Photo by Monica Uszerowicz for Creem

Photo by Monica Uszerowicz for Creem

By Monica Uszerowicz for Creem

It can be lazy shorthand to deem an artist indefinable, but Miami-based artist Ana Mendez exists genuinely, beautifully, without definition. References to Mendez discuss her physical strength and emotive power—her strange ability to appear before an audience as she might, privately, before a sacred altar—but rarely to the exact nature of her craft. In a self-evolved liminal space, Mendez toes the line between dance and performance, between dream and reality, often choreographing other performers to move with and around her, like frantic Whirling Dervishes evoking something magic. Nature—particularly animals, the cycle of the seasons, and the fraught relationship between humans and the natural environment—is inextricably tied to her performances, from the movement of her physical body (she twists and turns as if possessed by lightning) to the connection she creates between the dates of her shows and shifts in moon cycles.

Not far from her home, the Everglades swell and sink, part lush wetland ecosystem, part tourist attraction, part endangered species. In 2001, the not-for-profit organization AIRIE—Artists in Residence at the Everglades—teamed up with the Everglades National Parks Volunteers-In-Parks to establish a program that would provide a month-long live-and-work space for local artists at Long Pine Key, granting them access to the Everglades’ 1.5 million acres, for inspiration, solitude, and communication with the land. Former residents include Naomi Fisher, as well as Wade Kavanaugh and Stephen B. Nguyen, whose culminating large-scale installation, “Drawn From the Everglades,” wilted and moved much like the River of Grass’ parts.

As the June 2013 resident, Mendez found herself in a particularly primordial time for the Everglades: it’s a wet, sticky, buggy month, mostly free of tourists. The ecosystem, in full flora, blooms to all its icky, lovely potential. Mendez tried not to force herself to create; instead, she sought to learn from the place itself, sitting quietly with the landscape. She also took the opportunity to practice BodyTalk, a holistic means of communicating with and healing the body.

We spoke with her twice about interacting with the environment for insight; once just after heading into the wild, and then upon her return.

I’m interested in your use of the body as a means of creative expression. How did you find yourself using movement to do this?

I always danced as a child. I never decided to start dancing and I never took dance classes when I was little. I did most of my dancing in my bedroom—I would lock myself in there and slam around for hours. It was definitely a release, so it could be seen as a ritual, but I was just having fun and knew it was something special. I would also put on shows for the family.

You’re drawn to naturalistic elements: animals, moon cycles, the rhythm of the body. Please say more about this and how you incorporate it into your life.

Connecting to the natural world is very important to me. It grounds me. I started taking classes with a shaman on ritual and animal and plant medicine about eight years ago. I was exploring this for myself and naturally, because my work is very personal, it just started bleeding into it. I started creating rituals to induce the work and then it just made sense to me that performing was a ritual in and of itself. Creating and performing pieces and my own personal rituals are now symbiotic.

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