the Young

    “If you want and need inspiration – go behind the central station.” The iconic artist – and self-proclaimed anarchist – Ulay here advises young artists to avoid art institutions and to make works that meet their own needs rather than that of the audience.

  • George Condo

    The Artist at Work

    The mind of American artist George Condo has been referred to as a place where “Picasso meets Looney Tunes.” Watch him at work in his New York-studio where he draws and paints his take on a 19th century painting by Manet.

  • Ulay

    Under My Skin

    This is the story of legendary artist Ulay, famous for his collaboration with Marina Abramović. As a solo artist in search for his identity, Ulay’s radical works have pushed the limits of photography and performance using his own body as material.

  • Marina Abramović & Ulay

    A Living Door of the Museum

    Standing naked in the main entrance of a museum, facing each other while the audience passes sideways through the small space. Legendary performance artists Marina Abramović and Ulay share the story behind their poetic work ‘Imponderabilia’.

  • Bill Viola

    Cameras are Soul Keepers

    When video artist Bill Viola was 6 years old he fell into a lake, all the way to the bottom, to a place which seemed like paradise. "There's more than just the surface of life." Viola explains. "The real things are under the surface".

  • Wang Shu

    Architecture is a Job for God

    The Chinese architect Wang Shu’s buildings – a crossover between traditional Chinese culture and large-scale modern architecture – have earned him prestigious awards. “Democracy means a really diverse society,” says the architect in this inspiring interview.

  • Margrethe Odgaard

    Colour Diary of New York

    Becoming more aware of your surroundings can “open a new dimension inside as well as outside yourself.” Meet award-winning Danish designer Margrethe Odgaard who has trained herself to register the world through colours.

  • Nick Cave

    The World is my Skin

    Have you ever wished that you could put on a suit which would open up the imagination and take you to the world of your dreams? In this video artist Nick Cave presents his wearable sculptures, the 'Soundsuits', made from discarded everyday materials.

  • Gerhard Richter

    In Art We Find Beauty and Comfort

    “I don’t really believe art has power. But it does have value. Those who take an interest in it find solace in art. It gives them huge comfort.” Gerhard Richter, one of the greatest painters of our time, discusses beauty in the era of the internet.

  • Olga Tokarczuk

    I Absorb Stories

    Olga Tokarczuk – one of the most important Polish writers of her generation – here shares how she draws inspiration from others: “People tell amazing micro-stories or even bigger stories. I seize them, absorb them and transform them in my books.”