Frida Fjellman Essay

Frida Fjellman Essay

Frida Fjellman
Summer 2005 Fellow

Frida Fjellman, a Summer, 2005 Resident Fellow at the Creative Glass Center of America, is in the vanguard of an important new generation of Swedish artists. Fjellman knows glass and often uses it in her work. She understands what glass can do but she is not a glass blower. A key part of her agenda and that of her fellow artists in Sweden is an imperative to transcend and abolish the boundaries between fine art and craft, as well as the traditional distinction between art and design. Fjellman believes that these divisions are deeper and more pervasive in Swedenthan in the United States.

Even though one hears similar discussions here, she believes the situation is more favorable to the acceptance of craft techniques as aspects of “high” art. Specifically, she says that schools in Swedenrigidly segregate technical study for “handicraft” majors, including ceramists and glass makers, from the study of fine arts. Fjellman received a degree in ceramics and glass in 1998. In Sweden, these handicraft areas are historically merged with the study of design, sometimes for factory production, but old stereotypes are changing.

“A lot of things are happening now in Sweden,” Fjellman says. “At the national museum now they have craft people who are moving into art and artists who are moving into craft. It’s really boiling now.”

Significantly, the Swedish National Museum in Stockholm recently wanted to purchase a lamp made by Fjellman, but she refused to separate the lamp from its installation setting which includes a table and a glass marten (a bushy-tailed relative of the weasel). This act was tantamount to an unwritten manifesto refusing to acknowledge the functional existence or potential of an object outside its place in an aesthetic whole. Fjellman won that round. Though the museum initially felt it could afford only the lamp, it ultimately purchased the entire work.

In addition to moving beyond labels relating to discipline, Fjellman is interested in:

  • The role of nature in the contemporary world.
  • The perception of good and bad taste.
  • The total work of art as an environment to be inhabited by living people.

Fjellman addresses the role of nature and taste partly through making figures of low status animals. She’s made martens and owls (perhaps the most mythic and ecologically trite animal she uses) and she’s often incorporated the figure of a large, very alert glass hare as an element in her work. The hare functions within the context as an almost “cute” animal, but not cute like a bunny. But glass lemmings and moles, two of her favorite subjects, are more challenging because they are never the objects of mass-produced, kitsch sculpture. The life size animals are mold blown from forms she modeled.

“Animals—I love doing them. I’m so curious how they will look when they are ready and what will their (physical and perceived) attitude be. It’s also about accepting myself when I do it. Because it’s my hands, I feel like I am showing myself.” Lemmings appeal to her because they are “ugly and fantastic animals. They are food for foxes and owls and I think it’s interesting that they just look very weird.”

The finished lemmings are small enough to be classed as statuettes even though they are life size. They, like her other animals, have a slightly generalized or stereotypical quality, though black-current eyes add a sense of aliveness. The over-all effect hints at cheap or sloppy manufacturing processes. The scale of these animals and the beauty of the cast and sometimes internally illuminated glass in a minimal and modern domestic setting, suggests that they are relatively inexpensive tchotcke-like decorations for the middle-class home. On the other hand, the lack—even denial—of cuteness becomes increasingly strident the longer one looks.

Fjellman has a model of a mole in her studio at CGCA and plans to make a crystal chandelier incorporating these small, unbeloved critters. One aspect of her goal is to encourage an awareness of the living creatures who share our planet. “They are advanced creatures like us, but in another way,” she insists, which is why she wants the mole chandelier to be “a real sophisticated luxury, high-status thing.”

She delights in turning ideas about good taste and bad taste upside down by using luxury materials where one might expect cheapness or by making the lowly beautiful or valuable and says, “If it’s made in a good way, in a personal way, you can lift up the object. I don’t want to tell people how to think. I just want to show what it can be when I make it.” She is attentive to the formal elements of the environment: surfaces, color, shapes and contrasts. She works rather cautiously testing the complete effect of the juxtapositions she chooses. Cloud-like colored electric lights illuminate the environment and their curving, bubble-like shapes are echoed in the flat silhouettes of tables which cast reflections on the walls and she places cut-out shapes there also. By placing the figure of a devalued animal in a human environment, Fjellman draws attention to a whole hierarchy of judgments. What do we appreciate in nature? What do we value in our controlled personal environments? The senses and the mind are equally engaged.