In researching and developing her sculptures and sculptural installations, Fernanda Fragateiro is frequently drawn to (and draws from) history -- or rather, history’s fissures, its intrinsic points of slippage and displacement, its junctures of superimposition and overlap.
Fragateiro’s current show forget me (not) at the Galería Elba Benítez continues this practice, taking as its starting point the work of the little-known Bauhaus textile designer and artist Otti Berger, which Fragateiro then uses as a point of departure for creating work entirely in her own contemporary artistic idiom.
Born in what is now Croatia in 1898 to a Jewish-Hungarian family, Berger was first a student and then a teacher of textile design at the Bauhaus. She later embarked on her own successful design practice in Germany, while at the same time she was developing (and occasionally publishing) innovative theories about the particular haptic nature of textiles, with their inseparable tactile, visual and spatial qualities. With the rise of the Nazis, however, Berger, was forced to close her studio. Although she desperately attempted to flee to the United States (as a significant number of her former Bauhaus colleagues were able to do), Berger was unable to obtain a travel visa, and in 1944 she and her family were deported to Auschwitz, where she perished in 1944.
forget me (not) is an explicit act of homage to Otti Berger’s work, theories and achievement; but, as is typical of Fragateiro’s practice, it is not only that. Instead, Fragateiro uses Berger’s ‘lost’ work as a starting point toward her own ‘finds.’ The encounter is fruitful, not nostalgic, motivated by a spirit of inquiry but terminating in an act of creation. Fragateiro’s effects simultaneous acts of placement and displacement, site-ing but also shifting both Berger’s and her own work -- and doing so via distinctly contemporary and stylistically autonomous works of sculpture. And in the process, she engages in persisting issues, such as notions of unique creative and intellectual authorship; the transmission and transformation of aesthetic ideas; dialogue among artistic media; or the intersection of aesthetic parameters and gender strictures.
For instance, over the course of numerous earlier projects Fragateiro has developed a method of employing books -- primarily art historical publications, as well as fabric-bound sketchbooks -- in such a way as to convert them into modular elements and conceptual signifiers within her own sculpture and installations. In forget me (not), Fragateiro continues this practice, as in the multipart wall sculpture that offers a powerful expression of much of her recent work and that anchors the current exhibition -- and yet that in fact is modeled on a tapestry attributed to Berger and that refers directly to Berger’s distinctive color palette (and at the same time indirectly refers to Berger’s own distinctive work with books and publishing.) It is itself a complex work of sculpture, powerfully present in the architectural space it occupies and generating an inner play of materials (concrete, cloth, metal) and form; and yet at the same time it succeeds in embodying Berger’s theories of the perceptual apprehension of textile materials.
As Fragateiro herself has said of her working methods: Ideas are materials. Ideas are like bricks. That’s what I think when I’m using other people’s ideas. I build a new thing with them. You look at a building and see how it is built -- what is the volume, the texture, the colors, what materials were used in the construction.
But there are also a lot of things not visible. I work with these “other things”, things that are not immediately visible in someone else’s ideas.
In orchestrating the complexities of such an exhibition, with its combination of historicity and contemporaneity, of homage and inspiration, of recovery and renewal, Fragateiro stakes out a position in which past and present are not smoothed out or codified but rather are extended and superimposed in such a way that the past is not fully past nor the present exclusively present: rather, like pages, or like threads, or even like ghosts, they occupy the same place at the same time.
The work of Fernanda Fragateiro (Montijo, Portugal, 1962) is characterized by a keen interest in 20th-century avant-garde practices in art and architecture, an interest which informs own work, often taking the form of subtle alterations of existing landscapes and objects in order to reveal the hidden stories within them. While drawing on a wide range of references, Fragateiro’s work maintains a strong signature style, born of an economy of means and a meticulous minimalist aesthetic of form, color and surface texture. Throughout her career Fragateiro’s primary media have been sculpture and installation, although she frequently creates interventions into public space in the form of gardens, outdoor sculptures, collaborations in architectural projects and works that draw on public participation.
Fragateiro's work has been exhibited at Fundação Eugénio de Almeida (Evora, 2017, 2015), Palm Springs Art Museum (2016), Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian (Lisbon, 2016, 2012, 2004; Paris, 2013; London, 2013), CaixaForum (Barcelona, 2016, 2004), Orlando Museum of Art (2015), Palais des Beaux-Arts de Paris (2015), Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts, Harvard University (Cambridge, 2015), Krannert Art Museum (Champaign, 2015), CIFO Art Space (Miami, 2014), Bronx Museum (New York, 2014), Mitxelena Kulturunea (San Sebastian, 2014), MUAC Museo Universitario Arte Contemporáneo (Mexico City, 2014), Dublin Contemporary (2011), Lisbon Architecture Triennale (2010), Fundación Botín, (Santander, 2009, 2005), IVAM Institut Valencià d'Art Modern (Valencia, 2008), CCB Fundação Centro Cultural de Belém (Lisbon, 2007, 2003), CGAC Centro Galego de Arte Contemporánea (Santiago de Compostela, 2006, 2005, 2004, 2003, 2000), Fundação de Serralves (Porto, 2006, 2005), Fundação Caixa Geral de Depósitos Culturgest (Lisbon, 2003, 2002, 2001, 2000). Her work forms part of collections such as the MNCARS Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía (Madrid), Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian (Lisbon), the Fundació “la Caixa” (Barcelona), the Ella Fontanals-Cisneros Collection (Miami) or the Colecção António Cachola (Elvas). forget me (not) is her fifth solo exhibition at the Galería Elba Benítez.