Speech for the vernissage of the exhibition “Impression/Abdruck” by Felicia Glidden on 17.1.2020
at the Kunsthaus Caserne in Friedrichshafen Fallenbrunnen
When you come into this room, you are impressed by the large-format works hanging here. Impression/Printing is what Felicia called the exhibition, and both words have a courtyard of meaning: In Impression, we hear the press, pressing, printing, pressing and pressing and pressing. Terms that have to do with printing and printing processes. And the question of what makes an impression.
This is the question Felicia asks herself, this is the question she pursues experimentally with her works, the question of what impresses her, impresses her so much that she has to look for an expression for it.
She grew up in Minneapolis and lived in the city until she was 18. After that she went to Duluth to study. She studied math and engineering and took courses in visual art and dance. Duluth is located at the Upper Lake, one of the three huge lakes in the north of the USA, on the border with Canada.
Duluth has a large harbour, from here ships sail across the St. Lawrence Seaway into the Atlantic Ocean. Raw materials are shipped in Duluth: iron ore, grain, coal, oil and wood. The city itself, with 86,000 inhabitants, is not a large city, only slightly larger than Friedrichshafen.
In her 3rd year of study Felicia turned completely to art.
She moved into an old wooden house in the middle of the forest, near the lake, one hour from Duluth. She set up a studio in the garage, heated with wood, made art and earned the money she needed to live by renovating houses and boats. She has lived in and with nature, an experience that she still carries today. And shapes.
Which brings us back to printing and the impression that something leaves behind. Even before she got to know waste separation in Germany, she separated garbage when she lived in the forest. For the past two years, packaging has become more and more the focus of her attention.
Packaging is also designed and produced. They serve to protect food and products. Are opened or torn open, torn down and removed. They have a serving function, are usually overlooked.
Felicia makes them visible by unfolding cardboard boxes, placing them under paper and rubbing them with graphite to create an imprint. She has sewn unfolded cardboard boxes and packaging together. And made trash quilts from plastic bags.
In the beginning, the discovery of the production of plastics was celebrated. The success led to mass production. For a long time, we have felt oppressed and threatened by the flood of plastic in every conceivable form.
And yet there are plastics that we wish would survive us. In 1856, celluloid was developed, and from 1870 it was marketed and further developed as a carrier material for films. In 1951, production was discontinued because celluloid is highly inflammable. In a dry environment, the water content decreases and celluloid becomes an explosive that can ignite spontaneously.
Celluloid was replaced by a transparent film of tri-acetate or polyester coated with a photo emulsion. Stripes from the age of analogue photography can still be found in many households. Also with Felicia.
When the cellar of Felicia and Alain was flooded during a flood, it became clear that tri-acetate and polyester also spoil when it gets wet. The slides in her archive show not only the captured moments but also abstract landscapes of spreading mould. Felicia has made a memory skin from the destroyed photos, a memory skin. And turned them into an allegory …of impermanence.
Felicia: “Time is like a flood that covers and bleaches out what was once present.”
Plastics are used for packaging, for protecting things, but also as carriers of memories. In this exhibition, Felicia is concerned with making their materiality visible and the forms that are in circulation.
This is one aspect, one part of her works exhibited here. The other aspect is the making visible of emotional impressions. Andy Dunhill impressed her. Felicia dedicated a book to him with frottages. The word frottage comes from the French word frotter – to rub. A procedure that Max Ernst discovered and developed from 1925 onwards. In frottage, the surface structure of an object or material is transferred to a piece of paper by rubbing it with a pencil. Frottage is an artistic stylistic device for the integration of found structures.
Andy was also an artist, sculptor and draftsman. We were together in Spetzgart, at the artist exchange Salem2Salem, where German and American artists meet every summer, sometimes in Salem Castle, sometimes in Salem Art Works in New York State. Felicia had known Andy for a long time, from America, from the work at Franconia Sculpture Park. I only met him in Spetzgart and was impressed by his expressiveness. He worked with black ink and pinned the sketches, which were created in rapid succession, to the walls of his room.
