About the Exhibitions

Covered in Time and History: the Films of Ana Mendieta will be presented at the Katherine E. Nash Gallery at the University of Minnesota from September 15th through December 12th of 2015. The exhibition will comprise 21 of the artist’s films and 26 related photographs, the largest collection of the artist’s films ever presented as a full-scale gallery exhibition in the United States.

The Katherine E. Nash Gallery is located in Regis Center for Art (East) on the University of Minnesota West Bank campus at 405 21st Avenue South Minneapolis, MN 55455. The gallery hours are Tuesday through Saturday 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. The gallery is closed for all University of Minnesota Holidays.

Ana Mendieta: Documents of a Life in Art, a companion exhibit of documentary materials covering the life and artistic career of Ana Mendieta, will be presented in the T.R. Anderson Gallery at the University of Minnesota. The exhibit is organized by Elise Armani, an undergraduate student majoring in Art and Gender, Women and Sexuality Studies, in consultation with Deborah Boudewyns, the Arts, Architecture & Landscape Architecture Librarian, University of Minnesota Libraries, Twin Cities, and will be presented September 15 through December 12, 2015.

The T.R. Anderson Gallery is located at the entrance to the James Ford Bell Library, Suite 472 on the fourth floor of Wilson Library on the University of Minnesota West Bank campus at 309 19th Avenue South Minneapolis, MN 55455. The gallery hours are Monday through Friday, 9:00 am to 4:30 pm.; evenings and weekends by appointment. The gallery is closed for all University of Minnesota Holidays.

Ana Mendieta: Documents of a Life in Art

I first interacted with the artwork of the late Cuban American artist Ana Mendieta in fall of 2013. As I declared my second major in Gender, Women and Sexuality Studies (GWSS) my advisor noted my interesting pairing of disciplines, a major in GWSS and acceptance into the Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) program for visual arts. She mentioned the connection immediately brought to mind the work of Ana Mendieta and prompted that I must be excited for the exhibition of Mendieta’s films on campus in the fall of 2015. Embarrassed by my lack of awareness, I rushed home to google Ana Mendieta and was mesmerized by images of a young revolutionary Latina artist. Her presence ranged from dominating to barely lingering as I flipped through photographs and documentations of her performative and earth-body works. There is something so intriguing, captivating and ethereal about her photographs and films. I immediately found myself drawn to the way in which they engage with ideas of permanence and impermanence, intersections of culture and identity, and experiences of spirituality, loss, and femininity. I quickly contacted Howard Oransky, director of the Katherine E. Nash Gallery, inquiring if I could in be involved in the production of the exhibition. At that point I did not expect that within a year’s time I would be entirely immersed in a career-shaping project surrounding her work.

I spent the spring of 2014 working with Howard, under the academic guidance of Amy Kaminsky, to create an independent research study in the GWSS department. Over the course of spring and summer I created and began to operate this blog, which I have utilized as a platform for engaging with and analyzing many of the films in the exhibition. My interactions with Mendieta’s work enabled me to connect with local and broader communities of artists, university faculty engaged in Chicano Latina studies and GWSS, and even empowered me to speak at a fundraising event at President Kaler’s home.

As I now enter the fall semester of 2014 I am continuing my participation in this independent research study. However, I have begun work on a new facet of this project, which will materialize as a documentary exhibit. The exhibit, Ana Mendieta: Documents of a Life in Art will be presented in the T.R. Anderson Gallery at Wilson Library in the fall of 2015 in conjunction with the presentation of Covered in Time and History: The Films of Ana Mendieta, an exhibition of Mendieta’s films in the Katherine E. Nash Gallery. I will be curating the documentary exhibit independently, an opportunity that I am immensely grateful for, but also one that will require an intense dedication of time and effort. Guiding me through this process are my faculty mentors, Howard Oransky (Director of the Katherine E. Nash Gallery), who is curating Covered in Time and History: The Films of Ana Mendieta and Deborah Boudewyns (Arts, Architecture and Landscape Librarian), who has studied extensively and written about Mendieta’s work.

I am currently in the process of applying for and seeking to enable me to obtain the resources that I need to complete the process of curating this exhibit and to contribute to the production and printing of an exhibit catalogue. The catalogue will serve as a tangible record of my work and extension of my research beyond the life of the exhibit, allowing people to continue to engage with and understand her works. I will continue to post here on the blog throughout this process, however most of my work will now be focused on curating the exhibit and writing the catalogue rather than continuing to analyze the films.

Ana Mendieta: Documents of a Life in Art will reflect the resources that I have and will continue to utilize in my research on and analyses of Ana Mendieta and her body of work. I hope to address the way in which Mendieta’s work fits into an ongoing discourse about the place in which women, and particularly women of color, fit into the art world. I am interested in the way in which Mendieta’s identity, as a woman of color and a Cuban American immigrant, as well as her violent death, have pigeon holed the way in which her art is viewed and interpreted at large. Because her life and career were cut short nearly 30 years ago in 1985, I am also interested in how the label of “feminist artist” she was prescribed has shifted with the evolution of modern feminist theory.

