I still have the small piece of green paper, with its dark-blue scrawl, that she handed to me across the table. It is creased now, and worn around the edges, from being turned over in my hands, folded and put in pockets of clothing, carried around, slipped in between the pages of books. It has moved house with me twice; it smells faintly of basil and grapefruit.
“I wanted to give you my notes,” she said, the writer who offered me the small, now talismanic piece of green paper. She was in London from New York to act as an examiner for my Ph.D. viva, a piece of work that considered the relationship between the literary-essay form and writing about works of art. “I’m not sure what else I can do, but I can give you my notes.” I thought she was probably a genius and I hung on her every word. The notes were enough. They were more.
Her note read:
“I’m not interested in the formal qualities of my materials, but their emotional and sensual ones,” says Mendieta. ** You could do more with this.
“You could do more with this,” she said, “the emotional and the sensual”; and, “I was at that trial, you know.” Mendieta is, of course, the Cuban American artist Ana Mendieta, and “that trial” is the trial of her husband, the famous Minimalist sculptor Carl Andre, who was accused and eventually acquitted of murdering Mendieta, who—in his words—“went out the window” of his thirty-fourth-floor apartment early on the morning of September 8, 1985. A hazy and unconvincing verb: went. But this essay is not about that, though others are. This essay is about different kinds of language, and what convinces, what makes real, when trying to get to the heart—figurative and literal—of artworks that are frequently described as extralinguistic, as uncontainable, as emotional and sensual.
“You could do more with this,” the probably genius writer told me, and I have been thinking about it ever since. A proposal, a challenge, a possibility. Read More