Place is an integral part of an individual’s identity: where we grow up and reside shape the way we think about life. Staying in the same place or country for the entirety of one’s life is a very different experience from being uprooted from one’s home and moving to a different place. These opposing experiences of identity related to place can be explored in both Cornelia Parker’s Cold Dark Matter: An Exploded View from 1997 and Ana Mendieta’s Silueta series from 1973-1980. In Parker’s work, she explores how an utilitarian structure and everyday objects can represent a national identity. For Mendieta, inserting herself into the earth’s elements help her regain or reshape her identity that has been displaced from its homeland.
Cold Dark Matter: An Exploded View is an installation comprised of the pieces of a previously exploded garden shed and its contents, suspended from the gallery ceiling on wire and lit by a single light bulb in the center of the objects. The way in which the objects are suspended replicate the moment in which the shed was exploded by the British Army at Parker’s request, and the light bulb reflects the placement of the plastic explosives at the time of explosion.² Parker describes explosions as an iconic image in society, a phenomenon that happens in seconds but can be represented in a way that continues to exist at length.² Her decision in the type of garden shed and objects to be place within it are very specific. Parker’s desire to use an “archetypal” garden shed rather than a garden shed belonging to someone reflects her intention to create a work that speaks to the British identity rather than a biographical work.² Similarly, the objects inside of the garden shed represent the collective of what Parker remembers of her childhood garden shed and attic.² These items also aim to capture the British identity: objects include hair rollers, a toy sandcastle mold, ice skates, and Wellington boots. The title of the work comes in two parts. “Cold dark matter” refers to dark matter: unidentified matter that exists in the universe, what Parker calls “stuff in the universe you can’t measure.”² An exploded view is a technical drawing that shows machinery with all its parts separated to show how they come together to function. Therefore Cold Dark Matter: An Exploded View serves as a way to depict how normally indescribable elements of life come together. Parker takes snippets of everyday British life: a bicycle pedal, a gas can, a toy police car, the garden shed that holds these memories; and explodes them in the literal sense but also in a way that allows viewers to see how these items come together to summarize the archetypal national British identity rooted in its homeland.
Mendieta’s Silueta series, however, explores how multiple places can shape the identity. A deeply personal series, Mendieta was a native Cuban exiled to an orphanage in Iowa when she was 12 years old, Silueta seeks to tie the artist with her homeland and her new home by inserting her body into the earth.¹ Mendieta carves the imprint of her figure in various elements: sand, grass, mud; on location in Iowa and Mexico in poses that are symbolic of bringing together the land and the sea, much in the same way Mendieta brings together her Afro-Cuban identity with her American identity.¹ She creates these performative, ephemeral sculptures that exist only in photograph after their creation, rooted in essence in her own body. The body as a recognizable, biologically female body is an important aspect of the work. Mendieta inserting herself into the earth is a metaphor for her returning to the womb, to reform the ties to her heritage she lost as an adolescence.³ These reliefs in rock and clay also mimic that of ancient iconographic depictions of fertility goddess and symbols, such as the Venus of Laussel. In her practice, Mendieta combines contemporary Western practices such as performance art, Earthworks, and body art with indigenous Cuban rituals and religions, particularly Santeria. However, Silueta is not Earthwork in the sense that Mendieta is not interested in the formal quality of the elements, “but their emotional and sensual ones.”¼ By inserting herself into nature and performing ritualistic acts from her heritage on location in both the place where she was exiled, and a place with similar cultural heritage to her own, Mendieta can bring together the two cultures and places that form her identity.
Identity relating to place is an integral part of Cold Dark Matter: An Exploded View and the Silueta series. The artists also bring in the themes of memory and the body to further explore how they relate to place to shape identity. Parker’s memories of childhood her childhood garden shed help form a representation of the average, middle class Brit. Cold Dark Matter: An Exploded View relies on the memories and identities of the viewers to relate to a specific place and nationality. In the Silueta series, Mendieta uses her body as a way to facilitate a connection between herself and the earth, as well as a connection between her Cuban heritage and her American nationality. Both works make clear the influence of place on identity and how it can be shaped when secured in its homeland, or displaced and thrust into an unknown territory.
¹”Ana Mendieta.” Guggenheim. November 09, 2016. Accessed March 15, 2017. https://www.guggenheim.org/arts-curriculum/topic/ana-mendieta.
²”Cold Dark Matter: An Exploded View.” Tate. Accessed March 15, 2017. http://www.tate.org.uk/learn/online-resources/cold-dark-matter.
³Tate. “‘Untitled (Silueta Series, Mexico)’, Ana Mendieta, 1976.” Tate. Accessed March 15, 2017. http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/mendieta-untitled-silueta-series-mexico-t13356.
¼Warchol, Julie. “Performed Invisibility: Ana Mendieta’s ‘Siluetas’.” Smith College Museum of Art. January 10, 2013. Accessed March 15, 2017. https://www.smith.edu/artmuseum/artmuseum/Collections/Cunningham-Center/Blog-pap er-people/Performed-Invisibility-Ana-Mendieta-s-Siluetas.