The game’s afoot! Carol Flueckiger in the StudioJune 18, 2018
Carol Flueckiger is exhausted. She’s exhausted over the use of the word FREEDOM in America. She’s exhausted from teaching at Texas Tech University in classrooms where conceal and carry is law. She’s tired of flowery language and historical studies of heroic decisions that aren’t decisions at all. She’s exhausted with artist statements that are all about the idea and nothing about the art.
But fling open the door to her studio, and her eyes light up. Mention the teaching of studio art, and her excitement becomes palpable. Talk of artist materials and methodology and, Watson, the game’s afoot!
Carol came to WSW last October to work on the project Solitude of Selfie, which began with her choice of one word from each of the 33 paragraphs of Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s speech Solitude of Self, delivered before the Congressional Judiciary Committee and the annual meeting of the National American Women Suffrage Association near the end of her life, in 1892.
To make her work, Carol places transparencies and/or objects onto fabric, wood or paper surfaces that are coated with cyanotype chemical. The composition is then taken out into the sun and exposed, and rinsed in water. Additional mixed media (latex paint, fabric dye, pen, ink, and sharpie) is then integrated into this cyanotype process. A recurring motif in her work is the use of paper dolls. The result is a complexity of historical and contemporary words and images, fading and sharp, in a startling blue composition. You could say her cyanotypes are blueprints for digesting history.
When she examined the results of her word game with Cady Stanton’s speech, she realized she had picked a balanced mix of positive uplifting words like virtues courage heroism, and negative words like gates of death, failure, insignificant. Here was a history that wasn’t prettied up. “If you tell me there were flaws I can actually breathe. I can find myself in it.” she says. In her head, she created an imaginary box called the I Don’t Know Box, filled with such words. Here was a container where, as she puts it, “love hugs betrayal. It is where insignificance dances with virtue. Failure takes courage for a swim. Solitary Voyager fights with Individuality and Women’s Sphere kisses Largest Sphere on each cheek.” This became the toy chest for trimming and updating of Cady Stanton’s speech into the series Solitude of Selfie.
The rules to Flueckiger’s games are always to make sure two people can play, to “turn something that’s not a game into a game because then you can find a little tiny crack where you can have dialogue.” Through such strategies, she accomplished the nigh-near impossible task of conducting a civil conversation with Trump, Clinton, and Sanders supporters among her art students at Texas Tech after the 2017 election. “They already had admiration for each other’s art,” she told me, “so when that conversation happened—and it was an explosive thing to talk about—they were able to move back and forth.”
I asked Carol why she so often used handwriting and language in her work. “Words hold us hostage,” she replied. “Maybe it’s my way of looking at words in terms of line quality and design; maybe it’s my way of telling the words to just calm down and knock it off. You’re just a design element. Just quit it. They have to just be atmosphere, background music.” Besides, she said, “Cady Stanton’s handwriting looks like you want to know this person. She is not staying in the lines, she’s busting out of that grid. I really enjoyed seeing how she’s a little more expressive than her contemporaries.” Her collaboration with the sun in making her work takes the tyranny of the verbal into the natural world.
Flueckiger is not afraid to play to the end of the game. Her series, Cash Paid for Rags, is a game of paper dolls where she tries on history like a pair of jeans and a teeshirt to see how it fits. The trajectory of her series went something like this:
- How am I going to make an interesting composition?
- I know, I’m going to handwrite her speech into my silhouette.
- Oh even better, I’m going to get her handwriting and imprint it. I’ll go to an archive and imprint it into my silhouette—now it’s her handwriting, not my handwriting.
- Oh I know, I’m going to print it into a thrift store shirt and then actually wear it during my artist talks.
- Well if I’m already wearing it, I might as well then shed it like I’m reading a book.
The Solitude of Selfie series created at WSW was recently on exhibition at South Texas College Library Art Gallery, and is now traveling to Women’s Rights National Historic Park in Seneca Falls, New York, from which it sparked a commission. Flueckiger has been asked to create a Citizen Ranger book for adults based on her Solitude of Selfie project. Citizen Ranger books, usually meant for children, look like coloring books and contain crosswords and word-finds and identification games and scavenger hunts that teach a little history. Flueckiger’s book, part of the celebration of the hundredth anniversary of the 19th amendment in 2020, rather than being a tour around the park, will be a tour around Cady Stanton’s speech. She envisions three components: a number from 1 to 33, for all 33 paragraphs of the speech; a word or a phrase; and a little drawing from her studio, with imagery from the Solitude of Selfie portfolio. Another game! This player can’t wait. To get a head start, visit Carol’s website, where her cyanotypes, layering historical handwriting over contemporary experience like clothes on paper dolls, await your imagination.
Carol Flueckiger serves as Associate Professor of Art at Texas Tech University. She holds a BFA from the University of Minnesota, and an MFA from the University of New Mexico.