PHOTOS: Courtesy, Sarah Katherine Davis

hope is grounded in memory

The colors, textures, and materials found in hope is grounded in memory by Megan Bickel at Hyland Glass are reminiscent of those found inside a Forever 21. Buoyant pinks, blues, greens, and golds are currently popular in the worlds of fashion and décor as well as contemporary art. Bickel’s palette projects youthfulness and superficiality, her mark-making suggests naivety, and the textures are kitsch; all of these elements, however, combine to inform what is actually a solemn juncture in the artist’s life. Trendiness may sound pejorative, but trends are cyclical and represent patterns in popular culture. Bickel uses these bubble gum-colored fabrics, sequins, and faux fur to examine and counteract harmful patterns in her life.

Bickel’s work revolves around trauma and its cyclical effects. The majority of traumatic experience occurs in a latent period, due to what Cathy Caruth, professor at Cornell University, describes as “the inability to fully witness the event as it occurs, or the inability to witness the event fully only at the cost of witnessing oneself.” Trauma is incomprehensible to the survivor of trauma, despite the knowledge of having survived. To protect their selfhood, the survivor often loses memory and the ability to fully perceive the traumatic event. Months and years after the initial event, trauma resurfaces in the form of anxiety, depression, and other symptoms. Caruth goes on to describe the gap between the traumatic event and latent traumatic experience, noting, “the force of this experience would appear to arise precisely, in other words, in the collapse of its understanding.” By seeking to intellectualize her struggle with PTSD, Bickel confronts one of the fundamental difficulties of trauma.

Bickel creates a body of work that dives into the incomprehensible by arranging fabrics and applying paint non-objectively, even abjectly. The works themselves are perplexing objects; suspended from chains and Velcro rather than stretched on a rectangular frame, the paintings take on irregular shapes. I’m Gonna Ride It ‘Till It’s Over (2018) hangs from grommets fastened to S hooks in the top corners of the satin fabric base. The fabric drapes all the way to the floor, where sequined fabric pools like the train of a gown. The rough, uneven edges of the fabric coupled with utilitarian materials give the overall feeling of haphazardness and unease.

How It Never Actually Was (2018) has gently rounded edges, a soft palette of pastel greens and blues with accents of bright pink, gold and black. Up close, the viewer can see the disconcerting texture of latex paint over velvet. Viewers are even invited to touch the painting, wherein something that is meant to be soft is disrupted and becomes abrasive. Nonetheless, Bickel indulges the viewer’s impulse to pet synthetic fur, run their fingers through plastic sequins, and investigate the textures of dry paint. These actions feel taboo in the context of a gallery, which can either be anxiety-inducing or invigorating for the viewer.

In her statement, the artist describes her own exhilaration in response to the materials, which afforded her a new method of painting. The “bodily interest/excitement” that came from fabric painting could supplant the self-destructive tendencies that follow trauma. For Bickel, the recent loss of her father led to depression and subsequent harmful impulses. By creating this body of work, she has the opportunity to divert and protect herself while examining her psychological and behavioral patterns.

Bickel defines textiles as “the body’s first home,” but the fabrics she uses in her paintings are synthetic—simulacra of the original materials in which humans clothed themselves thousands of years ago. In the here and now, satin, glitter, velvet, and sequins often house young bodies, bodies in growth and transition which are decorated more so than protected. Fabrics like these play a role in the way people label and posture themselves in relationship to others. In her exploration of trauma, Caruth goes on to postulate that, “in a catastrophic age...trauma itself may provide the very link between cultures: not as a simple understanding of the pasts of others but rather, within the traumas of contemporary history, as our ability to listen through the departures we have all taken from ourselves.” Bickel invites viewers to engage intimately with her fabric paintings, not withholding or concealing the trauma through which they were conceived.


hope is grounded in memory is on display at Hyland Glass until June 3, 2018.

Hyland Glass is located at 721 E Washington Street, Louisville, KY 40202 and is open from 10a-5p Tuesday - Saturday.


Mary Clore, Contributor to Ruckus

I’m Gonna Ride It ‘Till It’s Over (2018)

How It Never Actually Was (2018)

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