El Nuevo Herald, July 25, 2010
Adriana Herrera
The initial impression of a rare but purely ornamental beauty generated by the paintings in the Nancy Friedemann –Me as We, We as Me—at Bernice Steinbaum Gallery, dissolves when one examines them up close. Then, those still lives with very well painted flowers that will never have the attraction of the close-ups of Georgia O’Keeffe, or their violent strength, reveal themselves in unsuspecting ways.
Even though their natures are inspired in the Colombian flora – Colombia is the country where she was born and where she became an artist, before completing her education at the LA Otis Art Institute and New York University—Friedemann goes beyond the idea of reproducing a landscape and activates instead the relationship between text, weaving and memory.
Her work cannot be separated from the presence in various forms of the female craft of interlacing with thread – sewing, weaving, threading, embroidering, crocheting… or remembering. The beauty of his pictures is not in the skill with which she copies each species of flower or birds and insects, but in the way in which she makes them appear in the darkness – against a black background—surrounded by a subtle web of leaves, petals, ribbons, spirals and countless forms that transfer the tridimensional surface of lace to the lines of white drawings. That iconography not only evokes the image of her own grandmother doing interminable manual labor, or the laces in colonial pictures that fascinated her, but also a female way of behaving that from time immemorial is association with storytelling, and to a way to hold up the web of the universe.
In the story of Arachne the weaver, whose arrogance was punished with her transformation into a spider (it is no coincidence that Friedemann works with spiderlike forms) as in the story of the Japanese weaver Tanabata, the weaver of the Milky Way, and in that of Ariadne, whose ball of string unravels the mystery of the Cretan labyrinth, there is a reference of the relationship of the weavers with a knowledge that is expressed through material forms (threads, quilts, ropes that link heaven and earth), and that transmit an ancient memory. In fact, words like text and weave derive from the latin texere and the word sutra comes from Sanskrit and means rope or thread as well as text or narrative. These are ways of interlacing memory and preserving it.
When you take a look up close to the white shapes that surround her sill lives – done in enamels that prevent erasure and so demand that every thing be preserved just as it first appeared – the spectator can discover traces of interwoven texts, as if he or she drew with stitches of words written in white in the night of time. Because this element is present not only in the memory of centuries of female labor that is rescued with painting and drawing, erasing the chasm between craft and artistry, but in the same process of its creation, which requires great slowness.
“I have worked with words as if they were a tangible material,” says Friedemann, “When copying them by hand, the body assumes the language in a different way from the eye, losses its particular quality and becomes indistinguishable from a tapestry. The text becomes a visual element, and even though it retains some of its original meaning it dissipates in the web of memory.”
Friedemann says that in the process of drawing and untangling structures of ribbons she creates a poetic pattern that marks time and expresses humanity. “The intense labor in the creation of each work” is not only related to the slowing down of the rhythm. “It involves engaging in a craft that pays homage to manual labor and in which I handle a limited amount of materials. Each mark is indelible.” The works on exhibit are created with enamel paint on dibond (aluminum sheets), and allude not only to a way of linking traditional craftsmanship with contemporary art, but also inscribing the small gestures of all the ways in which women weave in a large format that because of its size has been used for epic paintings generally associated with the male.
Her work evokes the movement that William Morris launched at the end of the 19th century along with Edward Burne Jones – the author of the massive unfinished oil The Last Sleep of Arthur in Avalon—and the poet and artist Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Determined to elevate craftsmanship to an artistic category, Morris designed repeated patterns for paper inspired in Nature that incorporated forms inspired in textiles, embroideries and jewelry. Curiously, Nancy Friedemann has discovered that in the white thread of the lines that weave drawings interlaced with the paintings of the still lives resides not only the memory of the crochet of her grandmother’s hands, but also the extraordinary work of her father the goldsmith. The revelation consists of the idea that a beauty extracted from the frontier of crafts not only returns to the feminine crafts an epic sense, but also recovers the manual labor for the universe of contemporary creation.