PRINT December 1986


ALL OVER THE WORLD, the monuments of ancient civilizations—the dolmens and menhirs of Europe, the Iingams of India, the burial mounds and pyramids of the Americas and Egypt—have settled themselves into the earth, occupying their place in it with such a feeling of permanence that they seem to share its life, not only through the legends and cultural auras that have come to surround them, but in the deeper sense that they in some way seem to touch the land’s aliveness as living things, beings whose pulse and breath are manifest in the rise and fall of the seasons and in the passing cinema of the stars.

Of nothing is this more true than it is of the Great Wall of China. Over the centuries, the wall has accumulated its share of mythic associations and popular lore; it is often considered as if it were a dragon, its body winding over a distance of 10,000 li, or between 3,000 and 4,000 miles, its head lying at the country’s eastern shore and its tail stretching out toward the west. Furthermore, the line it describes over the landscape is said to be an image of the Milky Way, which in Chinese mythology is thought to be a river in the sky, the home of yet another dragon. Traveling in China recently, we were also told that the wall was built not in accordance with any considerations of labor, cost, or military strategy as we know it today, but through calculations of forces in the earth that would guarantee the wall’s strength if it were correctly aligned with them, rather as acupuncture needles use currents in the human body to set free a curative energy. All this comes to bear in the experience of walking on the wall, when it seems to have a magnetic pull that moves one forward, as the pole steers the compass needle.

(Confession of the Great Wall.)

Together, we plan to walk the entire length of the wall. Marina will start her journey in the east, where the wall comes down to the gulf of Bohai on the Yellow Sea, at the Shanhaiguan gate, or “the first pass on earth.” In China, this is considered the male side of the dragon. Ulay will begin in the west, in the desert, at the Jiayuguan gate, or “the heroic path of the sky"—the dragon’s female side. Because of differences in the structure and condition of the wall, and in the terrain, the climate, and so on, each of us will experience our twin journey differently. We expect our walk along this crack in Earth to last about a year; it will be finished when we meet.

These pages contain a photograph of the wall and a rubbing of one of its stones, both of which we took on our visit to China this year. In addition, there is a photograph of the wall and its surround taken by satellite. During our actual walk, the wall will be scanned by satellite cameras, and the images made into photographs. And we will make more paper rubbings to retell some of what we have seen and experienced. The wall wasn’t built only to keep out; we hope to make perceptible what it breathes out.

— A project for Artforum by Ulay & Marina Abramovic