Art on the edge

"Life on the edge can be tough - yet island installation artist Annie Mendenhall thrives on pushing boundaries.The fluid boundary between self and (M)other/ Nature is the area for exploration she cites in her preface to Nest, one of the exhibition pieces she created as part of her studies for an MFA in New Media. Standing in front of a disused satellite dish - once the focus of the installation piece - it is hard to imagine the empty vessel ever having contained such a wealth of implications.Perhaps it's like the '60s - you just had to be there. In many ways my work is an offshoot of what was happening back then - the happenings, the street art, the environments, says Mendenhall, citing the participation demanded of the audience as they move through the space as one of the reasons why she finds it so hard to document her work. At a push, you can take her word for it that the satellite dish functioned as both water vessel and symbol of communication, that a tangled web of branches once surrounded the image pool, and that an audio of whispering voices accompanied the action.However, with her her allusion to the edge of understanding and clarity towards which her mother's death pushed her while she was working on her thesis, she provokes more questions than she answers.Which is why, as a rule, Mendenhall is loathe to expound upon the meaning of her work. Since returning to the island last August after completing her MFA at the University of Kansas, the award-winning artist is keener to talk about how living on Bainbridge helps her with her work. She takes inspiration from her local environment, and values the island's sensitivity to ecological issues.In fact, the closest she comes to interpreting her art is an admission that she likes to use technology in support of nature rather than to its detriment. Her Earthday 1998 installation, Forest, combines a video of forest fires with the results of a seedling-planting experiment she had conducted with school kids, making use of all the trees that had survived and even including those that had not by spraying them white to signify their status as non-trees. Mendenhall explains that Forest proved as physically draining as Nest was emotionally.I almost passed out breathing for the audio she recalls, and it took 14 hours to set up all the trees. For bombarding the senses requires a variety of skills, and Mendenhall is subtler than her self-appointed title, Jack of all trades, allows. Photography, music and performance are disciplines she combines as gracefully as the baby photograph fuses with that of the mother in Nest, or the video image of the fires morphs into that of her own ear in Forest.I like my work to be multi-layered she says. I try to preserve the ambiguities. Mendenhall's work can be viewed on her online gallery at Her next installation will feature as part of the August Arts Walk."

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