Fernanda Fragateiro (1962, lives and works in Lisbon) and Haleh Redjaian (1971, lives and works in Berlin) share some common interests. Such as: poetry, weaving, architecture (or: text, textile, tectonics), and their mutual interactions. As well as the (mostly hidden) histories of female artists and architects in the modern avant-garde. Trough working with these female modern legacies within their own respective practices, both artists try to understand these better, and make them visible.
A common inspiration for the exhibition MY DREAM NEVER HAS WALLS on view at valerie_traan
is Lotte Stam-Beese (1903-1988): an architect, urban planner and photographer. Born in German Silesia (now Poland), Lotte Beese enrolled as a student at the Bauhaus in Dessau to study weaving. Prejudices about women studying subjects that were dominated by and previously reserved for men, led female students into branches that were considered feminine. When Hannes Meyer succeeded Walter Gropius as director, Beese became the first woman to study in the building department. During the interwar years she worked consecutively in architects offices in Berlin, Moscow, Charkov, Brno, and Amsterdam, and married Dutch architect Mart Stam. After their divorce she kept the name because this affiliation could give her a head start as an independent female architect in the Netherlands. From 1946, as chief-architect at the Agency for Urban Development and Reconstruction of Rotterdam, Stam-Beese worked on several (social) housing districts around the city. On the one hand, she kept on working with the universalist, rational principals of Functionalist architecture. On the other hand, she developed concepts (e.g. neighborhood and cluster) to integrate notions of locality, diversity, complexity into her architectural grids.
Plans by Lotte Stam-Beese for social housing served as a point of departure for both artists. While Fragateiro started a series of sculptures derived from the layout of one particular apartment, Redjaian based drawings and collages on plans of a larger, urban scale. However different their respective mediums and approach, both artists started from some grid, pattern or rhythm theyve discerned in their source material.
As a consequence, works by both artists are characterized by a tension between the abstract and the concrete. A plan of a city or a house entails relations with the concretely built environment, defined by the laws of projective geometry, which are simultaneously very precise and extremely abstract and derived. That is a challenge any architect is confronted with: the whole creative process is so terribly indirect. But in the years during and after World War I, a lot of avant-garde artists led by the Constructivists in the Netherlands and in the young Soviet Union, as well as some protagonists of Bauhaus saw geometric abstraction not as a problem but as an opportunity: to take a distance from what they considered as the existing remnants of failed cultures (be it traditional, nationalistic and/or bourgeois). They dreamed of constructing the universal patterns, rhythms and connections of a new, modern society. Meanwhile we know better. Many modern utopias failed bitterly. Even some parts of Lotte Stam-Beeses buildings around Rotterdam, built to heal the wounds of war, are already demolished. Nor is it clear whether the building she designed in the Ukrainian city of Charkov survived bombing.
What to think of contemporary art that takes inspiration of, or re-uses, those seemingly obsolete modern grids or patterns? What is at stake? What is happening here?
While dealing with modernist abstractions, remnants of shattered dreams, it is quite remarkable how much attention Fragateiro and Redjaian are paying to the tactile, concrete qualities of their works of art qualities that are now subtle and sensitive, then rather elementary or even brutish.
Redjaians is an art of the line. She doesnt engage in a process of abstraction, quite on the contrary. In and through the activity of drawing lines, in the concentration and the enjoyment of this moment-to-moment process, in a dialectic of doing and letting-happen, a rhythm takes shape, a pattern emerges and, finally, an image appears. She experiments with diverse materials and techniques, sometimes combining them in collages. Since a decade she works together with weavers in South-Iran (the country where her parents were born), who make very fine-woven textiles. When she orders some carpets, it is never entirely clear which result she will receive. She reacts to what is sent, sometimes by printing on them, in most cases however in small line drawings with threads.
These works in textile make one think of Anni Albers. Like Stam Beese she was a student at Bauhaus weaving department. As Briony Fer puts it, the point is not to see how she applied the forms of geometric abstraction to woven textiles she did not but how through weaving she was able to develop a model of abstraction that was vivid and viable for contemporary forms of life (
), and, weaving (
) offers not just a surface on which to articulate the form of a grid; the weaving process itself is fundamentally structured on the basis of a complex interplay of verticals and horizontals. The apparatus of the loom is an intricate three-dimensional grid, which becomes an extension of the weavers body as she works. Anni Albers is an important source of inspiration for both Redjaian and Fragateiro.
Fernanda Fragateiros sculptures are assemblages, consisting, a.o., of concrete, stucco, metal, or books. The latter can be publications or manufactured notebooks covered with fabric (both rendered illegible). She also sometimes integrates fragments of demolished buildings. These are mainly from de neighborhood 6 de Maio in Amadora, a Lisbon suburb. During 4 decades, mostly people from Cape Verde lived there. Some years ago, the entire neighborhood was demolished by the government. Most of Fragateiros sculptures are mounted on a wall. They present themselves as a kind of relief, as an image i.e., they invite the spectator to consider them as such. However, there doesnt seem that much to see. Yes, the rhythms with which the diverse elements of the assemblages are keeping each other in visual balance, remind us vaguely of iconic modernist paintings or buildings. But, instead of simply looking at them, these works of art seem to suggest, we should rather relate to them as we do to a house, a neighborhood, or a city. In general, like trees or books, buildings and cities survive us, showing traces and scars of their histories, sometimes being ruined. These remnants of a lost past, they surround us, they shape us. Unless they are a touristic hotspot, we dont really look at them. We try to inhabit them.
Sometimes, we take pleasure in looking at a ruin because its inner structure has become visible, as if, suddenly, we acquired some view into a past that is usually blocked from sight. Some days ago, Fernanda Fragateiro sent me a picture of a building that has just being demolished, leaving a kind of imprint of its essential structure, its naked skeleton, on what was formerly the common wall with its neighbor. This pattern made her think of one of the works in this show that serve as an homage to A.M. Agnes Martin (1912-2004) was an American artist, who made beautiful paintings, in which vibrating patterns emerge from a play an intriguing dialectics of repetition and variation. A vivid and generous play of lines.
Only in my poems can I make a home
I have found shelter in no other form