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Michael Davidge
Elise Rasmussen at Gallery 101 in Ottawa
January 14, 2014

My year began at Gallery 101 with a screening of a video by Elise Rasmussen that was so new the credits read 2014. Variations documents a series of actors' improvisations based on the artist Carl Andre's contradictory statements regarding the events the night in 1985 when he and his wife, the artist  Ana Mendieta, argued in their 34th floor apartment and her dead body was later found 33 floors below it. Andre was charged with her murder and then acquitted. Including the actors' and audience members' questions and responses to three scenarios that tested whether a murder, suicide or accident took place, the video was like a combination of an episode of Law and Order with the Theatre of the Oppressed. It raised more questions than it answered.

Elise Rasmussen, Variations, 2013, production still

It was presented as part of the opening of Finding Ana, curated by Gallery 101's Director Laura Margita. The exhibition comprises a recent body of fascinating research-based work by the Edmonton-born but New York-based Rasmussen that began with earlier performances exploring the death of the Cuban-American artist and culminated in a trip to Cuba to see if the site-specific installations she had carved in the porous rock of the caves of Jaruco Park in 1981 still existed. These ephemeral Rupestrian Sculptures, which were to be seen only as photographs, were based on Goddess figures taken from indigenous religious beliefs that Mendieta was researching at the time.

One side of the gallery features lush photographs by Rasmussen of the caves that provided the ritualistic significance and inspiration for Mendieta. One work, They Believe there is a Place Where the Dead Go, is printed on a hinged screen that makes it appear to float like an apparition, suggesting that belief is integral to what the viewer discerns in this suite of images (as well as the video). The other side of the gallery provides photographic evidence of the Rupestrian Sculptures' remains. Acting as a mediator between these two sides was a low vitrine containing "didactic material": two reference books opened to pages that showed reproductions of some of the original images taken by Mendieta of her carvings. The viewer can engage in some fun detective work by comparing and contrasting the original images from the site with how it appears over three decades later. In Guanaroca, for example, the silhouette of the First Woman has become vague and apparently grown over with moss and mold, while a carved crack that once delineated her vulva has spread through the length of the surface area and sprouted vegetation. The exhibition demonstrates a commitment to perpetuating the legacy of Mendieta's art practice, and is a testament to the continuing relevance of radical interdisciplinary work, but it is also a sad remembrance of the continued need to address the issue of violence against women.

The opening was also an occasion to celebrate the announcement that Gallery 101 would be moving to a new ground level location in Little Italy after this exhibition closes, and sparkling wine was distributed to attendees. Margita noted the unfortunate coincidence that Andre and Mendieta had been drinking champagne on the night of her death. We raised a glass to Rasmussen and the Gallery 101 staff for a job well done, and spilled a little on the floor in memory of Mendieta.

Gallery 101:
Elise Rasmussen: Finding Ana continues until February 8.

Michael Davidge is an artist, writer, and independent curator who lives in Ottawa. His writing on art and culture has appeared in Border Crossings, BlackFlash, and C Magazine, among other publications. He is Akimblog's Ottawa correspondent and can be followed on Twitter @MichaelDavidge.



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Posted by Georgia Mathewson, on 2014-01-17 10:33:05
The new Gallery 101 location will be an accessible, ground level location in Little Italy, not Chinatown.