Family, Fairy Tales and Human Fears at Wadsworth Atheneum Talk

Christina Forrer, "Sepulcher," 2021. Cotton, wool and linen, 97 x 162 inches. Photo: Joshua White. “Christina Forrer / MATRIX 187” is on view at the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum until Jan. 2, 2022.


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Family conflict and human fears — both are central themes found in the work of artist Christina Forrer and writer Sabrina Orah Mark. 

Forrer uses imagery from folk tales and mythology in her vividly-colored tapestries and paintings, bringing to mind characters in fairy tales amidst modern environmental disasters. 

Orah Mark is a poet and fiction writer who writes essays on fairy tales that focus on motherhood. 

On November 11 at 6 p.m., the two — who have never met in person — will discuss their work in a virtual conversation coordinated by the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, where “Christina Forrer / MATRIX 187” is on view until Jan. 2, 2022.  

Orah Mark had a column called “Happily” in the Paris Review that will be published in book form by Random House. 

“Each month I would focus on another fairy tale and then bring in stories about motherhood and what it means to navigate the world as a mother, but using the fairy tale as a kind of companion,” she told CT Examiner. 

She said Forrer contacted her about the Paris Review column. 

“Sometimes you meet another artist or writer and you feel as though you’ve been corresponding with them forever without knowing it and that’s really how I felt when I saw her when I saw her work,” said Orah Mark.

“I love her tapestries and how she’s completely engaged in the act of weaving, which in many ways I feel engaged in too as I weave old fairy tales into contemporary stories about motherhood and other things,” she said. 

In “Sepulcher,” an 8-foot-by-13-foot four-paneled tapestry, Forrer depicts a world in conflict. Fires scorch the landscape while lighting and heavy clouds dominate the sky next to a giant, jagged sun. Figures — some human, some otherworldly — breathe out smoke, rain, and heat. Sheep, ladybugs, and birds scurry across the shifting earth. A factory pollutes the air. Heart-shaped flowers bloom and long vines reach upward amidst a natural world in disarray. 

“I was thinking of it all from this perspective of a mourning person, how you’re sort of in this different state at that point, and how still everything is going on — people are fighting, people are trying to get things they can’t get to, they’re having dreams and wishes and so on. And at the same time there is nature that keeps being there too, but ultimately it will be destroyed by our own doing and it will destroy us,” Forrer told CT Examiner. 

Forrer is the mother of two children, ages 3 and 6, and said she thinks about fairy tales and particularly how women are portrayed in relationships in folk tales. She was born in Switzerland and has been based in Los Angeles since 1999 when she entered the Art Center College of Design, Pasadena. 

In her tapestry, “High Tide (Big Bow),” a woman wearing a brightly-color striped skirt with a red bow is standing on the head of a man who appears to be submerged underwater and in distress.

“In fairy tales, a lot of times, the man is portrayed as the victim and that puts into question who is doing what in this relationship and how it is perceived,” said Forrer. 

For the show, Forrer also curated pieces from the Wadsworth’s collections that emphasize themes in her work. 

Orah Mark said she relates to Forrer’s art because, on the one hand, “everything’s floating and so you both feel like you’re in the air and you’re on solid ground,” and on the other hand, “you’re overwhelmed by something that permeates the senses and that you’ve known all along but you can barely say.”

“I love that collision happening in her work and it just really resonates with what I’m trying to do in terms of colliding the past and the present and colliding the seen and the unseen,” she said. 

For more information and a virtual tour of Forrer’s show, click here.

To register for the virtual conversation on Nov. 11 at 6 p.m., click here.

Orah Mark shared her piece, “The Stepmother.” It appears in her collection of stories, “Wild Milk.”  

The Stepmother

“You smell like Florida.  We hate you.”  The Stepmother knows from the crushed handwriting this note is from The Stepchildren.    At the bottom of the note is a drawing of a mouse.  The Stepmother wants to know what does the mouse mean.   The mouse seems lonely and afraid.  Its eyes are too big.  The Stepmother peels a hardboiled egg, eats it very quietly, and thinks about the mouse, and Florida, and smelling like Florida.  No one wants to smell like Florida.  If The Stepmother had any guts she would go to the yard this instant and paint all the trees white, but The Stepmother has no guts.  If The Stepmother had any guts her husband who is the father of The Stepchildren who believe she smells like Florida would come home and see the trees and say what in god’s name have you done?    Do you think we’re living in a goddamn fairy tale here?  The Stepmother would stand there with her large bucket of paint, and her guts, and tell her husband the trees are now white because she is not a real Mother, she will never be a real Mother, and also she is thinking of running away with the mouse.  She would sob and say something strange and dramatic like how she feels as though she’s three plagues short of an exodus even though she doesn’t really have any plagues except for smelling like Florida.  But none of this will happen because The Stepmother has no guts, and this is America not a fairy tale.  This is a state in America that is not Florida even though The Stepmother is reeking of it.  The Stepmother wants to know what does the mouse mean.  It is a beautiful mouse.  The Stepmother has no guts but she does have some scissors which she uses to cut the mouse out.  No one wants to be lonely, and afraid, and live in a note about smelling like Florida.  Once The Stepmother cuts the mouse out the mouse shivers.  It is a very sad shiver.  Sadder than all The Stepmother’s sadnesses, and somehow this comforts her.  The Stepmother isn’t certain whether the shiver is from coldness or relief, but she cuts off a strand of her hair and wraps it around the mouse’s shoulders anyway.  The mouse falls asleep in the palm of The Stepmother’s hand, and dreams of guts, and white trees, and the kindness of The Stepmother. The mouse is what the mouse means.  It’s The Stepchildren who mean something else.  It’s The Stepchildren who mean something far, far away, like a Mother.  When The Stepchildren come home The Stepmother will hug and kiss them and wipe their dirty little hands until their hearts break in two.