In presenting the documents that I utilized to gather information about Mendieta, her work, and surrounding themes and issues, I will enable viewers to perceive her works existing beyond the defining categories in which they are placed. I intend to challenge viewers to look beyond the dominant and singular narratives they may perceive as essential to being a Cuban American, feminist, immigrant artist. The documentary exhibition will serve as an opportunity for viewers to educate themselves on intersections of identity and culture. It will provide a discussion point on the way in which the issues Mendieta addressed have and have not shifted or progressed. My hope is that through curating Ana Mendieta: Documents of a Life in Art, I can provide viewers of Covered in Time and History: The Films of Ana Mendieta with information on Mendieta and her works that will enable them to connect with her work the way in which I have been able to.

Untitled (Blood Sign #1) “There’s a Devil Inside of Me”

Untitled (Blood Sign #1), also referred to as “There is a Devil Inside of Me” was filmed, as part of a series referred to as Blood Signs, at the Intermedia Arts Studio at the University of Iowa in March of 1974. [1]

The film begins with Ana Mendieta standing in the center of the frame, facing a white wall, her back to the camera. A tray filled with blood sits to the right of her feet. She stands like this momentarily, her palms outstretched, facing the wall, before bending to her right and extending her right arm to scoop blood from the tray. She drags the blood up the wall in one long motion alongside her body, leaving a streak spanning her feet to her chest. Mendieta returns her hand to the tray repeating and darkening the streak; extending it into an arch above her head. Switching to her left hand, she drags blood down the left side of her body completing the arch. She dips her hand again darkening the stroke and then pauses to back up and take in the large outline on the wall encompassing her figure. Bending once more, she dips her right hand and brings it up in front of her face. With swift motions she spells out words within the arc. The words stack on top of one another. With her hand she spells out, “There is a devil inside me”, dropping to her knees just before inscribing, “devil”. The word “Me” is the darkest and the largest and she retraces over it with fresh blood twice before dipping both hands again in the tray. She stands and with a large swooping motion brings both hands down the sides of the arc, reaffirming the red that stains the wall, as she falls once more to her knees. She lays her hands in the blood again and plants them on the ground before her knees leaving her handprints as she stands and walks off to the left. The camera lingers on the wall for 20 seconds, the words dripping down between the finger streaks of blood. End film.

At the time when this film was created Mendieta was using blood as a central component to her body of work. The blood use, often read as a motif of sacrifice or purging of impurity, circles back to the idea of what Charles Merewether refers to as the “expenditure of the heterogeneous” in his essay From Inscription to Dissolution: An Essay on Expenditure in the work of Ana Mendieta. Looking at Mendieta’s work as a profound critique of the social sphere, Mendieta was interested in issues concerning social taboo, structures of domination, and transgression. [2] As a woman of color, displaced from her home in Cuba and subject her entire life to systematic structural violence, to represent the site of violence, eroticism and death was to represent the body of woman. Thus this film, as well as many of her other works of this period, focus specifically on sacrifice and transgression as relating to the female body.

Mendieta spoke once of the way in which she was perceived in the Midwest, stating that the people surrounding her looked at her as “an erotic being (myth of the hot Latin), aggressive, and sort of evil. This created in [her] a very rebellious attitude until it sort of exploded inside [her] and [she] became aware of [her] own being, [her] own existence as a very particular and singular being.” 2 As a Latina woman, for Mendieta to act out in aggression or anger would be to fulfill the stereotypes cast upon her, thus this type of behavior was largely discouraged. However, in doing so anyway and reclaiming that anger and aggression, Mendieta enabled herself to be powerful and transgressive. [3]

The possession that Ana Mendieta silently confesses to in this film is an assertion of this anger. The blood she physically mars the white wall with, serves as a metaphorical and literal basis of female vitality and sexuality and carries with it strong feminist overtones reminiscent of the period in medieval Europe when “primitive” rites of blood, fertility, and sacrificial healing were perceived as the work of the devil, and deemed unacceptable by the Catholic Church. As Chrissie Iles brings up in her essay Subtle Bodies, Mendieta’s “statement of possession” implies a conscious awareness that her emerging identification with and use of pagan symbols of female fertility (blood, earth, water, heat, fire and the silueta form itself) transgressed the patriarchal systems in place in Cuba, and the west in general, where it is believed to be “the blood of Christ, not the great goddess, that gives eternal life”. 1

In a text from 1982 Mendieta quoted Spanish philosopher Ortega y Gasset, she stated “To be a hero, to be heroic, is to be oneself.” Mendieta personal history as a woman of color in the United States was a driving force behind the anger and convictions that enabled her artistic processes. [4] “There is a devil inside of me” is a phrase that Ana continued to on at least two other occasions, it was found in her scratchpad as late as 1978, 5 years after this film was created. [1]

[1] Iles, Chrissie. “Subtle Bodies: The Invisible Films of Ana Mendieta.” Ana Mendieta – Earth Body: Sculpture and Performance, 1972 – 1985, Mendieta, Ana, Olga M. Viso, and Guy Brett. Washington, DC: Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, 2004. Print

[2] Merewether, Charles. “From Inscription to Dissolution: An Essay on Expenditure in the Work of Ana Mendieta.” Ana Mendieta, Gloria Moure. Ediciones Poligrafa, S. A. and Centro Galego de Arte Contemporanea, 1996. Print

[3] ““The Battle Will Never End,” An Interview with Carmen Giménez Smith.” Interview by Lauren Fosgett. Http://superstitionreview.asu.edu/. Superstition [Review], n.d. Web. 18 Aug. 2014. <http://superstitionreview.asu.edu/issue13/interviews/carmengimenezsmith&gt;.

