Question: Which of the following 70s artists was the most prolific filmmaker?
Walter de Maria
OK, the answer is easy, if only owing to the title of this post. But the question is worth asking, because:
1) The fact that Ana Mendieta made nearly 80 films has never been very widely known. These films, shot between 1973 and 1981, most using a Super-8 camera, not only bring an intriguing new dimension to Mendieta’s overall body of work, but also raise new questions about it in relation to that of the above artists. And,
2) Fourteeen of her films are on view for free in the Walker’s lecture room through the end of March, some for the first time publicly.
The Walker has an in-house Mendieta expert in director Olga Viso, who included 10 of the artist’s films in the 2005-2006 retrospective Ana Mendieta: Earth Body, Sculpture and Performance 1972 – 1985, which she organized while she was at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden.
After the films went on view here last week, I got a chance to talk with Viso, who is speaking on Mendieta and showing some of the films at MCAD this Wednesday in a free lunchtime lecture. She noted that for well over a decade after Mendieta’s death in 1985, a compilation of her films was circulating, but it was a videotape of the films as they were projected on a wall: “You couldn’t even really read most of them,” she said. While organizing the retrospective, Viso met with Mendieta’s sister. “She showed me a bag of Super 8 film reels. She was trying to start work on digitizing them; a handful had been done at that point. I really urged her to conserve the reels themselves for posterity, and agreed that it was important to digitize them.”
Ultimately, Viso contributed some funds for the films’ restoration, and 10 of the Mendieta films were screened as part of her retrospective. “Because of technology, we were able to present the films side-by-side with drawings or performance residue,” Viso said. “It was really revelatory to people, to see them as Ana intended, at a large scale and on wall in relation to her photographs. (A review in Frieze magazine noted that “the Super-8 films with which [Mendieta] carefully documented her actions form the show’s radiant heart.”)
Mendieta had always been looked at as a photographer who did that work in relation to performance, Viso says, if only because her photos more readily accessible. Now, with more exposure and consideration of her films, a different art-historical take on Mendieta has emerged.
“The films have been critical in the re-evaluation of her work and being seen in a broad national and international context. Before her work was either seen as Latin American art or feminist art. Those constructs are relevant, but there’s more to her work and these films allow that to manifest itself.”
Finally, the films have a special resonance based around the absence of the artist herself, who, like several of her colleagues whose careers flowered in the 1970s, died too soon.
(Images © The Estate of Ana Mendieta Collection / Courtesy Galerie Lelong, New York)