Cellular Memory Series
The cell, which is the smallest complete unit of a living organism, can refer in everyday language to anything self-contained that functions on its own. A cell is tight, compact, separate from other entities—sometimes extremely so; an even more common use of the word “cell” refers to the room where a prisoner is housed, safely away from civil society. Sandra Fernandez’s recent works call up all the above notions of the cell, but most of their formal qualities evoke biological cellular structures: small, complex systems teeming with life and energy.
Fernandez’s manipulation of materials affirms the double bind that occurs when we examine cells. Under a microscope, we discover that one structural unit is held together by many smaller components, and the thing that we assume to be complete and perfectly functional becomes contingent and even unstable. Fernandez’s recent installations use hand stitching, sometimes with metal wire, to attach part to part in a way that highlights the works’ handcrafted facture. In certain moments, a cell’s core hooks into an outside wooden layer, all of it connected through wire. The wire leaves traces of the artist’s hand—wire can bend to the slightest irregularities in touch, giving it the ability to imprint the artist’s every move—and thus becomes a lifeline through which we observe the story of each work’s construction. By following this story, we keep pace with Fernandez’s ever-shifting modes of expression and also with the events in her life. The formal instability of the work matches life’s unpredictability—its tendency to recycle past moments over and over, sometimes in nearly inscrutable ways.
Organic components are, in fact, a long-standing feature of Fernandez’s work because of their ability to symbolize [signify?] major life processes. As she sews together pieces of burlap, parchment, vellum, and everyday objects like store receipts and bits of garbage, her thread bites into each element in a manner both aggressive and tender. Trauma and change are similarly bound into human experience. At the moment they occur, certain life events may frighten us, but our distance from them gradually knits in the pleasure or wisdom of hindsight, making the memories of those events continually restless. Fernandez’s work shows that even the act of remembering can trouble the memory of an experience, and that fracturing a thing that was once whole is a good allegory for recollection.
As she tears things apart and re-constitutes them in new formations, Fernandez is in a sense problematizing the assumptions one might make about printmaking: the notion of printing from a single matrix presumes a stable and unified original source. As Fernandez herself insists, she is free to change the original each time, adding and re-attaching elements by hand and intervening on the mechanical process of printing. This unpredictability also speaks to cellular formations, which often function together as identical units but are unique sites of action unto themselves. As Fernandez twists, sews, paints, carves, stamps, and affixes together disparate elements, she argues for life seen not as a progression but as a constant re-organization of parts.
article written by Katie Anania/ Exhibition "Life Lines" at the Courtyard Gallery, Austin-TX