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From the Personal to the Transpersonal: Self Reclamation Through Ritual-in-Performance

Deborah K. Ultan
Art Documentation: Journal of the Art Libraries Society of North America
Vol. 20, No. 2 (Fall 2001), pp. 30-36
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/27949150
Page Count: 7
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Abstract

That which in art reminds us of our greater selves, our unexplored potentials, and our personal mysteries —however beautiful, dignified, humiliating, or painful— ultimately opens us to transpersonal realities of which we are not immediately conscious. Ana Mendieta and Yoko Ono used ritual-in-performance to explore myths and realities of identity toward seeking a greater self. When Yoko Ono began to exhibit and perform in the United States in the early 1960s, she inspired what became the Fluxus movement, with performance and conceptual work that exemplified the risk artists might take to explore such issues as personal boundaries, humility, chance, reverence and trust. In "Cut Piece," (Figure 1) performed in 1964, as she was slowly, ritualistically stripped by members of the audience, her vulnerable, yet stoic disposition exemplified a transpersonal moment. She meditatively sat through the drama of her clothes cutting with no overt anxiety about physical violence. Ana Mendieta's body rituals transgressed personal boundaries in a different way than Ono's. Mendieta assumed the identities of archetypal deities, evoked and transformed rituals from the African-Cuban religious practice Santería, a syncretization of West African (Yoruba) animistic symbolism with Spanish Catholicism.1 (Figure 2) Mendieta recreated rituals that intentionally involved a level of sacrifice in order to fuse body, nature, and art. The ritual process for Mendieta, as for Ono, was a stripping down of ego to manifest a transpersonal moment that is self-empowering through its voluntary self-loss. At the beginning of the twentieth century, Futurist and Dada artists pursued performance over other media to challenge the formality of how art was perceived and engaged in by the audience. It was not until the 1950s that artists returned to favoring performance over other art media, creating work that can be compared with the Baroque sensibility, both wrought with a decadence and a strong impetus for indulgence. Performance artists of the sixties were seminal in re-initiating the mechanism of performance as a creative means for expressing a freedom of the body and the self. This aesthetic, often dismissed as mischievously self-deprecating and narcissistic, was, in fact, a sobering self-revelatory process of reaffirming the body and identity (while inevitably exploiting them). This process of self-inflicted disengagement, manipulation, humiliation, and critical evaluation was an essential part of the process of re-structuring a greater consciousness. Using ritual, Yoko Ono and Ana Mendieta enriched the potentially debilitating deconstructive process of the body projected in performance. The ritual process established a reverence from which they not only achieved a reclaiming of identity on a personal level but also challenged any fixed perception of identity and its relationship to a single culture or nationality. In my examination of their processes, I will demonstrate how the performance work of Ono and Mendieta invigorates the dialogue on identity by re-claiming identity as an experience of totality rather than as a limited, fragmented, or singularly encapsulated, self-indulgent experience.

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