"My art is grounded on the belief in one universal energy which runs through everything … from insect to man, from man to spectre, from spectre to plant, from plant to galaxy."
- Ana Mendieta
I want to make something. Something intimate and longlasting.
This is the last thing she said to me before she disappeared.
The qualities of stone:
a meditation on permanence.
The peace lily is dropping its petals. The sun is folding out its light like
a cloud, or an accordion.
What is it you want?
I watched her walk along a balcony at a party. A filigree shape, ghosting beyond the glass. She was lifting the hem of her T-shirt over her head. The whole city winking beneath her, tilting away, and the white cotton falling from her hand, spinning its descent into nothing. I might have dreamed it.
What are you doing? I asked. Morning after. Aspirin like fizzing moons. We locked the balcony door. Trying to leave a piece of me, she said.
If I jumped, would the air hold the imprint of my body? Even for a millisecond? Would I leave a trace?
We persuaded her to leave traces in other ways. She left notes for a while, on the underground. Complicated poems on kissing lip-shaped Post-it notes. Sometimes, questions. HAVE YOU EVER SEEN A SWAN BREAK ITS NECK? IS THE RAIN A PASSAGE? DOES THE MOUNTAIN HOLD UP THE SKY? She wrote invisible messages with her fingers on glass: bus windows, bedroom windows, once even a high-speed train – a word on each window along the length of its carriages, spelling out her name translated into ancient languages. Missives for the early morning frost. For the cold nights when the heating formed condensation clouds, the lights turned out, the world inverted, disappearing, leaving only her handwriting, looming dark and terrible and gorgeous.
She pressed her body into walls, into grass, against trees. There’s nothing there, I said, and she would laugh. Yes, there is, she said. She held my hand over the space her body had been, and I could swear it was warm.
Sometimes something would switch off behind her eyes, just briefly, and her pupils expanded like pools, swallowing the white.
And she said: I am a mother
And she said: I am childless
I would shake her out of it by tapping her three times on each collarbone. She told me this would keep her soul from flickering away from her body.
Her body was a curiosity to her. She examined it obsessively, photographed parts of it, blew the images up so large the parts no longer made sense. Have you ever wanted to stand in a cave, so long, so still, that you become a part of it, of time, and human history, and everything? No, I said quietly. I tapped. One-two-three. Come back to me, I whispered.
What is it you want? I asked for the last time. An hour from now she would walk over the bridge and disappear into sunlight forever. But now, in this final moment that later I would turn over like a stone, or a penny-wish, I asked, What is it you want? And she smiled.
Cuban artist Ana Mendieta’s work is concerned with ideas of permanence, regeneration, rebirth, and unity, in particular of the (female) body with the natural world. Her Earth Body works especially represent an act of healing, a repairing of severance, from grace, from the motherland, from the womb. Her works speak of her attempts to make a mark on the world by reimagining and reconstituting these ethno- and socio-psychological fissures. She uses her body to mould shapes in stone, in earth, but the work produced is bigger than her own body. The imprints and sculptures could be from any culture, made at any time in human history; they might be ancient or modern. Her use of natural stone in particular seems a commentary on the tension between permanence and impermanence when using elemental material as a basis for artwork. Stone can capture time – fossils offer snapshots of ancient life, snatched images of life as it once was. But stone is also subject to pressure, and to transformation, over time. It was ever there, but it will erode, and eventually, like us, disappear. This story considers the relationship between two women, one of whom, driven by similar artistic impulses to Ana, disappears.
Aki Schilz is a writer and poet. She is a Queen's Ferry Press Finalist, has featured in the Wigleaf Top 50, and is the winner of the inaugural Visual Verse Prize, supported by Andrew Motion, and the Bare Fiction Prize for Flash Fiction, judged by Angela Readman. Her work has been shortlisted for the HG Wells Prize and the Fish Prize, and appears in print (Popshot Magazine, The Colour of Saying, Kakania) and online (theNewerYork, The Bohemyth, Annexe Magazine, Cheap Pop Lit, The Vagina Project). Aki writes micropoetry on Twitter @AkiSchilz, and co-curates the LossLit Twitter project, and online magazine.
Ana Mendieta, Untitled. Made with Wood and Gunpowder. Colour Photograph, lifetime print.