[4] Lippard, Lucy R. “Who Is Ana Mendieta? Nobody Else” Who Is Ana Mendieta, Christine Redfern & Caro Caron, New York City: The Feminist Press. Print.

Untitled (Blood Writing) “She Got Love”

Untitled (Blood Writing), also referred to as “She Got Love”, was filmed in Iowa City, Iowa in February of 1974. At the time of Untitled (Blood Writing)’s creation, Mendieta was employed as an art teacher at a local Iowa City public school.[1] February of 1974 also marked a little over a year post the Roe V. Wade abortion ruling, and a little under a year past the rape and murder of fellow University of Iowa student, Sarah Ann Otten. [2] [3]

The film opens to Ana Mendieta’s back as she faces the blank, white side of a building with two white doors large doors. The edge of the frame is partially eclipsed by the shadow of a wall. She approaches the building, walking steadily toward the left side and then stops, raising her right arm, moving it back and forth as her hand leaves a trail of red on the surface directly in front of her face. The motion of her arm spells out an “S” repeats, repainting the surface a darker red. She steps to the right and her arm again moves in front of her face, this time making an “H” before stepping again and adding an “E”. “SHE” is spelled out across the left side of the white surface, streaks from her fingers leaving variations in the red. She returns to her stance in front of the “S” and begins to spell out “GOT” underneath “SHE”, a red drip trailing down from the “G”. Stepping again sideways, her shadow trails her as she moves to the right side of the frame. She spells out “LOVE” in larger letters that mirror the words dripping to her left. She moves quickly across the frame as thin drips running down from the letters. Once the words are complete, she bends over to set down the source of the red and turns, stepping out of the frame. The camera remains focused on the words for 20 seconds, variations in the film running across the frame. Mendieta’s shadow returns to the frame, as if she stands, behind the camera taking in her work. She raises an arm and leans against a wall, the actions reflected in the newly jointed shadows moving across the white. The frame remains like so for 30 seconds before the film ends and the frame goes to black.

In Untitled (Blood Writing), Mendieta deliberately marks a clean white wall with blood, permanently changing it and marring its previously pure, undisturbed pallidity. Untitled (Blood Writing) was part of a series of Mendieta’s films and photographs considered “action paintings” that employed blood as a central component. Blood was used or references as a motif by many other feminist artists in this time period, including Carolee Schneemann, Gina Pane, Nancy Spero and Shigeko Kubota in an effort to provoke viewers and breach social norms and expectations of feminine modesty.[4] Mendieta also sought this result, however the use of blood in her work communicated more established cultural references to her history and surroundings.[5]

Mendieta’s religious history was a combination of Catholicism and Santeria, an Afro-Cuban religion she was exposed to at an early age by way of her family’s housekeepers. However, her interest in spirituality, religion and specifically those who acknowledge the supernatural was pan cultural. [6] Within both Catholicism and Santeria, blood served as a recurring symbol and metaphor. Within Santeria, specifically, blood was employed in rituals meaning to empower the gods, many of which are performed and dominated by women. Additionally, the Santero, or leading male role, has an equivalent female counterpart in the Santera. These examples of female agency within Mendieta’s own cultural background appealed to her developing feminist consciousness.5 Mendieta developed an affinity specifically for these rituals, which may have lead to and influenced her own performances. The introduction of such spiritual practices into North American, mainstream culture not only disturbed what was culturally permissible and acceptable, but also created an interaction between the two cultures. In establishing this interaction Mendieta established a platform on which she could exist free from the isolation she experienced as a young, transplanted Cuban American.

The actions of marking the wall were central to the series and to creating what she called “blood writing.” The process of doing so manifested Mendieta’s presence at the site, changing it from a fleeting, passing presence to a permanent inscription to remain in her absence. Unlike the work of her feminist contemporaries, Mendieta’s actions didn’t call for audience interaction. Her films were entirely premeditated, leaving no aspects of the piece out of her control. Her actions in the films were private acts rather than performative pieces and are made accessible only though her use of documentation.6 In creating the film, Mendieta simultaneously performed a subjective role as the medium used in the film and an objective role as the eye manipulating and employing he camera.

She continued to explore notions of marking her presence and utilizing body tracks and prints for years into her career, ultimately transitioning to a more universal silueta form or alter ego for her own body’s markings.

