Studio Visit: Aline Mare, Mutable Fire
“We are in the process of descending into the depths of the heart. To where bodies communicate with each other.”
Héléne Cixous, The Book of Promethea
By Gary Brewer
Long ago, in the delirium of youth, intoxicated with ideas of the feminine as a form of power, the body as a vehicle to discover and communicate wisdom, and a world that seemed mutable to the magic of will – Aline Mare made her way through the halcyon days of NYC, when rent was cheap and art was embracing non-material aspects of pure idea, performance and installation. Experimental film, theater and performance art were her modes of expression, and they were the dominant forces in the creative world of Lower Manhattan, where Aline lived and worked.
The early influence of women writers the likes of Anais Nin, Simone de Beauvoir, and Héléne Cixous had awakened in her a deep connection to a feminine language of the body. Early on she felt that theater was her path, but working with avant-guard theater director Richard Foreman, altered her course and led to an early career in performance art and experimental film. She said of this; “I always loved the immaterial aspect of film, that it was transient and mutable. It left no physical trace like painting and sculpture does. I wanted to explore the elemental, transient nature of time, mortality and impermanence; experimental film and performance were perfect metaphoric vehicles for these ideas.”
It was around this time that she first met Kathy Acker, a renegade and a revolutionary who was rewriting the rules of the novel and doing so as a badass feminist, tattooed, Harley Davidson riding, bad girl of the literary scene. Their paths would cross throughout their lives until the end of Kathy’s, when Aline along with a group of San Francisco Bay area writers and artists, supported and helped Kathy as she died from breast cancer. Her pyrotechnical personality left a long trail of burnt bridges and damaged relations, so when Aline and friends helped, they were all she had left.
Aline lived in a world where Carolee Schneemann, Robert Wilson, Meredith Monk, Richard Serra and others, were early in their careers. She was friends and worked with many of them but continued on a solitary path, creating installation art, film and performance. Her interest in classic Greek myths guided the narratives in her early work. Eros and Psyche, Orpheus and Cassandra were the stories that captured her and which she used in her fractured open metaphoric narratives. In the early eighties she met Bradley Eros and would spend the next seven years as Erotic Psyche, collaborating on experimental films and performance, touring both Europe and the USA.
Afterwards she moved to San Francisco where she received her Masters in New Genre; it was there that she would again meet Kathy Acker. Aline completed her masters degree and made her next major experimental film/video, “Saline’s Solution”, a film about a late term abortion that allowed women emotional space to morn the loss; the pain of the choice and it’s complex moral dilemma. The film is both poetic and unsettling; it garnered scorn and support from both sides of the debate and brought (and continues to bring) more attention from this politically charged topic than she ever expected. Shortly afterwards, she gave birth to her son Cyrus. This passage both deepened her experience of being a woman, of the wisdom that arises from the pain and the ecstatic beauty of birth, and of the powerful cycles of life and death.
Twenty years ago when Kathy Acker was dying, Aline had hoped that she might live long enough to write one more book, but that did not come to pass. After her death Aline discovered a little known work, her last book, published in England titled “Eurydice in the Underworld”. It is a book that ends with the poem “Requiem”; when Aline read it she was deeply moved. “In this poem she was able to drop so many of the stylistic tropes and deconstructive acrobatics in her writing and deal with the core issues of her terror in the face of death, her fight to survive and the painful process of forgiving her mother. It was so heartfelt and powerful it went deep into my soul and shook something. I felt I needed to make a piece, based on this work. Both as homage to Kathy, and to find a way for more people to read it; it was just so heartbreakingly beautiful. I made a piece, an installation at a residency I had in the Headlands for the Arts at Fort Baker in the Marin Headlands. My husband and a group of friends helped push Kathy’s Harley Davidson Sportster that we had inherited, up the four flights of stairs in the 1902 army barracks that was my studio, and created a multi media installation!”
Over the years that passed Aline always felt that she wanted to revisit the piece, that she could do more – she could take it further. Several years ago she was contacted by the writer Chris Kraus about being interviewed for an upcoming biography she was writing on Kathy Acker; that was the moment she felt was right to return to this work.
For the last decade, Aline’s work has dealt with the landscape in a broad sense. Seeds, seedpods, roots, fragments of civilization, and fossils all coalesce into lush painterly spaces. There is a poetic ambiguity to the worlds she creates. One is not sure of the medium used in these seamless fusions of painting, scanning, and photography; mastering digital media has given her the freedom to subdue, blend, illuminate and manipulate her effects with the plasticity and subjective dexterity of a painter. She begins by painting and mark-making on paper, scans them and adds the subjects that she has collected on hikes in the desert or the Eastern Sierras or on beaches. When the images have been printed, she then paints directly onto the surface, bringing the hand back into the finished piece. Utilizing these tools she has created a deeply felt body of work that speaks to the themes of death, birth and regeneration – using nature as the source and wellspring of her mythic images.
Aline’s past and the present meet in this new body of work for her upcoming show “Requiem: Aching for Acker” in the Mike Kelley Gallery, at Beyond Baroque in Venice. In a poetic confluence of fate and happenstance, this is a venue where Kathy Acker performed several readings of her work. The images are a representation of the wisdom that comes from age; they embrace the mythic sources of her youth that never left her, but have gained a depth and more powerful form of truth in her life.
These new works speak in a poetic, imagistic language of mortality, pain and the terror of facing one’s death. The images are coupled with fragments from the poem “Requiem”, adding the sheer force of Kathy’s cathartic verse to propel you from one image to the next. In classic Acker style, the poem freely uses Rilke’s “Duino Elegies” as it’s leaping off point, taking powerful fragments from this profound poem and plunging into the abyss of her terror. Kathy spills forth a torrent of merciless images a cry into the void, expressing terror, remorse and searching for redemption.
Aline Mare deftly uses fragments of angel wings, hands and feet from the weathered, partial ruins of sculptures she photographed in 19th century graveyards; looking for subjects to create a vocabulary of loss and remembrance. These pieces use the rich painterly process she has developed for herself in the landscapes of the last ten years, but brings back the body, ritual and magic of her earlier self. A glove, jewelry, and a knife that were Kathy Acker’s, appear like ghost fragments in these images. Post-surgery mastectomy scars, Kathy’s tattoos and other elements that conjure up her image and her illness, make these works meditations on mortality.
It is a fascinating confluence of forces that has manifested in this homage. Parts of Aline’s early aesthetic, which have been sublimated into the earth, rise up and bring the perspective of her life into the images; the pain of those who have passed and the joys of being a mother and of the many friends and family whose children have been a part of her life and are now grown into adulthood. The wisdom that time imparts has added a depth and complexity to these images; the unbridled enthusiasm of her Dionysian youth, have a deeper nuance and subtlety whose resonance speaks to a life deeply lived.
To be an artist in our world where the constant erasure of the past from forces of nature and culture incessantly work to obliterate memory. Art is a form of magic that weaves the past into the present and sends shoots into the future. There is a shamanic aspect to the role of the artist; they are storytellers and visionaries that reinterpret what has been and create new forms of language to contain it, fashioning a new form that helps shape the future.
Aline Mare’s solo exhibit “Requiem: Aching for Acker” opens May 6, 2018, 5-7PM, at the Mike Kelley Gallery, Beyond Baroque 681 Venice Blvd, Venice, CA. The opening will be followed by a reading and performance 7:30-9pm.
Readers include: Chris Kraus, Dodie Bellamy, Matias Viegener, and Aline Mare.