The concrete nature of bodily being is typically in contrast with the ephemeral nature of the performative space. In An Ontology of Performance Peggy Phelan states that “performance’s being becomes itself through disappearance”. The moment in which a performance is fully realized is also the moment which it has immediately disappeared from. The ephemeral temporal quality of performance is what makes presence such a crucial element to the medium. The performers and audience alike must surrender conceptions of concrete time and lastingness in order to be with the performance in the moment of its realization. With her Siluetas Series Ana Mendata is challenging this relationship between the ephemeral and the performative body.
Time is created and conceptualized through our bodily being. Performance takes the living body and places conditions of being upon it that are ephemeral—in Ana Mendata’s Siluetas Series Mendata is challenging the relationship between the performative body and ephemerality through creating a performative body that becomes ephemerality itself. Mendata places the body in relation to nature and broadens the scope of the “performative time” until it is inclusive of Time natural, in a biological/greater world context. She overturns the conventional relationship between the body and the performative space through concretizing the space and abstracting the body.
In images 1 and 2 Mendata’s own body is seen embedded in a natural landscape. In both pieces her body is disguised by the elements. In Image 1 she is caked in mud and debris while standing in front of a tree. The entirety of her human form is obscured by mud and earth and she becomes the tree in the image. In Figure 2 her own bodily being is also present, she is lying in a stone enclave enveloped in simple wild flowers. The flowers appear true to the scene, not brought from an external location for the purpose of an artistic creation, but found already present at the site. Her body is apparent and easily identifiable as such in the image, her face is obscured by the flowers, but her hands and feet remain uncovered, making it very clear that there is a human form beneath. This image creates a sense of decomposition, in a very literal sense. It feels like she is pointing to the fact that after death the earth becomes us. one way she is broadening the scope of performative time, death and decomposition.
Image three shows a hollowed out silhouette in sand, the use of red in the image gives it a sense of life and contrast and makes the body in the image distinct. Mendata created this work through creating a bodily imprint in the sand and adding red pigment, as the waves overtook the imprint they deepened and distorted it and spread the red pigment throughout the imprinted body. Figures 4 and 5 show Mendata’s use of the extremity of the elements, in these pieces she is using fire and ice in the form of the human body, the contrast between the bodily form and the extremity of the elements shows the fragility of bodily being.
I am examining these images as performative documents, or as documents of a performance because Mendata herself described them as performance. When examining an image as documentation, as opposed to as a complete work of art, the questions change a bit. The context becomes broader then what is contained within the frame of the image. Mendata herself is present in every image when the image is looked at as a performative document. How she is present however, is not always as a being in the image, in the first two images she is present literally, in the second, she is alluded to via the imprinted body, this is why the body in the images is the body left behind. However, the body I am discussing in the images, both her actual body and the imprinted body, is a performative body, rather then the body of a photographic image. The imprint and obscured characteristics however create a universal body that is beyond the scope of typical identity signifiers. It’s significant that it’s a universal body because the universal performative body creates a different sense of time as well. The universal body creates a different sense of time because it creates a sensibility of the body that is outside of time as presence. In a conventional live performance the performing body is present, and through this specific presence the performance is given. When the body becomes universalized, or related to nature in the way Mendata relates it to nature, then the body becomes a body that could be in any time or that could stop existing. So it’s a very different relationship to the ephemeral, the body is abstracted in identity and in it’s relationship to time and presence. The performative body in this work is a silhouette, it is a body left behind. The body becomes abstracted in the greater context of the earth. The temporal element of performance becomes biological and geographical time. The performative body becomes ephemerality itself. Time becomes concrete “earth” time and the body becomes the memory.
In this work the earth acts upon the body, if there is an action present in the performance the earth itself is the actor—this is unique because the ephemeral is typically a condition of the performative action on the body and on the space, like in dance, the actual dance moves would be the condition of the performance that creates the ephemeral moment that disappears. In this work the earth is the acting agent on the body.The earth decomposes the work further after the image is taken. So the earth is comparable in these performances to a specific movement in dance. The body becomes the ephemeral in relation to the concrete performance action and concretized performative space, which are, in this case, the earth. The fire is acting on the idea of the body, the ice is acting on the idea of the body, the ocean is acting on the idea of the body. The body disappears into the earth.