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Nightsea Crossing/The Observer



Ulay/Marina Abramovic

Currently not on display
Acquired in 1997
Inventory number 2331
met steun van / with support of Mondriaan Fonds

The Van Abbemuseum Collection consists of over 3400 artworks. We publish texts and images on an ongoing basis, but this record is currently in the process of being documented.

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In the video 'Nightsea Crossing/The Observer', the image is largely filled with the silhouette of a person seen from the back. At the top of the image there is a woman on the left and a man on the right sitting on a chair on either side of a long table. We see them from the side. Smoke curls up between the person shown in silhouette and the people in the background. A man’s voice explains the situation in English. The text shows that the voice belongs to the figure with the dark head seen from the back. The video lasts “…the time it takes to smoke a cigarette” as the voice explains.

The video described above is actually not a work of art by Ulay and Abramovic. It is the report of a Swiss artist Remy Zaugg of his participation in the performance 'Night Sea Crossing' by them. During this performance Ulay and Abramovic sat opposite each other silently and without moving for seven hours, their eyes focusing on each other. They performed 'Night Sea Crossing' twenty-two times between 1981 and 1987 with different lengths and in different locations. Apart from looking at each other the performers don’t do anything, or as Zaugg said: “They do their very best to do nothing.” They are just present, physically and mentally. Their concentration on being present results in their experience moving “… from the material to the immaterial, from form to formless, from instrumental to mental, from time to timeless.”

Sometimes Ulay and Abramovitch ask others to participate in a performance, as in the variation 'Night Sea Crossing/The Observer'. Zaugg’s task was to observe the performance seated at a table halfway in between the public and the “stage”. For Zaugg his role of observer particularly led to reflecting on that role and an awareness of it. His position is in between the performers and the public, both literally and metaphorically. He can identify with the performers who are silently present and being watched just as he is, but also with the public which is watching. At the same time he is aware of this special position and can in a way see himself sitting as an observer. The video was recorded from this perspective. 'Night Sea Crossing' is one of the Relation Works of Ulay and Abramovic. These express a strong connection between them both which is sometimes physical, sometimes emotional or mental.