Frank Uwe Laysiepen (Solingen, Germany, 1943), famous as Ulay, photographer and performer and professor at the University of Karlsruhe, was the undisputed pioneer of performance art, an avant-garde discipline of the seventies to which he dedicated intensely.
He passed away in Ljubljana, the city where he had lived for years and where he treated his illness.
Son of a Nazi hierarch, in the late 1960s he left his country. He renounced his German nationality to move to Amsterdam. Here he begins to approach photography, embarking on his artistic research through the use of Polaroid.
Ulay’s Seventies of performance art
It is in 1974 that Ulay presents “Renais Sense” exhibition, revived by the Boers-Li Gallery in New York, in 2018. In this, through the use of polaroid and disguise. In particular, he analyzed the concept of limit, through the androgyny, such as deterritorialization of the genus.
Through “Renais Sense“, Ulay identified the process of building multiple identities in the unhinging of stereotypes. Dressed up eccentrically as a woman, he showed what he called “that feminine sensitivity that is part of my soul“, pursuing its axiom: “Aesthetics without ethics is cosmetic“.
There is a Criminal Touch to Art
“There is a Criminal Touch to Art“, in 1976, was a performance on view at the Neue Nationalgalerie in Berlin.
Ulay stole the nineteenth-century painting particularly admired by the wealthy bourgeoisie and by Adolf Hitler. “Der arme Poet” by the romantic painter Carl Spitzweg. Ulay brought it to a Turkish family in the Kreuzberg district, shifting the attention to otherness and ethnic minorities.
Ulay and Marina Abramović
In Amsterdam, he meets Marina Abramović and with her begins a creative and personal partnership that will last 12 years. The fruits of their collaboration were works such as “Imponderabilia” and “Relation in Space“.
«I went to Amsterdam, with Ulay we bought an old French police car and we traveled for five years. We lived with nothing, of performance, and for performance, in the car, turning, without having to pay rent or light, stopping in the middle of nature, taking a shower in the service stations “Marina Abramović
Even the separation was a reason for performing. “The Lovers” is a 2500 km walk for the last look at the center of the Chinese Wall. Starting from the two extremes, Ulay from the Gobi Desert, Marina from the Yellow Sea.
The couple’s performances have always been certainly original and outside the box. Extreme forms of body art that led them to explore the limits of resistance not only physically but also psychically.
Ulay from 2010 to his death
In 2010 the great meeting of the artists after many years happened at MoMA. On the occasion of the performance “The Artist Is Present“, citing their previous very similar work, “Nightsea Crossing“, during which the two sat on the opposite sides of a table, remaining motionless.
Now Ulay is gone. But even the disease has become an opportunity for him to make art. In 2011 he left for a whole year and went from Ljubljana to New York and Amsterdam to meet his lifelong companions and friends. From this journey, which traces the most important moments of his career, was created the 2013 documentary “Project Cancer” directed by Damjan Kozole.
Ulay still remains one of the most interesting and least classifiable artists on the international art scene. He was an eclectic artist whose work deals with the intersection of photography and conceptual approaches to art in the performance and through the body.