Contributed by Loren Britton / Ana Mendieta’s exhibition at the Martin-Gropius- Bau is exquisite. Born in Havana, Cuba, in November 1948, Mendieta was sent to the United States in 1961, two years after Fidel Castro overthrew the Cuban Government. Her early work, some made while she was a student at the University of Iowa, is on view at the Gropius Bau through July 22.
In the first gallery, wall text frames Mendieta’s iconic “Silueta Series,” in which Mendieta explores fusions of body, nature, and space. She was interested in the role of documentary photography and liked making Super 8 films. Twenty-three of her short films are featured in the show, and, recently restored, they shimmer seductively with filmic noise. Occasionally she recorded the ambient sound while filming, though the films are often silent. Three or four works are presented in each of five rooms, sometimes alongside photographs or stills from the documentation and films. Projected in galleries that have been painted dark gray, the videos gleam like a stream in the sunshine, and the darkness gives Mendieta’s work a sense of intimacy.
For me, the exhibition is framed by notions of intimacy, quietness, waiting, stillness, observation, blood, and action. Many works resonated, but I continue to think about Rock Heart with Blood, a silent film from 1975. In this one Mendieta kneels by a muddy wet seashore, next to her silhouette which is dug out of the ground. She is present, nude, and kneeling with (what appear to be) a metal cast silver heart and a bowl of thin red blood in front of her.
As the film begins, Mendieta kneels silently. First she places the metal heart into the muddy Silueta, comes back to a kneeling position, breathes, waits, and then gently picks up the bowl of blood-like liquid. She pours it, a bit, a bit more, and then all of it, over the heart. She then sets the bowl down, kneels once more, pushes herself up, steps backward, into the hole, and lowers herself down into the earth. Her body, a metal heart, the animal’s blood and the earth are impressed into the muddy wet seaside – pressed together by her own weight.
As often happens when I am moved by another artist’s work, I struggle to find words that articulate how I feel or what the piece looked like. Watching this film, the sense of compression — her breast onto an externalized cold, wet heart, made so by the dampness of the earth and the wetness of the animal blood — made me feel sandwiched between Mendieta and her Silueta impression, print, grave. Although I experience a loss of language around Mendieta’s work, the work itself is not about loss at all. Again and again, through quiet persistence, she creates the condition for feeling, looking, and wondering. How do we reunite earth and body across time and space? Curators Lynn Lukkas and Howard Oransky have organized a powerful exhibition full of emotion, intimacy, and solemn beauty.
“Covered in Time and History the Films of Ana Mendieta,” organized by the Katherine E. Nash Gallery at the University of Minnesota, curated by Lynn Lukkas and Howard Oransky. Martin-Gropius-Bau, Berlin, Germany. Through July 22, 2018.
About the author: A recent graduate of Yale’s MFA program, Loren Britton is a co-founder of the curatorial projects Improvised Showboat (with Zachary Keeting), lcqueryprojects (with Christie DeNizio), and Queering Space. Britton also maintains a solo curatorial and art practice that shape-shifts in form from project to project.