I looked at them through the open window, saw him sitting at his desk and drawing, and thought “Wow! There’s a new Picasso. Concentrated power, clenched fists, chips and annoying flies, his sketches revealed great skill, elemental strength and: humor. He was British and came to America because Obama had been elected. For Felicia, he was a fellow artist whose judgment was sincere. When he said something, it was an honest critic, an honest opinion, he did not mince his words.
His death was a blow. His legacy is his art. And his way of working: With strength, skill and humor. Using frottage as a stylistic device to integrate other structures, Felicia thematizes influence and impressions by other people.
What impresses us?
Who impresses us? What gets under your skin?
The philosopher Schelling wrote 200 years ago that conscious activity must combine with an unconscious power in order to create a work of art.
Felicia always works with dream images and diary notes. Draws letters and words from these dream pictures in the paint she applies to the cardboard boxes before making prints.
She has called a series of trash quilts Tête du Travers. Tête du Travers is the name of the mountain against which a pilot piloted a plane with 149 passengers in 2015. Tête means head. Le travers is the mistake or the cross. Esprit de travers means head. Against a mountain called Querkopf, a Querkopf steered an airplane and took many people with him to his death.
What was going on in the pilot’s head?
Five days later, under the impression of the crash, Felicia wrote a text. Parts of this text appear on her trash quilt prints.
Can this process become an allegory for our own behaviour? What goes on in our heads when we harm other people, other generations, through our consumption, the unrestrained consumption of raw materials?
For Felicia, the accident at the Tête du Travers has become linked to Trump’s election campaign. His behaviour is similar to that of the sick pilot. One has steered a plane into a mountain, another is about to drive a whole country into a wall. And half the world.
His words: trash talk. Lies, nicely packed.
Believe me. Trust me.
The contrast between the self-expression of this show-off and a simple life in the woods is great. “Walden” is the name of Thoreau’s book, which has become a cult book has become. It also says: “Why this desperate pursuit of success, especially in such daring ventures? If a man cannot keep up with his comrades, it is perhaps because he hears another drummer. Let him march to the music he hears.”
Artists follow their intuition. They encourage others through their art to hear what becomes loud in them when they are alone and silent. When they are in the forest. Or walking along the lake. By the Upper Lake near Duluth. Or by Lake Constance.
The winters in Duluth are cold. So cold that the Upper Lake freezes over. There are movies that show the ice moving from the lake to the land. It crunches, threatening houses and people. Nature is threatening. It can be threatening. Threatening like people. Threatening like their words.
Felicia has made bricks of metal and paper that can be used to build walls. But she didn’t build a wall. The bricks are in a pile on the stage. Fragments of a demarcating attitude that Felicia counters with something else: …the dancing movement she uses to run graphite pencils across the paper. In doing so, she expresses a different energy, sweeping away the rigidity, congealment, iciness and icing that has been expressed in American politics in recent years.
In the summer of 2019, Felicia worked with Cassandra in Salem. A series of impressive pictures has been created. Kassandra came from Troy and warned of the downfall of her city. And yet she was not heard. In her Cassandra pictures, Felicia has incorporated headlines and articles about America under the unpredictable leadership of Trump.
And she has developed the motif of the tilting house, also after a dream in which she heard the words, shore it up! The house must be supported! The house can be understood as a symbol for America and its current government, but also for our planet.
Shortly before the First World War, Jan van Hoddis wrote the poem Weltende:
The citizen’s hat flies off the pointy head,
The air is filled with the sound of screaming.
Roofers crash and split
And on the coasts – one reads – the tide is rising.
The storm is here, the wild seas are honking
Ashore to crush big dams.
Most people have a cold.
Railroads fall off bridges.
Jan van Hoddis combines the banal and the apocalyptic with a light hand. The sniffles and the feeling of an existential threat. He has succeeded in creating an image for his time. This is what we look for when we make art. And we look at it. We look for an expression for what gets under our skin. In this exhibition, Felicia shows us what drives her, what has influenced and impressed her. Let yourself be impressed!
Link to original text in German
Link to more images from the exhibtion