Last year I had the chance to watch Colombian-born artist Nancy Friedemann work in her studio at the artists’ colony Yaddo in Saratoga Springs, New York. Amidst a scattering of fat permanent markers—the kind graffiti artists use on subway interiors—various books lay sprawled on the floor, but otherwise the room was clean and spare: just eight four-by-six-foot panels of semitransparent velum-like Mylar on the walls. Marker is a curiously tough medium with which to render the fragile crocheted forms that have long been the cornerstone of Friedemann’s visual lexicon, but its permanence and seeming brutality provide an intentional contrast to her recurring theme, the elusiveness and nostalgia of memory. In 1996, Friedemann was still using actual crochet thread to encase objects such as lumps of coal, but today her thread is a textual one: she spins out a continuous stream of letters in spiraling or interwoven forms that suggest, to varying degrees, spiderwebs, lace and dollies.
The five panels of “Maps” (details appear on the following two pages) were created with volumes of Sylvia Plath clutched in one hand, and include transcribed passages, impromptu translations and Friedemann’s own automatic writing. Each panel is several sheets thick, and the increasing blurriness and illegibility of the successive layers of cursive script create a sensation of spiraling depth that evokes the fading of memory. The two bull’s-eye-like panels of “Fingerprints,” by contrast (detail on page 270), are each a single layer of Mylar on which the outward spiral of bright red block capitals is a string of verbs that seems to vibrate off the paper, thanks to her technique of rewriting the text in mirror on the flip side; the right panel is in English, the left, Spanish. The other works reproduced here are “Self Portrait as Dragon”(pages 268 and 269) and “Collections,” a sculpture made of Sculpy modeling clay and inscribed, of course, with marker. Though words are ubiquitous in Friedemann’s work, legibility is not the point. As she has written, “Text becomes a visual element—it retains a part of its original meaning but then vanishes into what could be the web of memory.”