“It’s usually something that happens in my daily life or that I see, a fight between two individuals, a conflict where there’s aggression towards you,” Christina Forrer said in a 2016 video from the Swiss Institute. “From the first second we are born, conflict kind of guides our lives. I think it’s what makes people do things, good or bad.”
Her brightly-colored weavings and drawings, on view in “Christina Forrer / MATRIX 187” at Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art in Hartford, Connecticut, from Aug. 13, 2021, to Jan. 2, 2022, can feel like myths and fairytales, often charged with anxieties—from everyday family life to portents of global warming calamity. Her style can bring to mind folk art and cartoons.
Forrer was born in Zürich, Switzerland, in 1978, and has been based in Los Angeles since she moved there for school in 1999. Her inspirations include early 20th century German Expressionism (particularly the tapestries German painter Ernst Ludwig Kirchner (1880-1938) made with Swiss artist Lise Gujer (1893-1967)), and Swedish textile artist Hannah Ryggen.
“Her fantastical compositions explore themes of family discord and environmental strife, using a visual language rooted in classical mythology and the regional folk traditions of her native Switzerland,” Patricia Hickson, the Wadsworth’s Curator of Contemporary Art, writes in an exhibition brochure. “Her raw and energetic weaving style, vivid color palette, and intentionally misaligned panels combine effects of the handmade with the magical.”
At the center of the Wadsworth exhibition is “Sepulcher,” four vertical weavings of cotton, wool and linen stitched together to create a tapestry 13 feet wide. “In ‘Sepulcher,’ earth, air, fire, and water become what Forrer calls ‘natural forces,’ animating the composition as dominant, larger figures who radiate, strike, cascade, and burn,” Hickson writes. “The sun sets fire to the Earth. Flora and fauna are plentiful, but dwarf the smaller humans who have lost all agency and control. Instead of standing above and outside nature, trailing vines, fire lines, blowing winds, and waterfalls connect humans together with animals, plant life, and the elements. In the lower left, the figure paddling the boat evokes Charon of Greek mythology who ferries the dead across the River Styx to the Underworld. On the right, an Adam and Eve story unravels with Eve borne from Adam’s mouth, her arm wrapping the tree and becoming a snake. Is this a cautionary tale, a disaster painting, or the Fall of Man? Overseeing the action, a female figure on the left—perhaps Forrer?—calmly observes the commotion with radiating vision in the form of mourning hearts, a sign. A hopeful Phoenix appears.”
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