As an artist working in areas of boundary and identity formation Heidi Bender has been greatly influenced by time spent living and working in Mexico and Nicaragua. While in Nicaragua Bender had the opportunity to work in rural communities that had been ravaged by civil war and to learn from the late Gustavo Parajon, a lead mediator in the Contra-Sandinista conflict of the 1980’s. These experiences propelled Bender to examine the nature of human conflict and social theory, studies which continue to fuel her work.
Bender received a BA in Studio Art and Spanish from Hope College in Holland, MI in 2004 and earned an MFA in Sculpture and Expanded Media from the Ohio University in Athens, OH in 2009. Current contributions to the field of art include art interventions and solo and juried exhibitions throughout the country and abroad, participation in cross disciplinary panels in fields such as Critical Geography and Latin American Issues, and lectures at institutions of higher education. Bender’s work was recently exhibited in a solo show at the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts and in TPS Reports: Performance Documents, written about in the Performance Art Newsletter. Bender has also contributed to projects with the artist collective SPURSE on their Crooked River Songlines and Entangled Citizens Projects, as well as Duane McDiarmid’s Trickster Project, as seen on NBC news.
A few winters ago I waived to my neighbor for the 600th time and realized in that moment that although we’d lived next to each other for 2 years I still didn’t know her name. I also realized that although I hadn’t been out of my house all day I’d been connected to an entire network of people already. I had talked to a friend in Nicaragua via Skype, exchanged 6 emails, received or sent a handful of text messages, and ordered a pair of shoes online from New Jersey. I encountered my place in our globalized world yet again when I connected this experience to another that I had had as a tourist in Nicaragua. I had realized there that the local artisans in the markets were shifting their traditional artesania to fit the tastes of the tourists. A torrent of questions ensued. If our communities are mediated by technology and travel, then who participates in the culture that I claim as my own? How do my choices impact how others enact their own expressions of self in the world? And, what are the seats of power or vulnerability in these relationships? In this body of work, “Bandada” and “The Associated States of Bitacora” I explore these questions as they pertain to my own life—first as an American living in rural Ohio, and secondly from my experiences as a foreigner living and working in Managua, Nicaragua. “The Associated States of Bitacora” is an on-going networks of the daily networks, which influence my life and formation as a person. For this work, I log the personal interactions that I have on a particular day, form a territory for each person in the log based on their known range of movement throughout the world, piece the territories together via the currents that move through them—the water and roadways present—then scan the entire new map into the computer, where it is finalized and printed. Each map represents a different day. As the maps amass the new versions are pinned over the old, creating both a layered visual history of these constructed territories and a critique of my social network as it changes. “Bandada: Nicaragua” was a live intervention/performance that took place in the Huembes folkloric market of Managua, Nicaragua in July of 2008. This work was conceived as a means of exploring the relationship between the influence of the foreign consumer and the presentation of one’s own culture to the world. In this work, I wore an outfit purchased from the market which vendors had marketed as typical Nicaraguan attire. I had purchased these items over a period of many years as a tourist and then as a foreigner living in Nicaragua, but there was an element to every piece of “traditional Nicaraguan clothing” that remained timeless—real Nicaraguan people never wore them. Wearing “traditional Nicaraguan garments” I went into the market and sold a creation of my own—hot pink coconut sweets that I had purchased in the market the day before, molded into the shape of the little wooden birds that were popular Nicaraguan souvenirs sold and made exclusively for tourists. I marketed my Americanized version of things “Nica” (Nicaraguan) to the market vendors and used my very North American Spanish to sell my goods. In three hours in the market, I sold out of my product. “Bandada: U.S.” is a sister installation to this performance. Using the same fluorescent pink, pungent coconut birds as used in the market in Managua, this paradoxical piece was created as a challenge to the foreign viewer. Upon entering this unique flock viewers are asked to encounter their place in systems of co-creation in which they participate. The placement to the birds, strong colors, and heavy coconut smell are set to create an experience of urgency for participants which is both unexpected and confrontational.