In the November issue of Artforum, Ara Osterweil reflects on the films of Ana Mendieta on the occasion of the exhibition "Covered in Time and History: The Films of Ana Mendieta” at the Katherine E. Nash Gallery, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, which is on view through December 12. Often overlooked in favor of her photographic works, Mendieta's films bespeak an artist who thought deeply, if ambivalently, about the female body in history. Here's an excerpt from Osterweil's piece:
Created two months after the rape and murder of a fellow student at the University of Iowa, Moffitt Building Piece is a key work in Mendieta’s oeuvre. It stages motifs that remained essential to the artist’s work: the investigation of gendered violence, the perception of invisible difference, the “presence” of missing bodies, the creation of art outside traditional venues, and the use of film and photography to document the afterimages of encounters between body and world. Over the next decade, Mendieta would put the body back into the scene and then take it out again. Although she kept her films short and silent, she learned to maintain her poker face by eliminating the subjective perspective of the camera and ceding to a more neutral viewpoint. And though she jettisoned the kind of visual mediation and distance provided in Moffitt Building Piece by the car’s windowpane, Mendieta remained ambivalent about direct encounters with the body. Over the next decade, she continued to question the imperfect evidence of being.
Much of the attention given to Mendieta’s art has focused on the photographs of her earth-body works. With a few notable exceptions—including the 2013 traveling exhibition “Ana Mendieta: Traces,” which opened at the Hayward Gallery in London and showed more than a dozen films—comparatively little attention has been paid to her moving images. Making nearly one hundred 8-mm and 16-mm films and several videos between 1973 and 1981, Mendieta created an archive that, along with a large collection of 35-mm slides and photographic negatives, documents her radical innovations in a practice that bridges Conceptualism, body art, Land art, and feminism. Shot primarily with a Bolex Super 8 camera at eighteen frames per second, Mendieta’s films are silent (and her videos, with one exception, have only ambient sound) and are usually no longer than the length of a single roll of film (approximately three minutes and twenty seconds), though her actions in the environment often lasted longer. While Mendieta used both still and moving images to document her interventions, her films are uniquely capable of expressing her work’s durational aspect, which is so crucial to its engagement with shifting states of indexical reference and questions of mortality.
“Covered in Time and History: The Films of Ana Mendieta,” curated by Lynn Lukkas and Howard Oransky and on view at the Katherine E. Nash Gallery at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis this fall, is the largest exhibition of the artist’s films ever mounted. Although the exhibition includes but a fraction of Mendieta’s output—twenty-one films and twenty-six related photographs—it provides a solid foundation for understanding the work of an artist who constantly questioned both the solid and the foundational.