During lockdown, I started taking photos of ordinary objects around the flat and using multiples of them – sometimes three, sometimes more – to create artworks. Some photos were of utensils like spoons or forks, others were close ups of glass vases or even soap bottles, chosen for their colour. From the latter I created kind of abstract triptych works. #photography #art
Tag Archives: Photograph
The Cuban-American artist Ana Mendieta (1948-85) is known for her performance art, ‘earth-body sculptures’, photographs and video work, much of which centred on her own body. She was born in Havana, but during the political upheaveals of the early 1960s, she and her sister (along with many Cuban children) were sent to the United States under ‘Operation Peter Pan’, ending up in an orphanage. This dramatic exile, separating her (at age thirteen) from family and homeland, had a formative influence on her art.
Mendieta’s haunting ‘Siluetas’ (1973–81) are among her most powerful works, a fusion of performance and earth art. In these untitled sculptures, Mendieta burnt, dug or otherwise shaped her own silhouette into different outdoor sites. Often she filled in the silhouette with ephemeral materials – flowers, twigs, leaves, fire, gunpowder, candles. Sometimes her body itself, covered with flowers or mud, formed the silhouette. Interested in the earth as a site to address feelings of displacement, she recorded the presence of her body – or the imprint it left – within various environments.
In a 1981 statement about the work, she wrote: “I have been carrying out a dialogue between the landscape and the female body (based on my own silhouette). I believe this has been a direct result of my having been torn from my homeland (Cuba) during my adolescence. I am overwhelmed by the feeling of having been cast from the womb (nature). My art is the way I re-establish the bonds that unite me to the universe … Through my earth-body sculptures I become an extension of nature and nature becomes an extension of my body.”
The Silueta works – about a hundred in total – were performed as she traveled between her home in Iowa and Mexico during the period 1973-81. As the sculptures were transitory, the documenting photographs and films are considered the artworks.
In the photographs, red flowers or red powder glow against sand, soil or stone; flames burn against the earth. Mendieta drew on knowledge about indigenous rituals and beliefs, including the deities (orishas) of the Afro-Cuban religion of Santería. One beach sculpture consists of red bouganvillea blossoms in the shape of the artist’s body with arms raised; another shows incoming waves covering the silhouette on the sand. For those familiar with Santeria, the symbolism is apparent: Chango, a principal orisha, is represented by the colour red; his mistress, Yemaya, is orisha of the ocean – the frothy white waves represent her lacy petticoats.
Mendieta died in 1985 when she mysteriously fell from a 34-storey building at the age of 36, just as her work was becoming recognised outside the specialised world of feminist art criticism. Her Silueta series in particular remains a powerful body of work, an evocative testament to the effects of displacement and to the importance for this artist of an emotional connection to nature.
“What most people take to be reality is a load of old nonsense invented by not very inventive minds.”
Every 4th February – the birth date of Russell Hoban (1925-2011) – fans of this brilliant author write their favourite quotations from his books on sheets of yellow A4 paper and leave them in public places, and/or share them online (this is the Slickman A4 Quotation Event or SA4QE, which began in 2002.)
I first became aware of the SA4QE in about 2005 from an article in The Guardian, and have done the event ever since, often leaving quotes on A4 paper around the local village green next to the river. Doing this feels playful and subversive, a fitting tribute to a quixotic writer. I like the quotes to express what I love about Hoban – his mix of poetry, profundity and humour, his ability to veer effortlessly from the sublime to the hilarious.
I also leave smaller versions of the quotes tucked under baked-bean tins and packets of biscuits in the local village shop. I like the idea, and like to think Hoban would have liked the idea, of someone picking up a can of baked beans and finding underneath a small piece of paper that reads, “What most people take to be reality is a load of old nonsense invented by not very inventive minds.”
As I was finishing up, a woman with a golden Labrador walked past, stopped, read a couple of the quotes and looked at me. “Oh,” she said. “Oh. Oh.”
“Yes, Oh,” I said.
She smiled and walked off. I felt it was a suitably Hobanesque encounter.
More information about the event and about Russell Hoban can be found at http://www.russellhoban.org/sa4qe
The man stopped and stared into his thoughts, stark and quiet against the winter day. I didn’t know him but felt kinship with his outside introspection.
Since the 1960s, and particularly since the advent of conceptual art, photography has played a varied role in the fine arts. Photoconceptualism, for instance, uses the photograph as a document of artistic ideas and practice rather than as something that emphasizes the virtuoso craft of photography. It draws on the shoot-from-the-hip style of certain street photography, aiming for a non-art, ‘non-authored’ look; the ideas and acts that the photograph casually represents are more significant than the quality of the photograph itself.
Photoconceptualism can be used to disrupt the surface of everyday life, revealing its undercurrents. Gillian Wearing’s Signs that say what you want them to say and not signs that say what someone else wants you to say (1990s), is an example of this. Standing in a busy area of South London, Wearing stopped passers-by and asked them to write down what was on their mind on white sheets of cards. With their permission, she then photographed them holding their words. Wearing has written that this collaboration ‘interrupts the logic of photo-documentary and snapshot photography by the subjects’ clear collusion and engineering of their own representation.’ A broad cross-section of people participated, so the series offered a social and historical document. It referred to the economic decline in Britain in the early 1990s, one individual holding up a sheet saying, ‘Will Britain get through this recession?’ Most of the signs revealed intimate thoughts or personal convictions, though. A tattooed man held up a sign,’ I have been certified as mildly insane’, while a smartly dressed man with an ostensibly self-possessed expression had a sheet saying, ‘I’m desperate’, and a policeman held up, ‘Help’. These photographs form part of Wearing’s broader interest in the interface of public image and personal identity, and demonstrate how it is through artistic strategies and interventions, rather than through the artistry of photography, that the depths of ordinary existence can be explored.