Monday, September 8, 2014

Artist Residency at Star and Snake: Remembering Ana Mendieta

Artist Residency, Star and Snake: Remembering Ana Mendieta.
Center Harbor, New Hampshire, August 24-30 2014.
View the photo collection, here.

Photo source: Star & Snake

I came to this crazy beautiful place on Monday and I don't have many words to describe it. Enchanting is one. The building itself is an old Catholic church, built at the turn of the century in Center Harbor, New Hampshire, which is now dubbed Star & SnakeNatan Alexander and K Lenore Siner birthed Star & Snake from a combined dream to create an inspirational space for creation, study and celebration. As partners and artists committed to realizing beauty and excellence in all that they do, Natan and K graciously welcomed me to enjoy and co-create Star and Snake with them in a week-long artist residency, which I arrived to with some of the following motives in mind....

Photo source: Star & Snake


To make body art; process art; earth art and earth works;

To pay tribute to the narrative and poetry of Ana Mendieta. To find ways that re-interpret her work in relation to the site, space and land I find myself on;

To make visible the earth, ephemeral phenomena and conditions;

To match the frequency of my body with the earth element. To approach my work from a place that is slow, present and embodied;

To make works that are impermanent, to communicate in as close a medium to life as possible.

Why Ana Mendieta?

"My art is grounded in the belief of one universal energy which runs through everything: from insect to man, from man to spectre, from spectre to plant, from plant to galaxy. My works are the irrigation veins of this universal fluid. Through them ascend the ancestral sap, the original beliefs, the primordial accumulations, the unconscious thoughts that animate the world" (Mendieta, A Selection of Statements and Notes).

Ana Mendieta's land and body(scapes) have haunted me for years. Rooted in both the landscape and the female body, her work seems to set in motion a kind of transcendent mythos that speaks of new ways to bridge the gap between the human and the non-human world. Her summer forays to the back country of Mexico, equipped with a backpack, shovel and camera, led her to create her best known "Silueta" series (1973-77). In this series, her figure is often traced or drawn on the landscape in a myriad of ways: dug in sand; carved from stone; shaped with flowers, blood or fire. All are potent traces of her presence, transformed by the changing phenomena of her environment: ocean tide, moving sunlight, ignited gunpowder, etc. Her work is significant to me because it challenges the conventional and widely accepted norms of intellectually driven, sensually disconnected artistic processes, so prevalent in today's contemporary, institutionalized art scene. I was inspired to carve some time out of my life for new creation and play, while paying tribute to Mendieta's unique work which has informed and guided my own ephemeral projects over the years.

Mendieta (1948-1985), whose tragic death from a window in Manhattan terminated her career at its pinnacle, was a pioneering figure.  Her feminist ambitions seeded in her small-scale earthworks subverted the monumental gestures of the male-dominated Land Art scene of the 70s. She was critical, intuitive, adventurous. She cross-pollinated cultures, including her Caribbean/North American heritage and solidified her work as an artist and woman searching for sense of place in an uprooted world. Her relationship to land, site-specificity and working beyond the gallery walls forged new openings within the contemporary art world of her time.

The photos I took that week have been archived here.

Day 1
Beach excursion, blue pigment, water movements, passage of time.

This was a day of settling in to acclimatize to the environment. I visited an exquisite local waterfall (Falls of Song in Moultonborough) and spent some time on the shores Lake Winnipesaukee (the largest lake in New Hampshire). The waves coming in to the beach felt marine. They washed away the blue pigment I had inserted into the silhouette of my body carved into the sand. I have always loved Mendieta's blood red version of this piece and wanted to see how the colour blue would change the meaning of the work.

Day 2
Embryonic positions in ash, grass and pebble with body, pigment and water.

Years ago, before I was aware of Mendieta's work, I created a series of body prints made from earth, ash, spices and herbs mixed with oil. I made traces of my body in an embryonic position on paper and then burlap, upon which I would grow grass. Upon reflection of Mendieta's silhouettes, I decided to reference my own version of the silhouette I had created years before to avoid what could become cheesy appropriation. I found ashes from the fire pit in a garden bed and lay down in them to create a reverse effect where the ashes made their imprint on me.

Day 3
Body dig, cool earth, mirror/legs reflection.

One of my favourite Mendieta images is the leg mirror one, which I find both haunting and beautiful. I needed to do it myself to see how it felt and what it could become. I did an adaptation of hers, with the only difference being the dug hole for my body in the ground, so that the height of my legs was at ground level. I sat in this tight but comforting nook for the photo shoot. There is a strong memory alive in my legs of the cool earth to this day.

Day 4
Dead wild rose branches, bittersweet root installation against sky, hummingbird visit.

On Thursday morning, I walked around the church and look at what was growing. I immediately got to pruning some dead and dried wild rose branches. After about fifteen minutes, a large pile was at my side and my hands were full of tiny thorns. I brought the pile back to the church and the creation (above) came together at the front entrance within the day. Something of a nest beneath the cathedral door shape with dead brambles made raw and essential against the blue sky. In the centre of the Rose branches, is some Bittersweet root, a lovely orange, fragile network of threads that seemed to fit, which were collected from a pile of previously unearthed weeds. Halfway through the branch construction, a hummingbird flew in and hovered over me and this strange freely suspended nest. The tiny bird observed the gathered, hanging sticks for a good six seconds, and then zipped off. I was touched. Priceless.

Day 5
Fire silhouette, white sheet shroud, body traces, white clay powder, grass cuttings, lighter fluid.

On Friday morning, I referred to some notes scribbled the day earlier and got to work. Some thoughts emerged on actions I might take, including materials I might work with: a shrouded body in a white sheet; a string upon the ground; a line tracing the outline of my body. Over the course of the morning, a series of photos emerged of my body on the land in various contortions. An embryonic position paired with a long profile were the two I chose to work with. The long profile of the body (lying down and standing up) was one that carried on into the afternoon, but instead of an absent trace, I gave it a form and filled it with a pile of flammable materials. Grass cuttings and lighter fluid were readily available, and so I worked with that. My favourite moment that day was the burn after dark - it felt like a perfect closing moment and release to my week. The black trace on the ground the next day was beautiful as well.

View the photo archives here.