Heide Fasnacht

Born in Cleveland, Ohio

Resides in Manhattan, New York

In the early 2000s, I lived in Southern Indiana and would run on a beautiful, rural trail. Seemingly overnight, its trees were leveled, its farms vacated, and the frames of townhouses sprung up on either side, organized around faux town squares. The sounds of birds were replaced by the incessant pound of nail guns. By 2010, the trail was quiet again, building screeched to a halt as fast as it began in the freefall of housing prices.

As my eyes careen across the surfaces of Heide Fasnacht’s recent pieces like “Silver Streak” (2019) or “X-topia” (2020) following her lines, I remember that abandoned would-be suburban plan, two-by-fours sticking out of concrete and wrapped in cheap insulation. Something in her directional lines reminds me what it felt like to stand in the eerie quiet of the construction site, feeling as if the economy was fueled by dreams of community and supported by mere sticks and paper.

Since returning to painting after working mainly in sculpture and mixed media, Fasnacht developed a technique of printing scanned negatives onto wood panels, which she then paints over to create a layering effect. In a statement published in Romanov Grave, she explains she seized on this technique because of its directness: “It all comes down to this: how to swat away distractions to get to the essence of something.” The directness of her lines recall the intelligibility of architectural drawings and diagrams. Both these kinds of images privilege clarity because they are meant to be of use, a guide to put something together or how something works. They render the interior machinations visible. By invoking that intelligibility in lines that resist coalescing into legible structures, Fasnacht creates an intriguing visual tension.

It seems to me that Fasnacht is attempting to diagram time, but not linear time, that kind of temporal folding that happens when you stop in a dilapidated playground, the skeletal hulk of a steel mill, or an abandoned construction site. It can cause a kind of vertiginous nostalgia, a recognition of a longed-for place and the remnants of urgings toward a future. These diagrammatic lines harken back to the earliest work in this exhibit, the REM drawings in which constellations seem to float over a murky background in a collision of science and dreams.

In works like “Monkey Bars” (2019) she creates both temporal and spatial disorientation, prompting a visceral response in the viewer. A sketchy figure at first seems to be swinging on a swing set, but, on closer inspection, the figure is suspended by their feet, on the cusp of falling to the darkness below this mysterious structure. In “Now and Elsewhere” (2020) a heavy overhang presses down on the picture plane, almost forcing the viewer to duck like the audience in the apocryphal story of the first showing of the Lumiere brothers’ film of a train pulling into a station. “Wicked Twister” (2019) conjures the euphoric dizziness of a roller coaster as a red whirlwind of lines bursts from a cloud of paint slashes. The viewer may feel that ineluctable but nonetheless embodied sense of playful discombobulation or as Fasnacht describes it “a wish to climb.”

She has a kind of instinctual relationship to the archive, culling through images until one, in her words, “pricks” her. In the sculpture “Suspect Terrain” (2015), the photo was of a sinkhole in Guatemala City ringed by people looking down at a car sunk deep in the mud. Using painted wood, she created a dizzying reverse trompe l'oeil, using a three dimensional object that reads as two dimensional. In her rendering of the photo, she replaces the car with a house. What will happen to the drowning house? Will it be rescued, dragged back to the surface to be placed on stable ground or rebuilt somewhere safe? Here Fasnacht suggests there is no such thing as stable ground, nothing we do can stop the inexorable movement of tectonic plates, and our fragile structures are no match for time.

A sense of precarity pervades her work and is particularly captured in “Invertigo A” (2019), where the ground looks peeled back like an unwanted sticker and a sketchy ladder wavers the background. In the foreground another ladder leans against nothing. Fasnacht’s unstable structures reveal the shakiness of the cultural, social, and economic structures that undergird them. The exuberance of swinging on a swing set or undertaking a vast building project is ephemeral, and Fasnacht limns the traces that exuberance leaves behind in the built environment. 

Elizabeth Hoover is a poet and essayist based in Milwaukee. Her poetry has appeared in Prairie Schooner, Epoch, and The Crab Orchard Review and her art writing and cultural criticism has appeared in Paper, the Washington Post, and the Boston Review. You can see more of her work at www.ehooverink.com