Teresita Fernández

Teresita Fernández: Immersion
The natural world has been a source of inspiration and investigation for Teresita Fernández over the past decade. Her work has focused on the ways a range of natural phenomena are understood - not only through direct experience but also, and more frequently, through mediated images. Fernández's art is neither descriptive nor literal. She does not introduce elements such as wind or water into the exhibition space but rather evokes conditions of the landscape through formal and representational means. Dora, Hattie, Agnes, Carla (2000), one of her Hurricane Drawings, features concentric circles amidst tempest-like ink backgrounds in shades of green, blue and purple. The iconic, spiral shapes indicate circular and directional movement; together with the names of actual storms in the title, they suggest the weather patterns we ascribe to hurricanes.

Waterfall (2000) creates the illusion of a large, flowing, watery surface. It is comprised of hundreds of plastic strips in swirling patterns of light and dark blue and white that together produce a shimmering surface. The wavelike form, which reaches twelve feet at its apex, is set away from the wall so that viewers can walk around and under it. In doing so, the scale of the piece as well as what might be considered the underside or backside may be experienced. While Waterfall appears seamless from one side, Fernández has left evident the work's aluminum structure and method of fabrication from the other. Throughout her career, she has consistently balanced the beauty and seductiveness of her works with aspects of their structure, revealing them as constructions of nature rather than illusions.

Making visible the back of Waterfall also points to the importance of the viewer's role and vantage point in defining nature, which is at the root of Fernández's work. Natural wonders do not inherently have distinguishing parameters such as front and back, east and west. Rather, they are constructed in relation to the presence of a human subject, whose physical position determines the ways natural conditions are experienced and seen. Fernández actively locates the viewer in her work in order to call attention to the constructedness of phenomena that often pass as natural or beyond human intervention.

Though larger in scale, Waterfall is related to Dune (2002), Fernández's recent work featured at Grand Arts. Inspired by journeys to White Sands, New Mexico in 2000 and 2002, she focused her attention on the inherent qualities of the desert dunes as well as the ways they are perceived both directly and through representations. The sculpture conveys the undulating form of a sand dune through its curvilinear structure covered by thousands of glass beads. Each bead is slightly irregular in shape, and when seen together they create a moiré or snakeskin pattern evocative of a flowing texture. Like bodies of water, dunes are fluid, with millions of grains of sand shifting at any moment; however, such motion is imperceptible unless experienced directly as in a windstorm or by walking on the sand. Fernández conveys these conditions of flux through the gentle slope of the piece, whose stepped structure implies a sense of fluidity even though the sculpture itself is static.

In addition to being characterized by the flowing movement of the sand, dunes have a particular vastness that is due not only to their scale but also to their immersive quality. Because of the overall sameness of the landscape, it is difficult to position oneself within and in relation to a dune. Judging distances is equally difficult because of the lack of "edges" from which to define parameters for looking. Fernández conveys a similar spatial distortion in her work by painting the surface beneath the beads and the walls of the gallery a subtle earth tone. Sculpture and space appear to merge, as if the individual bits of "sand" are dispersed beyond the edges of the piece, creating an immersive experience within the gallery.

Fernández's use of simple materials to subtly convey complex ideas about landscape and perception has been consistent throughout her career. Her recent interest in the flux inherent in the natural world is also at the root of her wall pieces - Lowrider, Cerulean Swarm, Amethyst Swarm, Midnight and Eclipse (all 2002), and floor pieces - Twin and Double Midnight (both 2002). Here Fernández explores the most basic natural elements, water and sky which, like sand, are vast, amorphous, and fluid.

Formed out of thousands of small, square, acrylic cubes, the wall pieces reference clouds and constellations. The uneven spacing of the individual cubes creates an organic pattern with irregular borders, and their placement high on the wall makes them seem to float. Like clouds whose shapes are constantly shifting, these pieces evoke a sense of motion. The individual cubes are transparent from the front and hand colored on the back, with subtle shades of blue and gray emanating from each one and casting a diffused aura. This is reminiscent of the artist's earlier wall works, such as Wisteria (2001), in which color was applied to the back of precision cut plastic pieces, resulting in seemingly undefined edges and an overall glow.

The floor pieces, which can be read as pools, ponds, and islands, are also irregular in shape and variegated in color. Made up of millions of tiny glass beads covering low, colored surfaces, they appear to hover just above the ground. A thin silver rim forms the perimeter of these curved sculptures and functions to contain the beads, which seem as if they would otherwise flow effortlessly over the edge of the "pools." Fernández creates a shimmering effect by placing the clear beads atop paintings in blue and gray tones; the subtle colors emanate through the beads to form an oasis or mirage. Because of the similar shapes and colors of the wall and floor pieces, their juxtaposition creates an illusion that the sky is reflected in and a reflection of the water.

As with her other works that have considered the role of the viewer in the construction and perception of nature, Fernández set out a specific context for viewing these wall and floor sculptures in her exhibition at the Miami Art Museum in 2002. She transformed the gallery space by curving the corners of the room into an elliptical rather than cubic shape. As with Dune and Waterfall in which there seem to be front- and backsides of the pieces, this installation implies an inside and an outside. The curvature of the walls give the viewer the sense of being inside the piece - not unlike her earlier installations such as Landscape Projected (1997), a room scale work into which viewers entered and were immersed in a garden-like setting. Rather than looking at discrete objects on the floor and walls of the gallery from a single vantage point, the viewer is enveloped by the space which is experienced in the round.

Fernández establishes our position as viewers immersed in works of art that are evocative of the landscape. In doing so, she reinforces the way we construct, experience, and perceive the natural world. She creates situations that emulate our experiences within the landscape which, recently, have been focused on states of flux, including the movement of sand, the ebb and flow of water, and the floating of clouds. Fernández has devised ways to subtly imply temporality in static, three-dimensional works of art - to make the otherwise motionless appear to shimmer.

Rochelle Steiner
Chief Curator
Serpentine Gallery
London, 2003



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