Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Jill Fitterer's Immersion with Flight and Containment

Admit it, haven't we all thought, at one time or another, that we'd like to strap on a pair of wings and fly up into the sky? Some of us are content to only dream about such things, but the work of Jill Fitterer http://jillfitterer.com steps up to the plate and puts herself, and us, right into the heavens. Fitterer's bold and aggressive print installations shatter the scale typically associated with printmaking and dream Really Big. The result is an enormous body of work (literally) that pulls the viewer up off the ground and into the clouds. 
Impressively, Fitterer uses the actual wood panels that are the basis for her printed works and she makes it a part of the installation, as if the blocks themselves are winged creatures that can also fly. Her soaring, billowing prints with wing-like repetitions fluttering and peaking through cloud-formations lets us visualize what it must feel like to be free of gravitational confines. Still, the illusion of oneness with the cosmos via Fitterer's levitating abstract images could also be contemplated with images similarly printed onto sheer fabrics interwoven with the paper pieces to truly visualize the impression of being unobstructed in the clouds with the birds.

Fitterer's non-traditional presentation of the blocks and prints is but one aspect of her installations, as she also uses a wall-length repetition of her feathered friends. At first glance, they seem a little ticked off, and upon second and third glances, they really do look to be rather incensed. Their assessment of us isn't too pleasant, and they make me want to step back from their angry glare. (Strains of Hitchcock's "The Birds" can be heard in the distance..... Sorry, I had to mention it).Unlike the flying birds that we can only barely capture a glimpse of a wing or a beak, here we see they are definitely crowded and confined as they overlap one another all the length of the installation wall. 
Their confinement speaks to Fitterer's next aspect of this installation whereby she tightens the reference a lot further and places individually printed birds around the walls of a niche.  Their positions are regularly-spaced and stabilize the walls as sentinels poised and on guard. They surround a very tall, thin cage that feels as though it would be a death trap for a bird. There is no perch, no room to move their wings, no door to open and escape from and barely room to breathe. The scale of this, too is telling, for she's made it human scale, so we can feel what it's like to be 'contained'. It looks more like an  torture chamber from the Spanish Inquisition than a birdcage. Claustrophobia ensues....
Fitterer's message is clear, the containment and caging of animals, in this case birds, is cruel and against the laws of Nature. She associates the scale of humans with that of birds so we can empathize with their plight. The saying goes that pets are man's best friend. That can be true, but is it selfish to want to confine animals that would naturally be better off in the wild? To illustrate my point, in Chicago's Hyde Park,  a group of green parrots escaped from a pet store fire thirty years ago and they have settled and multiplied in the neighborhood's trees and parks. They've been singing away and delighting the people that visit the parks and No one would dream of catching them and putting them back into a cage. We have the benefit of a harmonious co-existence, and really, isn't that what it's all about?  

Fitterer is an advocate for animals as evidenced by her work with the International Bird Rescue Center in California, http://www.bird-rescue.org/ . She is also an Associate Professor of Art at Boise State University, and she founded the Rocky Mountain Printmaking Alliance in 2009, which is a non-profit organization, creating regional connections an dpromoting awareness and support for the art of printmaking. 

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