[1] Mendieta, Ana, Olga M. Viso, and Guy Brett. Ana Mendieta – Earth Body: Sculpture and Performance, 1972 – 1985;. Washington, DC: Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, 2004. Print

[2] McBride, Alex. “Landmark Cases: Roe v. Wade.” PBS. PBS, Dec. 2006. Web. 04 June 2014.

[3] “Sarah Ottens – Iowa Cold Cases.” Iowa Cold Cases. Cold Cases Inc, 2005. Web. 18 Feb. 2014.

[4] Lombardi, Monica. “The Blogazine.” The Blogazine Contemporary Lifestyle Magazine. The Blogazine, 25 June 2012. Web. 04 June 2014.

[5] Mendieta, Ana, Gloria Moure, and Donald B. Kuspit. Ana Mendieta. Galicia, Spain: Centro Galego De Arte Contemporánea, 1996. Print.

[6] Mendieta, Ana, Peter Fischer, Patrick Dondelinger, and Laura Roulet. Ana Mendieta: Body Tracks. Luzern: Kunstmuseum Luzern, 2002. Print.

An Introspective View of My Art in Relation to Ana Mendieta

I am currently in the process of researching Ana Mendieta in relation to the exhibition Covered in Time and History: The Films of Ana Mendieta, that will be presented at the Katherine E. Nash Gallery September 8ththrough December 12th of 2015. The research I am doing is part of the independent study I am partaking in with the director of the gallery, Howard Oransky, who is also one of the exhibition’s curators.

When meeting with Howard last week, he prompted me to speak of my own body of work and the relation it has with the work of Ana Mendieta. I found myself unable to articulate an explanation to summarize my work at all. I realized that I don’t feel as if I have evolved in my practice to a point of consistency or adamant purpose. While I try to materialize intention in my work and create much of it based on preconceived concepts, many times my work is entirely unfounded, or often cultivated out of assignments. In attempting to draw a connection through my work and in relation with that of Mendieta, I have decided instead to illustrate the progression of influence of my work, culminating with my current investment in Ana Mendieta and her films.

As a child I was always drawn to creating. I was terribly uncoordinated and devoid of social skills as I followed in my highly athletic, and sociable older sister’s shadow. My solace was my artistic ability; it was the one area of my life in which I was consistently praised and encouraged, and it was something I enjoyed and felt comfortable doing. I focused my energy on honing my skills from a young age and exceled beyond my peers, all through grade school, in my ability to render. My conception of art stemmed entirely from classicly realist and impressionist paintings and the pottery my grandmother made. I liked art because I was good at it. I liked the attention I achieved while creating it and I liked the praise I received in producing the end product. The processes of painting and drawing provided for me a mesmeric and therapeutic pastime. I valued art for all of these reasons, and thus I didn’t question the importance of creating art within my life. Yet, I didn’t recognize or feel an innate importance or value in the palpable existence of art beyond surface aesthetics.

In high school my drawing teacher, Robert Elland, introduced us to new artists and styles almost weekly, pairing each artists work with their personal history, their significance, their prolific careers. The artists he presented to us were eclectic and diverse, yet looking back at the years I was under his instruction it is easy to detect a common thread in their work. There were similarities and patterns throughout the artworks Elland selected and they continued in his own work. The influence these artists had on him was evident not only in his practice, but also in the work of the students who passed through the high school under his instruction. It felt as if a much different kind of teaching was taking place than the routines and tricks I had trained with up until that point.

His introduction of Felix Gonzales-Torres’ work made real for me the inexorable response others spoke of in relation to art. Elland vocalized the narrative of Untitled (Ross in LA), Untitled (Perfect Lovers), Untitled (America), and Untitled (1991) and I was amazed at the way Gonzales-Torres transformed the routine and mundane into acute and fervent articulations of feeling and experience. Parallels and metaphors drawn out in his work resonated so deeply with my own experiences. Months later, seeing them executed at the Art Institute of Chicago evoked sensations of redolence and nostalgia that for a fleeting second transported my mind back in time, the way the trace of a scent or a far off sound can do. For a period of time thereafter I remained transfixed on Felix Gonzales-Torres and held onto the way he spoke of his work in an interview with Ross Bleckner, “It’s about seeing, not just looking. Seeing what’s there.”[i] Gonzales-Torres use of such basic and accessible materials and language felt raw, it felt honest and familiar and poignant. The detail expressed through such simplicity completely revolutionized my understanding of art.

Obsessed with these ideas of simplicity, concept and minimalism I became frustrated with my own work, which consisted at the time of acrylic and graphic portraits rendered from photographs. I was conflicted, torn between the comfort of realism, where I was comfortable in my abilities and operated within a clear polarity of good and bad, and the impact of postmodern conceptual art. My aspirations as an artist were again uprooted and reconfigured with Elland’s introduction of Chuck Close, who created portraits like me, who strived for photorealism, but still presented a conversation in his work. Close engaged with photographs differently than the way I had, confronting them while I embraced them. He recognized and emphasized their invariable, monotone depiction of life and played on it exploring different approaches of representation. I began to recognize the significance of intention, scale and context. These ideas appeared manifest to me when I stood beneath his acrylic portrait from 1969,Frank, in the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, ironically just a wall away from Santos-Dumon – The Father of Aviation II, an oil painting of similar scale by Kehinde Wiley.

