CHAPTER TWELVE Embodied Geographies Subjectivity and Materiality in the Work of Ana Mendieta
In her work of the 1970's, the Cuban-American artist Ana Mendieta enacted a series of private rituals which she called "a dialogue between the landscape and the female body." 1 Working at outdoor sites in Mexico and Iowa City, she used materials such as earth, sand, stones, water, gunpowder, fire, plants, flowers, trees, blood, human hair, and her own body, tracing and re-tracing her silhouette on the landscape, mapping its outlines onto and into the earth: attending, discerning, digging, moulding, carving, burning, exploding, plucking, scattering, arranging, and occupying space along the visible and tactile boundaries between the body and the land. Mendieta wrote of this work:
Through my earth/body sculptures I become one with the earth. . . . I become an extension of nature and nature becomes an extension of my body. This obsessive act of reasserting my ties with the earth is really the reactivation of primeval beliefs. . . [in] an omnipresent female force, the after-image of being encompassed within the Womb. 2
What remains of this intimate practice is a series of photographs and films, optical indexes of concrete meditations; their power draws on other registers of sensory and psychic experience than those organized around vision. Viewed as a series of memory-traces, the inscriptions of the female body through which Mendieta traced her urgent and tentative itinerary are both repetitively familiar and strangely disquieting.
Lucy Lippard has written that visiting ancient stone circles and other prehistoric aesthetic-symbolic sites prompted her "to perceive places as spatial metaphors for temporal distance," and to consider how this dialectic between space and time might relate to "the crucial connections between individual de
Anne Raine, "Embodied Geographies: Subjectivity and Materiality in the work of Ana Mendieta," in Griselda Pollack, ed. Generations and Geographies in the Visual Arts: Feminist Readings ( New York: Routledge, 1996): 228-49. Reprinted by permission.