On Stellar Rays September 9 – October 25, 2009
The history of the world by Zipora Fried would probably look something like the black and white avant-garde films of the Dadaist canon: morphing, jagged, and driven by a language that is neither recognizable nor familiar, emphasizing everyday objects as agents of intellect rather than simple extensions of the hand. For her first gallery show at On Stellar Rays, the artist has assembled a monochromatic body of work that speaks to this brand of philosophical slippage, ranging from portrait photography and sculpture to video and sound installation. Nothing is off limits. Using black and white as her primary palette, Fried dapples in everything from feminist handicraft to highly polished conceptual work, always pushing the subject of language as the basis for her explorations.
Sound, in its absence and its presence, plays an interesting role in the exhibition’s construction. Spoken babble from a three-channel video installation, “L’enfant Sauvauge” (2009), ricochets high-pitched “bleeps,” “la’s,” and “na’s” off the small gallery walls. But while the sounds hauntingly echo throughout the space, it is only upon close inspection of the monitors that one notices videos of the artist’s lips eking out the tiny phrases. Inversely, “Chatter” (2009), a minimalist “drawing” with string on Mylar, is much more obvious in its intentions. Eloquently locking into place the artist’s mistrust of the written medium, the depicted phrase, which reads, “The stammering of history, trust me, be careful, who has the sickest shoes, trust me, be careful,” forces the viewer to confront the inherent duplicity of both language and historical account. For the wall sculpture, “Untitled” (2008), two sets of headphones are fused together to create a string of what should be boom-box quality auditory devices. Here, however, there is no sound. In an ironic twist, the mute object, impotent in both output and input, acts in its deafness as a sounding board for Fried’s philosophical stratagems. By denying language its accepted discourse, the artist is able to wrangle alternate meanings typically concealed behind the white noise of societal speak.
Obscurement is also a hallmark of Fried’s oeuvre. Four large portrait photographs line the back walls of the gallery, the faces of each subject hidden by an explicitly personal object. In the case of “C.O.” (2009) (Clifford Owens, an artist whose performance work is currently on view at the Kitchen), three sets of eyeglasses distort the subject’s face, while for “T.H.” (2009), a lecherous hair piece clings to the sitter's visage like the impregnatory offspring of the life- sucking monster in the 80s sci-fi thriller, Aliens. The other two images are less dramatic but it is interesting to note that all are artist colleagues of Fried’s, two of whom are represented by the gallery. Art world identity crisis? Maybe. But issues of identity are not only apparent in the photographic work.
For “Quentin” (2009), the sculptural cornerstone of the exhibition, Fried spent more than a year crocheting a black, woolen skin for a dining room table. She has done the same with conventional objects such as baseball bats and mannequin heads; one could argue a domestically aimed F-you at both the male driven art world and patriarchal society at large. But the intended meaning underlying her knit pieces and furniture based works runs deeper than traditional feminist theory or reactive politics.
Devoted to acts of repetition and endurance (and undeniably meticulous in her execution), Fried has not only aligned herself with the socially driven meta-narratives of the postmodern movement, she has found a way to visually illustrate the creative act—not as something that can be understood but as something that warrants examination. Her work, from the large-scale graphite drawings that made her famous to her most recent photographic studies, is an examination of time itself—individual time, collective time, creative time. Behold the status quo on crack. Fried may not have attempted a history of the world as of yet, however, there is no mistaking that for this artist, at least one alternate history is undeniably present.
ContributorKara L. Rooney
Kara Rooney is a Brooklyn-based artist, writer, and critic working in performance, sculptures and new media installation. She is a Managing Art Editor for the Brooklyn Rail and faculty member at School of Visual Arts, where she teaches Art History and Aesthetics.