Gloria Friedmann

1950 | Kronach, Germany
Gloria Friedmann — AWARE Women artists / Femmes artistes

Courtesy Gloria Friedmann

— Gloria Friedmann

German visual artist.

Gloria Friedmann left Germany for France in 1977. Self-taught and mainly a sculptress, this prolix artist developed an experimental energy in activities as different as painting, installation, photography, performance, and video. The deliberately multifaceted aspect and scathing spirit of her approach combine seriousness and futility, in a language which she has cultivated in a manner that is at once scholarly and comical. Pouncing on a historical genre—the landscape—abandoned by contemporary sculpture, she became recognized in the early 1980s through her installations and performances whose subject was nature, which she reckoned she was “part” of. It was nevertheless on “non-human” nature, the one existing “outside” herself, to use her own words, that she focused, and in particular the acts of violence which she suffered. Works such as Vagues Normandie (1983), made of shattered windscreens, and Paysage d’hiver (1986) stem at once from a poeticization of the lexicon of minimal art and a certain culture of the materials peculiar to Arte Povera. Raw and unconventional forms of matter represent her message, conveying it in a full of imagery presentation, whose ‘existential scenarios’ kindle antagonist forces, without any compromise. In associating irony, parody and incongruousness, Friedmann develops the logic of a naturalist metaphor, by exhibiting pieces of a true nature, the fragments of which she moves about using the procedure of the readymade, the better to reinstate the idea of chaos rather than that of a proverbial harmony.

By lending it an emotional and spectacular character, by re-kindling that other genre, the still life, through memento mori and the vanitas, then, conversely, with the tradition of tableaux vivants [Living pictures], she broaches the destruction of nature as the issue of ecological suicide, peculiar to society overall. This extremely unusual and unexpected series, from then on called Recyclés, embarked upon in 1994, may use the form of musical comedy as much as combining theatre, film, and painting, in order to invent, during improbable playlets, incongruous encounters (on her arrival in Paris, Friedmann spent time with Bulle Ogier, Barbet Schroeder, Jean Eustache, and Jean-Jacques Schuhl). Through her interest in the living world, Friedmann focused on the animal world which became her favourite theme from the early 1990s onward.  Invariably in a tone of impropriety, she combines two types of discourse in order to evoke it:  the scientific discourse, which is that of classification, observation, objective distance, and differentiation, and the poetic, prophetic discourse, which sides with the animal factor by attributing human qualities and virtues to it.

In the form of stuffed vestiges, or skeletons and skulls, of birds and mammals, from Envoyé special (1996) to the Karaoke series (2002), these appropriations, including those of their traces (earth, feathers, bones, leaves), display the death which connects us with animals, while at the same time depicting their exploitation by culture, because they often represent myths, judgments, and affects, as in YP32 (1996). Her compositions, devised on the basis of piles of bones, their alignment and their suspension (En direct, 1994), conjure up baroque and monumental ossuaries. If the animal is the supreme example of the other, the double, the alter-ego, and the fellow creature, it is above all innocent, and unconscious.  Since Surrealism, many women artists, including Dorothea Tanning, Leonora Carrington, Meret Oppenheim, Frida Kahlo, Louise Bourgeois, and Annette Messager, have dealt with this theme which also deals with the territory of the undifferentiated, the indeterminate, the interstitial, ambivalence, hybridity, and even the monstrous, as much as that of politics and the spectacle. With regard to this relationship, Friedmann contributes a moralistic but free viewpoint. “Ingenuous and libertine”, Pierre Restany said of her, she wavers between horror and beauty.

Chantal Béret

Translated from French by Simon Pleasance.

From the Dictionnaire universel des créatrices
© 2013 Des femmes – Antoinette Fouque
© Archives of Women Artists, Research and Exhibitions
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