Christina Pettersson: Memories of a Forgotten South at Primary Projects
As a teenager, Christina Pettersson found a job as a telemarketer at the Vista Memorial Gardens & Funeral Home in Miami Lakes. "It was selling prepaid funeral arrangements, and I hated it," the 37-year-old artist recollects. "After about a week of making the phone calls, my boss changed my duties and I ended up doing a bit of everything, from filing to placing ashes in urns and helping put makeup on the cadavers instead."
Photo by Eli Peck Christina Pettersson illuminates forlorn spirits of the Deep South's ruined past.
But, she adds, "Everybody had a really dark sense of humor."
Pettersson channels those memories in "The Castle Dismal," her new solo show opening Friday night at Primary Projects, where she'll present several large drawings, installations, performances, and a series of weekly programming. The exhibit takes its title from the name Nathaniel Hawthorne gave the Salem, Massachusetts home where he wrote his novels, Pettersson says.
On view will be her largest drawing to date — a 12-by-24-foot graphite-on-paper piece depicting the ruins of a burned-down Mississippi cotton plantation. There's also an installation of a ramshackle horse-drawn funeral hearse carriage. And don't miss the wooden boat figurehead representing 19th-century Swedish opera singer Jenny Lind with her throat slashed.
"I adore the imagery of the beautiful Deep South," she explains, "the rage of Civil War defeat and slave revolt, dusty towns of Spanish moss, and crumbling plantations."
Pettersson was born in Stockholm, Sweden, and moved to South Florida with her family when she was 2. She was raised on the fringes of Dade County, which was filled with pastureland, cows, and horse stables. She recalls bicycling on the pavement of Interstate 75 before it opened and seeing handwritten signs at her elementary school that warned, "Trespassers Will Be Shot on Sight!"
Pettersson discovered her talent at an early age. She took art classes when she was 6, entered an art magnet program at 10, and then went to New World School of the Arts for high school. Her father, Bo, is an accountant, and her mother, Dianne, a homemaker. They both supported the creative efforts of the artist and her three siblings — her brother is an architect, one sister a social worker, and the other a zookeeper at Zoo Miami. They also inspired an appreciation for the South's literary heritage. "I always loved the writers, of course," she says. "I was raised on Faulkner and Boo Radley and the half-lit ladies of Tennessee."