Ana Mendes is a visual artist and writer living and working in London and Stockholm. She creates projects in which she uses video, photography, performance, text and installation to speak about subjects such as memory, language and identity. She started her work in performance when she wrote Self-Portrait, a play about her identity. More about her explorations and the performance as sculpture in this short conversation with Maria Vitanova.
Your piece is called “Self-Portrait”. Does that mean that the answers that you give are true?
Yes, it´s based on the collection of all my personal details since my birthday until the track of disease in my family.
And have the answers changed over time?
Yes, there were some small updates on the answers. But the questions were recorded by a performer 10 years ago, so I can´t record them again.
It´s very interesting that the voice recording is at the same time mechanical, because it´s prerecorded and set, but also very natural, because you left some mistakes and changes. Why?
I kept the mistakes because it´s something that I like to do in my work: Although I work a lot in detail, when the mistakes happen, I keep them. So when I showed the performance and people started to comment on the performance: “Oh, it´s recorded!”, or “No, is someone hidden somewhere and asking the questions, is that the director of the festival or the gallery?”, I thought OK, this is a good idea. Because the mistakes make it more real.
So you are looking for a type of reality and you leave some mistakes in, but you also said that you cut a lot when you write. How do you decide which mistakes to leave in and which mistakes to cut out?
What I cut out is not really mistakes but what is too much. I try to reduce my work to the minimal elements, it´s something that is a bit intuitive for me. Sometimes when I work in video I make a long script and then I think “I don´t need this” so then I just cut everything out and I leave it to the minimum. When it comes to the performance and to this type of mistakes it´s more about things that are not planned that later become a part of the work itself and include the process as part of the work.
So you say you like to make the process visible?
Exactly. The process is very important for my work. For instance in my last video I was working on a story based on the experience of my father in the colonial world and I was playing with memory. So I memorized wrongly some of the details about this story. Then I also kept the mistakes because somehow the video is about him but it´s not a documentary – it´s a mix, it´s a broken story to some extent. Because what I imagine that he told me adds a layer to the work. That´s what I mean about this sort of mistake as well.
It sounds like the way you work with performance very much serves you as a person and your needs. Would you make the same performance if you knew you would never show it in front of audience?
I´m very spontaneous and I think I have a very organic approach to life so I think that´s something that I did not have to think about since it was something natural. I think that many works, most of them, I would do them in any case. Because I love ideas. When I have an idea I am very passionate about it and I write it in my notebook. When I do this it´s like I´m doing it to myself already.
And what would be the ultimate work of art for you?
At the moment I´m very interested in sculpture, because I work a lot in installation. I understand the sculpture as a combination of poetry and object and if you see “Self-Portrait”, you can perceive it as a sculpture because of the body still and the voiceover that tells the whole story. I would like to use this idea and somehow extract the sculpture from the performance and transform it into a sculpture on its own.