Mary Beth Edelson: Ritual Performances
Oct 24, 2019
Edelson’s ritual performance work includes small private works such as the “Woman Rising” series (1973-74) and larger group or public rituals including “Your 5,000 Years Are Up” and “Memorials to 9,000,000 Women Burned as Witches in the Christian Era” both from 1977. “Woman Rising” is part of a larger practice in Edelson’s early 1970s work in which she photographed her naked body in nature to reclaim the female body and empower women. The energy, direction, and intention were marked on the surface of the images.
By 1977, Edelson began covering her body in the private ritual performances believing she had examined what she could with her naked form.
“Light Feet” (1977) was created in 1977 in the arbor of the Castle Lowenburg in Kassel Germany and is part of the larger project Proposals for “Memorials to the 9,000,000 Women Burned as Witches in the Christian Era”.
These works share Edelson’s search for diverse outdoor spaces where she envisions then carefully choreographs her movements as in “Up from the Earth” (1979) taken in a rocky landscape in Reykjavik, Iceland.
She described this series, “I separate myself from the awesome unyielding landscape of hardened lava without trees to establish my own nature.” (Edelson, 1990, 58)
Choosing low-light moments of the day in these varying landscapes allowed Edelson to subtly capture her movements on the film surface via longer exposures.
Grapceva Neolithic Cave, See for Yourself, 1977
After reading Marija Gimbutus’s “Gods and Goddess of Old Europe, 7000 to 3500 BC” in 1975 and performing numerous private rituals in nature and her studio, Edelson desired a pilgrimage trip to a Goddess site. She focused on the former Yugoslavia as her research indicated that that this area, referred to as “Old Europe” by archeologists, was an early location for Goddess activity. Travelling with Anne Healy, and with the help of locals, Edelson came upon the cave on Hvar Island (now Croatia). On her second day at the cave, Edelson returned with numerous candles and flashlights to choreograph the image. Owing to the darkness of the space, “Grapceva Neolithic Cave, See for Yourself” was the moment when the artist began using time-lapse exposures to document her private performance, but she also realized this process could record her movements on the film’s surface.
While creating her work on this former site of Neolithic rituals, she noted, “Aware of having the cave to myself, I felt like the center of the universe. My mouth was actually inhaling the cave, all of it, and breathing it out again. The cave contracted and expanded with my rhythms and shimmered on its way back and forth. I made a pact with the cave: it would tell me some of its secrets in exchange for my rituals, rituals that it had not seen for millennia.” (Edelson, 1978, 98)
High Falls series
Memorials to the 9,000,000 Women Burned as Witches in the Christian Era, 1977
Related items from the archive
Written by Dr. Kathleen Wentrack
© 2019 Kathleen Wentrack
Kathleen Wentrack, PhD, is a Professor of Art History at The City University of New York, Queensborough CC and the editor of the forthcoming book “Collaboration, Empowerment, Change: Women’s Art Collectives.” She recently published “1970s Feminist Practice as Heterotopian: The Stichting Vrouwen in de Beeldende Kunst and the Schule für kreativen Feminismus,” in “All Women Art Spaces in the Long 1970s” edited by Agata Jakubowska and Katy Deepwell (Liverpool University Press, 2018). She is a contributing editor to Art History Teaching Resources and Art History Pedagogy and Practice and a co-coordinator of The Feminist Art Project in New York City.
Produced by Erica Galluscio
Photography of studio space provided by Kolin Mendez Photography
Accola Griefen Fine Art exhibition photos courtesy of Accola Griefen Fine Art: Rob van Erve
Images of “Goddess Tribe” installation courtesy of David Lewis New York
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Edelson, Mary Beth. Interview with Kathleen Wentrack. New York, 12 September 2008.
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