CHELSEA KNIGHT [on] ELISE RASMUSSEN

Jaruco_Park_2012

Jaruco Park, C-Print, 40×53 inches {2012} Elise Rasmussen

Elise Rasmussen’s project Finding Ana (video, performance, photographs, 2013) is about Ana Mendieta’s life and work. The project began when Rasmussen journeyed to Cuba’s sprawling Jaruco Park in 2012 in search of Mendieta’s Rupestrian Sculptures, made on-site in a cave. Though photos survive, the sculptures have been since declared lost by the Guggenheim Museum. Rasmussen, relying only on vague written accounts of where the sculptures were hidden, was able to locate them, with the help of a local man who had met Mendieta in the 1980s, and who led her to the sculptures, wielding a machete, through tall grasses. The works were intact, forgotten then discovered, like living totems.

Elise Rasmussen

Maroya, C-Print, 24×18 inches {2012} Elise Rasmussen

In the next component of the project, Variations (video, live performance, 2013), a live audience collectively discussed alternative histories of Ana Mendieta’s death, which in turn were performed by two actors: one playing Mendieta and the other [artist] Carl Andre, Mendieta’s husband at the time of her death.

The audience discussed  alternative endings to Mendieta’s controversial death, in which she was allegedly pushed out of  her 34th story window by her husband Carl Andre. Andre was acquitted, but suspicion still remains. In re-thinking the event, Rasmussen re-enacts, with the help of her audience, Andre’s own conflicting statements over 20 years, three statements which all testify to different scenarios and invite different kinds of speculation. As Andre was the only (living) witness to what happened, Rasmussen indexes the cloudiness of histories, especially those written by men about men. In a sense, Rasmussen is setting up an alternative structure for thinking about history, a method that can be applied to any contested history (and some that are not contested). This could be a powerful tool, especially in her larger goal of feminist revisionism.

Variations, Elise Rasmussen {2013}

Ultimately, history and myth are Elise Rasmussen’s mediums. She is a practitioner of a kind of method that seeks to revise and rewrite, writing. She is not only investigating history as myth, but questioning the very application and misuse of “history” through time.

Roland Barthes says the following in his essay “Myth Today”:

{Are there objects which are inevitably a source of suggestiveness, as Baudelaire suggested about Woman? Certainly not: one can conceive of very ancient myths, but there are no eternal ones; for it is human history which converts reality into speech, and it alone rules the life and the death of mythical language. Ancient or not, mythology can only have a historical foundation, for myth is a type of speech chosen by history: it cannot possibly evolve from the ‘nature’ of things.}

Barthes is trying to speak, of course, about myth as a special, second-level sign. This sign can take any form—even an utterance or a language—anything that has an added layer of inevitability, of culture. But what Barthes is also speaking about is Baudelaire’s stereotyping and mythologizing of what a woman represents; her very physicality.

Elise Rasmussen

Untitled, C-Print, 24×18 inches {2012} Elise Rasmussen

We must, beyond following Barthes as he traces the important path from human history to myth—which is very much related to Rasmussen’s project—also notice the Baudelaire assertion that Barthes is deconstructing: that there are objects like women, which are inevitably a source of suggestiveness.

Playing into ideas of woman-as-body, as-object, as-substance (though not—as Hegel was going for—evolved enough to be Subject), Elizabeth Grosz, in her book “Volatile Bodies” theorizes the place of the body in the history of Western Philosophy. Starting from Descartes’ “mind over matter” she suggests that philosophy has always privileged the mind over the body, segregated them, and attributed one to woman and one to man (I think you can guess which is which). Grosz insists that what we need is to re-think the entirety of this philosophy from an embodied position, that the body IS philosophy as much as the mind is, that they needn’t be segregated from one another. She’s applying a method to this history, in order to re-write it. In doing so is she writing a new history? Suggesting one? Are they the same thing? Similarly, Rasmussen applies a physical, collective, collaborative method to her history, not just to re-write it but to make suggestions about what those statements may signify. Her works are, in the end, about mythological speech.

In destabilizing accepted readings of history, Rasmussen threatens to revise any history. But it is difficult to write a totally new history, clean and unfettered, without using language already at hand to make an invention out of a patriarchal language that pre-exists feminist thought. That is our task, as feminists, and it is Rasmussen’s quest. In Finding Ana and Variations, Rasmussen not only investigates and traces an over-determined history, she erases and rewrites, experiments, and in doing so traces the problems associated with the writing of history. In a sense, she could apply her method to any history but it is really particularly well-suited to the feminist enterprise, in which, as I see it (as does Elaine Showalter, Jacqueline Rose, Luce Irigaray, Elizabeth Grosz and countless others) the task is to MAKE the language: to experiment with the form; to take a simple sign (falling from a window), complicate and trouble it by experimenting with form and structure, to create a new narrative. A new myth.

Elise Rasmussen

Rupestrian Sculptures, C-Print, 48×63 inches {2012} Elise Rasmussen

ABOUT THE CONTRIBUTORS

ELISE RASMUSSEN was born in Canada and received her MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 2007. She is currently represented by Erin Stump Projects in Toronto. She lives and works in New York, and continues to exhibit internationally.

CHELSEA KNIGHT was born in Vermont and lives and works in New York. She received her M.F.A. from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Knight has completed residencies at the Whitney Independent Study Program (2010), the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture (2008), and was a Fulbright Fellow in Italy (2007). She was a 2011-2012 Freund Fellow at Washington University in St. Louis, a 2010-2011 resident at the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council Workspace program, a 2012 resident at Triangle Arts Association, and is a 2013-2014 resident at Smack Mellon.

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