I’ve been following French artist and musician Félicia Atkinson’s work for the last couple of years, mostly through her work with the curatorial/publishing platform Shelter Press. In recent years, Shelter has published editions by the likes of Marcelline Delbecq & Ellie Ga, Peter Gizzi, and Gabriel Saloman (formerly of the Portland-based noise group Yellow Swans). So, I was pleasantly surprised to see that Atkinson would have a solo presentation of visual work at Krets – a one-room project space in Malmö known (to me, at any rate) as a venue for experimental music and artist’s publications. In fact, this is the second time that Atkinson has presented work at Krets, the first being a 2015 collaboration with artist Sabrina Ratté.
For A Fluffy Knot (a shy opera), the landscapes of the American Southwest figure prominently. In Secrets (2017), a 7-hour video shot in Arizona and New Mexico, footage of dramatic horizons, arid plateaus and desert vistas brimming with cacti are intercut with vertically scrolling text in French and English. Ambient in the gallery space is Audio Book (2017), a sound work of roughly the same duration and pacing, in which can be heard repetitive voicing and musical phrases recalling the work of American composer and pianist Terry Riley.
Hanging in the gallery’s center, The Fluffy Knot (a shy opera) (2018) is a fragile accretion of multicolored textiles knotted together with various materials including wool and silk. This site-specific installation – or, as it is referred to, the opera’s “protagonist” – extends in places rather like an inverted saguaro, its lines paralleling the cascade of words in the video; elsewhere, it forms parabolas echoing the shapes of sand dunes, sine waves, arcs of objects in flight.
Such formal drifts are frequent in Atkinson’s work, much of which is improvised on site. The conceptual entanglements that emerge from this process are as complex as they are inscrutable. Musical notation turns into desert flora, turns into the moon; geological processes are obscured beneath gestural marks; somewhere, coyote plays a trick. Indeed, the knot referred to in the title might actually be a topology of relations. And yet, for all its emphasis on formal correspondence and temporal change, one nevertheless gets the sense that this exhibition ultimately has less to do with tracing processes of becoming than it does with representing a sense of disorientation.
The images of the landscape are often stunning. But in Atkinson’s associative matrix, they are abstracted into an empty grid through which consciousness might expand. If there is something “fluffy” about Atkinson’s show, it’s this. Having lived in New Mexico for over twenty years, I can still marvel at the Bisti Badlands and stand in awe of White Sands National Monument. But I also know these landscapes are marked by troubled histories that include border crossings, disputes over ancestral lands, and nuclear weapons testing, to name a few. In its aestheticization of the land, Atkinson’s show evokes throngs of European tourists scouring the plaza in Santa Fe for kachinas and turquoise jewelry as much as it does relational entanglements and topological continuity. The knots that it offers are confounding, but limited to a cognitive exercise.