With fiery red flames and milky white smoke erupting from the outline of the human figure, Ana Mendieta’s Volcán is a powerful example of the artist’s practice that engages with the relationship between nature and the human form. These six chromogenic prints, of which another set from the same edition is part of the collection of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, belong to one of the artist’s most celebrated series, the poetic and eerie Siluetas which she created whilst in Mexico between 1973 and 1981.
In these pieces, human-shaped silhouettes, often her own, are cut, burnt or drawn onto the landscape, disrupting the essence of nature and imprinting her body upon it. As Kristen M. Jones explains, the ‘stark beauty of the Siluetas (all the more potent for being incidental) is hard to overstate – in photographs and films red and white flowers glow against sand, water, or greenery; flames, sometimes tinted by the artist, burn against sky and earth’ (K. M. Jones, ‘Ana Mendieta’, in frieze, Issue 87, November-December 2004 http:/www.frieze.com/issue/ review/ana_mendieta/ [Accessed 3/08/15]).
Originally from Cuba and sent to America by her parents when she was young, Mendieta’s prolific career was tragically cut short by a fatal accident. Over the last decade, Mendieta’s work has risen to new levels of critical acclaim with several important retrospectives such as Ana Mendieta: Earth Body, Sculpture and Performance 1972- 1985, a touring exhibition starting at the Whitney Museum of American Art in 2004 and more recently her first UK retrospective Traces at the Hayward Gallery in 2013.
Volcán is conceptually reminiscent of Robert Smithson’s Earth Works, particularly the Yucatan Mirror Displacements (1-9), 1969, where mirrors are carefully positioned amongst the earth, branches and roots of trees in Mexico, displacing the limits of nature and its forms. Mendieta, however, preferred the term Earth Body to Earth Works, which she felt were limited to more monumental actions to the landscape. Indeed, the former is more in line with her own practice, as she created environments in which her body communicated with nature, ephemeral milieus captured by the photographic lens. This bodily communication aligns Mendieta with performance artists, such as Marina Abramovic, who use the body as both a canvas and medium through which to express their identity. Mendieta combines elements of Earth, Body and Performance Art to create her own artistic vernacular; as she herself claims; ‘I have thrown myself into the very elements that produced me, using the earth as my canvas and my soul as my tools’ (A. Mendieta, quoted in P. Farris (ed.), Women Artist of Color, Westport 1999, p. 180).