Kehinde Wiley was one of the last artists Elland presented before I graduated. Viewing Wiley’s work in connection to a conversation about his position as a young black male, it seemed to pick up where Close left off. Wiley loaded his work with rich symbolism, but juxtaposed it with a material, commercial aesthetic reminiscent of the familiarity and platitude of the objects Gonzales-Torres employed. I was intrigued with the recurring juxtaposition throughout Wiley’s work. He applied tradition and classical techniques to modern imagery. He presented men of color, who have been deemed by the socially constructed and historically manufactured dominant framework as criminal, divergent, and antithetical to civilization, and positioned them in a visual framework of prestige and glorification. His reconstruction of historical portraits in a commercialized style serve as an oppositional consciousness, recognizing the position of black men in hegemonic societal structures as inequitable, and repositioning them within a new framework. Wiley’s confrontation of socio-political history and engagement in ongoing dialogues on racism and white dominated patriarchy widened my understanding of art’s function, demonstrating yet another way to evocatively communicate through visual means.

Exploring the artwork of these artists in the setting of my high school art room and personally engaging with their work, along with the work of many other artists in the contexts of museums, reconstructed my perception art. It instilled within me a new necessity and importance of art, and expanded my appreciation for and perception of art. Through the study and dialogue on the work of Gonzales-Torres, Close, Basquiat, Wiley, Cindy Sherman, Robert Rauschenberg, and Jenny Saville, I was able to evolve my own body of work, borrowing and applying aesthetics and concepts from each of the artists I studied.

As a result, I entered into my undergraduate degree program at the University of Minnesota with a portfolio that was entirely erratic. It was an amalgamation of photorealist Prismacolor drawings, Rauschenberg-esque painted collage, large-scale oil portraits and minimalist symbolic renderings in charcoal and paint. My frustration turned from trying to fit my body of work within the framework of each artist I admired, to attempting to reduce my work to a singular, personal framework. Recently, I have been painting large-scale oil portraits, experimenting with the entropic quality of color and skin tone. My second major in Gender, Women and Sexuality Studies has supplemented my work through its presence as a constant conversation challenging the systems I work within.

Ultimately, I want to embrace the qualities that have resonated for me in the work of all of these artists, and to maintain clarity and focus and embody my own style of work. I want my work to bring forth the emotional response I experience standing in front of the work of Gonzales-Torres or Jim Hodges, and to possess the simplistic, minimalist focus they embody. I want to question and confront the hegemonic framework of society and explore my own oppositional consciousness, cultivating dialogue comparable to the work of Wiley, Saville and Sherman. But I don’t want to relinquish the enjoyment or skill I find in portraiture and photorealism, effectively employed by Wiley and Close.

Studying Ana Mendieta and her work has undoubtedly continued to mold my intentions and perceptions of art. Her work is an example of the intersection between my two academic disciplines. But it is so much more than this to me. It is example of artistic success for me. In Ana’s work I experience a sensation akin to that which arose in me when I first experienced the work of Gonzales-Torres. I view her work and its engagement with the socio-politics of her life and find it stimulating and interesting the way I interact with Wiley’s paintings. Yet it is still more than checking off the qualities I want my work to embody. I think her work is beautiful in and of itself; it’s simple and evocative, but powerful and transcendent. It is universal and all encompassing, yet utterly founded in and unique to her life experiences. Exploring the context in which her art was created and tracing the symbolic mediums and images she used has revealed a layered narrative, personal involvement and intention in her work. Following the evolution of her work it seems unimaginably calculated and conscious, more than likely the polar opposite of how my body of work appears.

I am inspired by her resilience as an artist, her unwavering pursuit of art and the innovative and unconventional quality of her work. Studying her life has illustrated for me an artist I relate to, that represented many of my aspirations in her life and work. My only hope is that, in engaging with and exploring her work, I can begin to embody some of the qualities of it I so admire.

Armani Elise 07 copy Armani Elise 06 copy prismaportrait diptychOils - Jan 2014 1 Image


[i] Bleckner, Ross. “Bomb.” BOMB Magazine — Felix Gonzalez-Torres by Ross Bleckner. Bomb Magazine, n.d. Web. 14 Mar. 2014.

 

Sweating Blood, November 1973

Sweating Blood, a film created by and featuring Ana Mendieta, is one of the 21 films that will be presented in Covered in Time and History: The Films of Ana Mendieta, an exhibition that will debut at the University of Minnesota’s Katherine E. Nash Gallery in September of 2015. Sweating Blood is a 3-minute long silent film created on super-8 color film in November of 1973. In the fall of 1973, Mendieta began teaching art at an Iowa City public school.[1] Eight months after the rape and murder of fellow University of Iowa student Sara Ann Otten, Mendieta was still actively creating response pieces surrounding violence enacted on women and rape. She employed blood as a powerful symbol with strong violent and political connotations. Many of her pieces created around this time, such as Untitled (Rape Performance) and Untitled (Bloody Mattress), involved very literal implications in her usage of blood.1 She clearly communicated an emotional response to Otten’s death and a call for awareness and action on violence against women. Sweating Blood, however was a bit more ambiguous in Mendieta’s usage of blood and the films overall meaning.

