Osart Gallery is delighted to present a retrospective of the work of Amelia Etlinger (New York, 1933 – 1987). As the title of the exhibition suggests, the artist of American origins was one of the female exponents of what was called Mail Art, although it would be reductive to confine Amelia to this current alone. Amelia always identified herself in the role of poetess, absorbing through this the concepts and ideas not only of Concrete Poetry, but also of Visual Poetry and Fluxus.
«I don't know anything about art. I don't relate to painting. My background is only in poetry. First I was writing short stories and sharing them with a friend and she said, “Amelia you should be a poet...”. When I was 29 I started to write. I started to write because I had to write...»
The works on display, produced between 1972 and 1983, have an element in common: almost all come from the collection of Mirella Bentivoglio. As illustrated by the letters displayed here, Mirella Bentivoglio formed a strong and intense friendship with Amelia Etlinger, which then also extended into the art world, as illustrated by Etlinger’s frequent presence at shows curated by Bentivoglio. Foremost among these was the group show Materializzazione del Linguaggio (Materialisation of Language), organised at the Venice Biennale of 1978, in which 79 other women artists participated along with Amelia Etlinger.
Another important collection that needs to be mentioned is that of Ugo Carrega, a major supporter of Amelia’s poetics, who also held a show for her in his gallery (Il Mercato del Sale) in 1974. “Ugo wrote me, ‘A thread can say as much as a word. A piece of string can say as much as a word’.” The artistic language of the ‘poetess’ had its starting point in one of the traditional activities typical of the female twentieth-century world: needlework. To this world made up of entwined and coloured threads Amelia added delicate elements drawn mostly from the natural world, such as the flowers that she gathered behind the house, leaves, seeds, feathers, flower petals (often roses) ferns and berries etc. Her vocabulary was constructed through layers of different materials. Although it is neither sculpture or painting, this is a three- dimensional art in view of the use of small or medium-size boxes that often contain other packets: packet boxes. These in turn contain inside – and often outside too – poems, letters inside envelopes, with different layers of paper assembled with fabrics such as frayed chiffon, organza, jacquard, tissue paper, coloured cellophane and, more rarely, pieces of tapestry. One of the experts on Amelia’s work describes them as follows: “Etlinger’s sheets are flowered shrouds in which the tears are tassels and fringes and organza threads.”
Amelia’s esteem and affection for the recipients of her correspondence – her 'Friends of Love' – (including Mirella Bentivoglio, Ugo Carrega, Betty Danon, Mike Belt and Ellen Marie Helinka) – is revealed in the alphabet of threads mentioned above and the use of expressions such as “My Dear Friend”, “My Friend of Love”, “With all my Love”, or in the symbol of the heart, drawn or stitched using her beloved threads. The delicacy and fragility of the materials helps to define the true essence of Amelia’s poetry which, although it starts from a technique that has always been connected with a feminine activity such as needlework, is nevertheless one that we can all relate to since it speaks with reverence and finesse not only of poetry, love, beauty, freedom and dreams, but also of pain and suffering.
Amelia is an artist who chose to work in private, frequently off the exhibition circuits. This is why she appears as fragile and delicate as her threads, like a rare treasure to be saved and protected that truly deserves to be known and explored.
The exhibition has been produced in collaboration with the Galleria L'Elefante in Treviso. It is accompanied by a bilingual catalogue with an introduction by Ellen Marie Helinka. We should like to thank Debora, Laura and Judith Etlinger, Ellen Marie Helinka and the University of Buffalo. Biographical notes (1933-1987) Amelia Lucille (Wanderer) Etlinger, 1933-1987, was born in New York City. She with the and the brother Leonard only obtaining a grammar school education. At the age of 29 she started writing short stories and then, after discovering the poetry of ee cummings, began writing visual poetry. Amelia married Louis Etlinger in her early twenties, has three daughters, and moved outside Albany to Clifton Park, NY, in her early thirties. By the early 1970s Etlinger was corresponding with Eugene Grominger, Ugo Carrega, Mirella Bentivoglio, Mary Ellen Solt, Emmett Williams, and Paul de Vrees, and her work was being exhibited internationally. In 1974, with the help of Ugo Carrega, she had her fist solo show in Italy at Mercato del Sale, Milan. In 1976 she won the Fels award. In 1978 she was included in Mirella Bentivoglio's exhibition Materializzazione del Linguaggio (Materialization of Language) for XXXXIX Biennale di Venezia. In the same year her brother, Leonard Wanderer, took his own life which greatly affected Amelia. In 1987 Amelia Etlinger took her own life.