Friday, November 23, 2007


I never got round to writing about the Antony Gormley show in London earlier this year. The body casts he positioned in Event Horizon on the buildings and streets around the gallery were, among other things, a form of landscape art: marking out a section of the city and drawing attention to a skyline that might otherwise go unregarded. In an earlier work, Another Place, installed on the sands of Crosby Bay, Gormley had similarly inserted his own body into the landscape, by creating its bronze trace and placing multiples over a wide area.

It might be interesting to compare these Gormley sculptures with the ephemeral body imprints made in the seventies by Cuban-American artist Ana Mendieta. In her Siluetas series Mendieta 'inserted her naked figure (or its outline or contours) in a natural setting,' fusing 'aspects of Conceptual, process, performance, body, feminist, and land art.' There are currently photographs of these on line here, here, here and here (this last one to illustrate 'feminism and the sublime'.)

In London, Gormley's masculine sculptures were placed on the commanding heights, made of solid material and were... how can I put this... impressively well-endowed. Mendieta's Siluetas in contrast were overtly feminine. Indeed, as Michael Duncan notes , one critic Mira Schor, 'faults the bond that Mendieta sought to establish between her own body and that of "Mother Earth," seeing in it a kind of feminist essentialism. She claims that Mendieta's approach reveals "a problematic lack of ambivalence that seems a relic of the first years of feminist art."'

All discussions of the Siluetas acknowledge the important influence of Afro-Cuban Santeria myths, along with Mandieta's explanation that the works symbolised her own sense of uprootedness. Michael Duncan explains how 'they transcend any simple celebration of nature. The Siluetas evoke a variety of emotional states; there is the apocalyptic bleakness of a Silueta composed of burnt gunpowder and charred ash, the magical transience of another work that is seemingly blown together with tufts of hay, and the stolid sobriety of a form molded out of earth... An uncanny filmed performance of 1974, Yagul (Burial Pyramid), presents a Silueta formed from a mound of rocks in a Mexican landscape. Slowly the rocks begin to twitch, pulsing with seemingly primordial life; finally, Mendieta herself gradually shakes off her rocky sepulcher. Yet she remains prone, as if her new visibility is enough.'

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