Kristine Fornes

Talking threads by Line Ulekleiv, Art Historian, Translated by Therese Lehne


In Kristine Fornes' Spring in Sight, two colorful budgerigars are each sitting on a branch decorated with flowers, and it is as if one can hear the birds chirping from the embroidered fabric. The details of this very lifelike picture are intimately executed; the birds' feathers are a vibrant yellow and variations in yellow and blue. The ornithological study in small stitches is broken by a sketch-like male figure with a mustache and whose arms are raised into the air. Is he adjusting his glasses or simply covering his ears? He is situated directly under the two branches, and the embroidered contours of this frail and caricatured man changes the picture's almost rococo-like representation into a cartoon-like slapstick .

This picture, created on linen and cotton using print, hand embroidery, and darning, is what characterizes Kristine Fornes. She focuses on creating humorous narratives from everyday life by using stylistic breaks in form and material. She introduces several techniques and visual layering in a single picture - reality meets animation, photographic printing meets time consuming needlework. In this respect, her approach is collage based; the pictures become a joint meeting place between different expressions. The result appears as independent, pictorial narratives, both whimsical and secretive, and full of both internal and external coding. From picture to picture, you become more confident with the peculiar form of this universe; the charming odd features are fundamentally appealing. It is not without reason that her work is often referred to as "sophisticated graffiti". The textiles become almost a readable text; literary stories in its own linguistical form. The word "textile" is historically associated with weaving. Fornes unites layer upon layer and thus creating clean poetical and tactile transitions.

Kristine Fornes is a classic treasure collector; she finds old textiles and reuses them as artistic material. She uses old and torn rags and darned textiles, inherited and found at flea markets. These old textiles are tied to the craft's carefulness, emotion, and lost slowness. An old silk fabric becomes a canvas for printed pictures, drawings, and hand embroidery, and its maturity gives her work a patina of faded warmth and suggestive history. Sometimes these fabrics are heavily marked by the ravages of time; torn and almost decomposed. Fornes transforms these pieces into ambiguous narratives, stories that are emphasized in the use of such titles as Beauty Astray. The conventional beauty shifts and is sent off course. She collects her supply of pictures from various sources, such as arts and crafts books, old magazines, and fashion magazines. The incorporation of antiquated dresses and accessories in playful and awkward contexts creates ties to surrealistic strategies, similar to that of Max Ernst. His impressions of people and use of technical appliances from the 1800's contribute to the story in his collages becoming misplaced within contemporary settings; the story twists and confuses the present time. As an element of style, these historical fragments are beautifying, but their function remains uncertain. This collision of different time layers can also be sensed with Kristine Fornes. But it is perhaps first and foremost a sampler that identifies Fornes' way of composing pictures. A sampler is an embroidered picture, like a sample of fabric consisting of different embroidery techniques and stitches - often in the form of a text. It places different imagery collected from pattern books and other samplers within the same frame. This impurity is reflected in Kristine Fornes' composition of media. One can also imagine that the traditional use of a sampler in raising girls during the 1800's plays a part here. At first glance, Fornes' world of pictures appears to be well tied to a feminine, innocent, and lightly perfumed world. But at times, this world is pierced by several stylistic breaks. Hand-made embroidery as an adaption of textile and thread requires a great deal of concentration. This can historically be linked to discipline and structuring of domestic life.

Kristine Fornes orients herself in small scenes from everyday life, and she creates a peculiar collection of people through stitch and drawing. Stories about women are often a recurring theme in her pictures, and several show unmarried women. One example is Dozy Rozy - Never Married. In this picture, pieces of pink shaded fabric tie together a female figure with wild curls dressed in an old-fashioned dress and an image of a picture perfect marble cake. Rachel Taylor at Yew Tree Cottage - Never Married features a woman with owls embroidered on her dress. On the second half of the picture, there's an embroidered house and hen and a print of a basket full of apples. The connection between pastries and isolated women in outdated clothing with crinolines, is a recurrent motif. The sweetness of the cream filled cake interacts with these obscure female figures, who appear to be filling their lives with decorative and kitchen related activities. There is something bird-like about several of these women dressed in ruffles and pleats, and this draws parallels to the generally frequent use of colorful birds in Fornes' world of pictures. Many women have beak-like faces, and it is as if they are aestheticized bird-women, lonely perhaps, but also pictures of something eccentric and unique beyond formal circumstances.

The characters are surrounded with an open, white space, and its' textile softness functions as a separation between times. These pictures are from a different era, but the parallel use of transferred photography and drawings pull these characteristics into our horizon in an interesting and simultaneous manner. They are reactivated, and encourage a continuation of the story. In some of the collage based group portraits, the actual faces of the family members have been replaced by child-like drawings of faces. The effect is both entertaining and unpleasant, and it emphasizes Kristine Fornes' mastery of such superficial absurdity.