The Presence of Absence: Searching for Mendieta, 2011-2014
Site-specific work at Guildwood Park
Materials: sumac (both Turkish and Local Indigenous strains), Turkish tea cups, knife, turf, natural found materials, audio.
Listen to For Ana: For Earth
The Presence of Absence: Searching For Mendieta involved a series of gestures that attempt to re-establish a material connection to Mendieta’s legacy, and to this land. The work consists of a sound walk along the Scarborough Bluffs – for Ana: For earth, site-specific live performances and sculptures, as well as an installation of archival ephemera. Since learning in 2011 that Ana Mendieta produced a carving on the surface of the Bluffs for the 1982 Contemporary Sculpture at the Guild Exhibition, I have been searching for her El Laberinto de Venus. I have been seeking material evidence in archives and interviews, that corroborates the existence of her gesture, as though finding it would somehow recoup her from the crest of oblivion. Her work was carved into the furthest edge of the site, where land meets water, beyond the perimeter of the park’s official borders. This, along with the fact that Mendieta was the only artist not compensated for her participation in the 1982 exhibition, speaks to her status as someone whose material practice, cultural identity, and gender, positioned her as an edge-dweller. As an edge-dweller myself, examining my relationship to this site as a settler, and as the descendant of immigrants, has informed the symbolism, materials, and overall approach of each gesture.
The Nazar or evil eye, a potent symbol of protection in Turkish culture, (and many others) has emerged as a repeated symbol in this work. Made of natural materials found onsite, the Nazars suggest the act of encounter – a looking back, which materializes a gesture of recognition. An acknowledgement and a pledge, the gestures engage various aspects of the site: the raw power of the Bluffs, the persistence of colonial landscaping, and the wild that seeps out the edges. In searching for Mendieta’s work, I found absences, and my own visual language; a language with which to speak back to her, to the history of this land, its present state, and the future we imagine possible.