I tried to focus on images and processes that persist for me over time, treating them almost as if they were clues. They are combined and arranged not necessarily to give them a story or to bring them to light, but to let them appear in the darker peripheries more natural to them. Not unlike a naturalist trying to make observations in an undisturbed setting, but in this case, understanding the setting to consist in disturbance, in being affected.
These are my notes. While the usual methodology requires that they be edited, arranged, and selectively emphasized or discarded – brought into clarity through artifice and craft, these notes, being fragile, wouldn’t survive that kind of translation.
One was not an animal-birth but an artist-birth and unlike her first birth, this one, in 1977 was in East Orange, New Jersey not far from Belleville where the animal-birth was taking place, close to family in East Orange and Newark. In the summer of 1977 Beverly Buchanan exhibited Frustula sculptures; she committed to this artist-life, ending what had come before. Much later the small animal born in Belleville would receive money in the name of Ana Mendieta. In 1977 Mendieta described the works of a group of women-artists, thereby casting a spell on the young animal, incubated nearby, these works were “point[ing] not necessarily to the injustice or incapacity of a society that has not been willing to include us, but more towards a personal will to continue being ‘other.’”
The spell would materialize in the Female Background works, the midwifery of Mendieta this time in the guise of her memorial funds. Buchanan had secrets that she did not keep. She marked a place once with a pile of rocks, an ad hoc monument in an industrial area that had only recently hired black people. She told Park McArthur that she made a little pile but that she didn’t put a sign. Did then she put the sign, when she told Park? Did Park put the sign? She once put a sculpture in a river. She told people she did so. I don’t know if it is a secret then, if it has the quality of invisibility anymore. I don’t know if you have to let other people always tell your secrets, it would be too indecent to tell them yourself. If you were to hide something, forever, only to tell someone about it, does it then matter if you ever hid it at all? Or maybe it is not the invisibility that ever mattered after all. Maybe going around hiding things and making things that no one sees is not enough, but telling people is too indecent, so instead, Beverly whispers about acts and in that whisper, no matter how soft, the act no longer exists, it is only an idea. And an idea is nothing if not visible. It is nothing if not not-‘other’. It’s function is communicability. An idea is pulled from the riverbed of endless possibilities and just in this way Beverly pulled her sculpture from the riverbed when she turned it into an idea. She didn’t want to do it, I’m sure. Perhaps culpability lies in fact with the first person who betrayed her secret, relieving her of all bad conscience . A critic worries about the “discrepancy between the [work’s] sociopolitical “affinity” and its formalist predilections: Despite Medieta’s avowal of otherness, most of the work here extols the phenomenological the lyrical …“ These Female Background pieces, these Fineries, their secrets were never betrayed, they lay in the Background refusing to “announce themselves as subject or object” adhering instead to a “nuanced complexity of form, in which intensely subjective histories grounded in the politically-informed worldview of the artist are manifest through minimal or abstract techniques.” Beverly Buchanan sacrificed her secrets so the Finery could be invisible. So that when Female Background makes small, papier mache boxes with secrets inside, someone would destroy that mummy to find reveal them. The secrets can’t be told, they only exist as secrets. The transition from potential to actual would be a real one should one open the sealed box and that alchemy, that transmogrification guards against the revelation of the original secret. Perhaps just knowing there is a secret is having revealed too much, but ‘otherness’ is by nature a secret, and one that resists translation with its life. If someone were to look straight at Female Background, it would cease to be background.