The film opens to Ana Mendieta’s face. It is central and takes up a large portion of the frame, surrounded by black darkness on all sides. Her eyes and mouth are closed; her face is calm and relaxed. Slowly, like little pores, specs of red appear on and around her hairline. Over the course of a minute, the flecks progressively darken and her hair begins to take on a reddish tint. The blood begins to pool in little dots and the parting of her hair grows increasingly red. As the blood-sweat accumulates the camera shifts ever so slightly, evidence of the edits made to the film. Each shift zooms minimally in towards her face. Almost two minutes into the film a drip forms beneath her part and blood runs slowly down the center of her forehead, it rolls off to the left over her eyebrow and trails down the edge of her nose. By this point in the film her face, from top to bottom, almost fills the full height of the frame. A second drip forms along the left side of her hairline and it rolls down the side of her face, tracing the curve of her cheek. The blood has filled her hair entirely and the dots of perspiration have colored a solid centimeter of red along the edges of her forehead. The frame goes black.

In an undated statement, Mendieta is quoted as having written “the turning point in [my] art was in 1972, when I realized that my paintings were not real enough for what I want the image to convey and by real I mean I wanted my images to have power, to be magic.”[2] She is later quoted as having said, about her work from this time, “I started immediately using blood- I guess because I think it’s a very powerful, magical thing. I don’t see it as a negative force.” 1 Many have related Mendieta’s usage of blood to her diverse religious history. Though she was born and raised Catholic, she was exposed to Afro-Cuban practices of Santeria at an early age by way of her family’s housekeepers.1 She continued to have an affinity for religious and spiritual practices, as she grew older. After and during her studies at the University of Iowa, she traveled frequently to Oaxaca, Mexico; Miami; and to her birth country Cuba. During this time she became absorbed in and experimented with Afro-Diasporan syncretic spiritual practices, traditions and rituals.2 Within Catholicism, blood, often metaphorically represented by wine, is consumed in a holy sacrament through which one can receive the divinity and grace of Christ.[3] Similarly, within Santeria, blood is used in Ebo sacrifices and is a required part of any initiation to have the presence of Orishas, the deities.[4]

Mendieta’s stance and facial expression in Sweating Blood evoke images of self-sacrifice and martyrdom. Her silence adds to the spiritual, ritualistic aura as cow’s blood slowly trickles over her face. The integration of blood, as a primal and primitive element, reduces Mendieta to her essential self. Drawing the viewer into her spiritual space and presenting this reduction of herself, she traces phenomenological terms of identity. As she said of her oeuvre, “My works are the irrigation veins of the Universal fluid. Through them ascend the ancestral sap, the original beliefs, the primordial accumulations, the unconscious thoughts that animate the world.”[5] By employing universal, authentic elements in her work she distills communication to an omnipresent, innate experience and understanding. With this view on her work, the blood in Sweating Blood reads as symbolic of reproduction, the earth, female empowerment, menstruation, maternity, life and spirituality. Unlike her other films I have analyzed, Sweating Blood doesn’t depict a clear message or narrative. However, I see the ambiguity of the film as lending to its power and universal transcendence.


[1] Mendieta, Ana, Olga M. Viso, and Guy Brett. Ana Mendieta – Earth Body: Scultpure and Performance, 1972 – 1985;. Washington, DC: Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, 2004. Print

[2] Rochelle Barbour, Rhonda. PERFORMANCE OF MEMORY AND RITUAL: SELECTED WORKS BY ANA MENDIETA AND TANIA BRUGUERA. Thesis. University of Southern California, 2013. N.p.: n.p., 2013. Print.

[3] “Tracts.” Who Can Receive Communion? N.p., n.d. Web. 04 Mar. 2014.

[4] “Rituals and Sacrifice (Ebó).” Santeria Church of the Orishas. N.p., n.d. Web. 04 Mar. 2014.

[5] Ultan, Deborah K. “From the Personal to the Transpersonal: Self Reclamation Through Ritual-in-Performance.” Art Documentation: Bulletin of the Art Libraries Society of North America; 20.2 (2001): 30-36. Web.

Moffitt Building Piece, May 1973

Moffitt Building Piece is the second film of the 21 films to be featured in Covered in Time and History: the Films of Ana Mendieta, an exhibition that will debut at the University of Minnesota’s Katherine E. Nash Gallery in September of 2015. Moffitt Building Piece is a 3 minute 7 second long film, created in May of 1973, on super-8 film in Iowa City, Iowa. It was produced in conjunction with a set of 35 mm film stills entitled People Looking at Blood. (1) Moffitt Building Piece was created while Mendieta attended the University of Iowa and earned her second Masters degree in Intermedia. (1) It is considered to be the first of her video, performance and film based pieces responding to the death and murder of Sara Ann Otten on March 13 of 1973. (1)

Moffitt Building Piece opens with a view of 2 doors on the side of a building facing the street. The doors are white and dingy with large windows, the one on the right interrupted by closed blinds. Both doors have what appears to be a light yellow sticky note on their windows and the right door’s frame displays the numbers of the street address, 230. To the right of this door is a large storefront window, also shielded by closed blinds. Only a small portion of the window can be seen and the letters “H.F Mo” are printed on the window, cut off by the frame. The camera shifts and the sidewalk in front of the doors can be seen, there’s a dark puddle on the pavement in front of the left door. Tracks of liquid run away from the door toward the camera and pool in the corner of the uneven sidewalk square.

After focusing on this scene for 5 seconds the camera gradually zooms in on the puddle and the dark liquid appears to be tinted red. A person passes through the frame holding a collapsed umbrella. The top of her is head cut off by the camera and she walks quickly, not appearing to notice the dark area of the sidewalk. The camera again closes in on the puddle, this time a bit further and the dark spot reveals its self as increasingly red. Another person passes through the frame quickly, also gripping an umbrella. Their head is entirely out of the frame and it’s unclear whether or not they notice the red of the pavement beneath them. They exit the frame, which continues to zoom in on the puddle until the liquid takes up the majority of it. It is now clear that this liquid a dark red color and has pooled in the corner of the sidewalk square. The camera zooms back out to the original view before switching frames.

At this point, 40 seconds into the film, the picture changes to the view from a rearview window, revealing that Mendieta and her camera are situated within a car, parked in front of the doors they observe. The camera points out the window and locates the car on the right side of a city street, just in front of a busy intersection. A man carrying a newspaper passes the car on the sidewalk and the camera pans from the rearview window to the side window, the walls of the car interrupting the frame with bold black bars. The man approaches what is now assumed to be a pool of blood and looks down at it as he passes. People continue to approach and pass the blood, only a few pausing briefly. The camera switches back to the view from the rear window and holds there as a taxi passes through the intersection behind the car. Two more women and men pass, followed by a couple. The couple walks slowly by, turning their heads in sync to look at the blood, the man pauses to face the building. Three more people pass and then three girls walking together and carrying books pass by. One of the girls deliberately steps over the puddle and they all turn to stare at it as they pass. The frame pauses on the doors and blood for a moment. The light has changed from the film’s initial frame: the doors and sidewalk are cast in yellow as if the sun is setting. A woman appears in the frame standing over the sidewalk and peering down curiously. She pokes at the blood with her umbrella and backs away, a man quickly passes and the screen goes black.

I initially watched Moffitt Building Piece with no contextual evidence or prior knowledge of the film. I viewed it for the first time and recorded what I was observing, unaware of the location of the film in time or space, as well as what constituted the illusive puddle. My thoughts were first engaged in the relationship between the Ana Mendieta, as the camera operator, and the unknowing subject matter of passersby. I questioned the meaning of the subject matter’s oblivion and the ingenuous nature of their behavior. Recognizing that the behavior of the passersby would be dramatically different if they were aware of Mendieta’s presence, I attributed the necessity for unwitting subjects to the film acting as a social commentary.

In assessing what motivated Ana’s observation of these particular subjects, I recognized that all of the people in the film, who appeared long enough to examine, were white and could be typified as ordinary in behavior and dress, exemplifying the norm in the context of Iowa. The presence of the subjects outside the car, as the accepted social norm, juxtaposed Ana, who was situated with the camera and within the car, and her experiences as a Cuban immigrant ostracized within Iowa for her heritage and culture. Mendieta’s position, as a historically marginalized body observing the accepted passerby, reversed the scrutiny and surveillance placed on immigrants within the United States. In the years following her transplant to Iowa from Cuba, Mendieta had fallen regularly victim to this scrutiny and discrimination as a result of her marked presence in an area largely unfamiliar with Latin culture. (1)

After viewing it for the first time and assessing it solely based on my impressions, I consulted previous studies on the film and locating it within a sequence of events. In doing so, I was provided with information that largely altered my interpretation. Confirming that the puddle in the film was indeed blood, Moffitt Building Piece took on new meaning. For the film, she spilled animal blood and as well as pieces of meat, which can be seen much clearer in the People Looking at Blood Stills. She surreptitiously filmed people interacting with the blood, continuing beyond the duration of Moffitt Building Piece, until a maintenance employee from the building cleaned it from the sidewalk. (1)

Mendieta’s recurring use of blood as a symbolic material in her body of work is often seen as a product of her religious and cultural background. (1) She employed it in her work as an element of life, magic, power, violence and sacrifice. Within her familial religious practices, both Catholicism (her family was catholic) and Santeria (referenced by the domestic workers in her childhood home), blood was used as a crucial representation of transformation. (1) Through this spiritual influence, in combination with it’s violent implications, blood was established as a very powerful and charged symbol for Ana. In her explanation of the medium, she had stated, “I started immediately using blood, I guess because I think it’s a very powerful magical thing. I don’t see it as a negative force.” (1) In contrast, as illustrated in Moffitt Building Piece, it evoked a considerably lesser response in the common passerby.

This unformulated response, however, provides insight into the fundamental concepts and strategies behind the formation of this film and others that similarly employ the interactions with the viewer. Trained in Intermedia under Hans Breder, Mendieta was encouraged to adopt a working process of concept development, execution and documentation. (1) “She was”, as stated by Julia Herzberg, “intrigued with presenting fragments of a narrative to the viewer, their clarity abraded by elements of time or weather, making chance and the viewer’s pursuit and discovery of hidden details an important part of experiencing the work.” (1) Through maintaining invisibility in producing these films, Mendieta allowed for presenting the unwitting participants’ responses cohesively as part of the art.

In considering Moffitt Building Piece as the beginning of a series of works created in quick succession after the murder of Sara Otten, I recognized the conversation of the film to be less about social location and more closely related to the social response (or lack thereof) to violence, rape and brutality. The various responses of the passersby documented in the film depict an alarming degree of apathy and lack of curiosity towards the blood, which exists as a direct implication of violence. This social indifference observed serves both as a result of and a contradiction to the way in which violence is sensationalized and publicized in the media; a phenomenon which was demonstrated in the highly publicized case of Sara Otten, which ultimately reached no resolve. (2) A concern and awareness of this phenomenon is arguably what drove Mendieta to create Moffitt Building Piece.

A comparison to Moffitt Building Piece, even more direct than Sara Otten’s death, can be found in the rape and murder of Kitty Genovese in New York City in 1964. (3) Upon returning home from work late at night, Genovese was attacked and stabbed multiple times on the street outside her apartment. When someone yelled from a window above, her assailant fled the scene leaving her bleeding on the outside of her building. Though there were over thirty witnesses to the crime, over a half an hour passed without anyone assisting Genovese or calling the police. The assailant eventually returned to the scene where Genovese remained severely injured and it was at this point that he raped and killed her. Shortly following her murder the psychological concept of the bystander effect was popularized by social psychologists Bibb Latané and John Darley. (3) They attributed the bystander effect, which occurs when the presence of others hinders an individual from intervening in an emergency situation, to a diffusion of responsibility and social influence. In the case of Kitty Genovese, the multiple witnesses concluded because of each other’s lack of action, that the danger of the situation was not a threat and their own help was not needed. (3) From this information I think it would be accurate to assume that the bystander effect also played a role in the lack of response to the blood in Moffitt Building Piece. Though it is nearly impossible to deduce whether or not this was a concept Mendieta intended to apply or was even aware of.

Within the context of the 1970’s, art and politics were largely intertwined; a lot of art works were cultivated in political ideology and much of feminist political action was propelled through the arts. Artists employed metaphor as a means for making accessible an understanding and sensitivity to political and personal realities. (4) Moffitt Building Piece creates an accessible platform on which to recognize and confront the way society perceives and responds to rape and rape victims. Historically, rape has been and continues to be a crime that is trivialized and often dismissed within the legal and social sphere. Systemic domination of men over women within patriarchal society has enabled the formation and spread of erroneous ideologies and myths surrounding rape. These misconceptions and fallacies about rape impact societal definitions, attitudes and behaviors, which in effect sustain crime, foster double victimization of rape victims and prevent the reporting and prosecution of rape. (5) Ana Mendieta, in Moffitt Building Piece, problematizes the overwhelming disregard society has towards this violence, through her use of blood as symbolism and her employment and documentation of uninfluenced, objective response.

Bibliography:

  1. Mendieta, Ana, Olga M. Viso, and Guy Brett. Ana Mendieta – Earth Body: Sculpture and Performance, 1972 – 1985;. Washington, DC: Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, 2004. Print
  2. “Sarah Ottens – Iowa Cold Cases.” Iowa Cold Cases. Cold Cases Inc, 2005. Web. 18 Feb. 2014.
  3. “Bystander Effect.” Psychology Today. Sussex Publishers, 1991. Web. 2014.
  4. Raven, Arlene. “We Did Not Move From Theory We Moved to the Sorest Wounds.” The Ohio State University Gallery of Fine Art Presents Rape: Dedicated to the Memory of Ana Mendieta, Whose Unexpected Death on September 8, 1985, Underscores the Violence in Our Society : November 13-December 13, 1985, Hoyt L. Sherman Gallery. Columbus, Ohio: Ohio State University, 1985. 5-11. Print.
  5. Caringella-MacDonald, Susan. “The Mythology of Rape: Excusing the Inexcusable.” The Ohio State University Gallery of Fine Art Presents Rape: Dedicated to the Memory of Ana Mendieta, Whose Unexpected Death on September 8, 1985, Underscores the Violence in Our Society : November 13-December 13, 1985, Hoyt L. Sherman Gallery. Columbus, Ohio: Ohio State University, 1985. 99. Print.