Brian Fridge: Sequences (essay by Andrea Karnes)
Beginning with an interest in painting and sculpture, Brian Fridge's first video works came about in 1994. A typical work is his widely exhibited video Vault Sequence, 1995, a version of which was included in the 2000 Whitney Biennial Exhibition. Recorded in the artist’s apartment, the silent, black and white image undergoing transformation seems at moments to have come from a sonogram and at others from the Hubble space telescope.
Fridge's lens-based video works are derived from events and places grounded in a human scale and become multi-scale video images, evoking a variety of associations. Working with readily available materials and indoor lighting, he is interested in the most basic subjects of light, matter, space, and time. The possibilities afforded by video are as he states:
" ... video displaces actual quantities with something more open-ended. Having to consider actual size was uninteresting to me when making objects or environments in my student work. I always came back to just wanting images… images grounded in physics, yet free from physics, and something more like a thought or a dream."
Characterizing the pictorial space of video as a merging of aspects of the medium and of the subject being recorded, Fridge considers what to distill and how to construct, making what will end up as a flat rectangular field of modulating light. As a result, the videos often have a distinct presence as events themselves, existing in the flow of time. Preferring presentation to representation, he forefronts the nature of how things simply are. There is a tone of deadpan resignation in the works.
This dry, observational manner permeates those of his works that have as their source a particular natural phenomena; usually these involve fluids. There is more of an interest in expressing the uncanny and absurd than that of merging of art and science. "... I’d like my work to invite a variety of associations. For example, I like images that have a feel of simultaneous familiarity and unfamiliarity." And there is hardly a sign of anything biological in his video imagery, instead the viewer is the biology, and the video is one part of the viewer's perception.
Brian Fridge (b. 1969, Fort Worth, TX) lives and works in Dallas, TX. Fridge received an MFA from The University of Texas at Dallas and a BFA from University of North Texas. Exhibitions include the 2005 inaugural edition of the Turin Triennial, Turin, IT, 2000 Biennial Exhibition of the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY, and Out of the Ordinary, Contemporary Arts Museum Houston, Houston, TX. Awards include the Dallas Museum of Art Kimborough Fund. Residencies include ArtPace, San Antonio, TX, Central Track, University of Texas at Dallas, TX and Ateliers Hoherweg, Dusseldorf, DE.
The Extent of Things
Brian Fridge began his career as a painter and sculptor in the early 1990s, working on small canvases and making objects that were easily manageable—a practical beginning for a young art student with few resources. Since those days, Fridge has continued with this rationale of using materials of manageable human scale, but he has shifted his practice to make video his primary medium. His videos connect to his ongoing artistic concerns with figure/ground, a pared-down visual vocabulary, simplified compositions in both color and form, and a drive to manipulate space and scale. The pictorial surface of painting has remained important to him as well, and in his videos, this concept is addressed through his handling of light and objects, often via close-cropped views of things and events in motion, set against monochromatic backgrounds and presented in silence.
He made his first low-tech video, Untitled, in 1994. In the work, a distorted and gradated television monitor fills the screen, and a white light, the reflection of a single-bulb lamp, is seen toward the top right-hand quadrant. By juxtaposing the two light sources, the bulb and the screen, the overall image depicts a glowing orb against a buzzing blue ground. Essentially abstract, the image activates our sense of something familiar, like an otherworldly view of the sun or moon. Key to this image is its calling on memory and sight to create meaning: it is made from real objects, but they are not what they appear to be; they evoke our galaxy, triggering us to weigh them with and against “sun” and “moon.” Like his other works, Untitled presents us with the polarizing dynamic of knowable/unknown, calling into question the nature of representation itself and emphasizing how viewer perception plays an important role. This work would be the beginning of the artist’s turn toward explorations into how common objects can transgress their physical properties to induce a sensory experience.
Less interested in the technical side of the medium, as Fridge continued to experiment with video, he focused in on recording light, liquid, matter, and movement unfolding with unpredictable results. In 1995, the artist placed his camera in a freezer to see what the process of condensation looks like in the series Vault Sequence, 1995–97. 1 The slow-paced images in this series are enigmatic, suggesting spiraling constellations morphing and shining against deep black space. The piece aligns the contradictory forces of what it plainly is (water freezing) and what it appears to be (a view of an unchartered part of the cosmos). Though he set up the conditions to be recorded, the work manifests as much through chance and accident—he did not know what the visual outcome would be. In this way, his works are analogous to surrealist automatic drawings even though they are sourced in the real world rather than in the unconscious mind. Also like automatic drawing, Fridge’s imagery prompts the inner psyche by lulling us into a daydream-like state of giving in to its ethereal, undefinable attributes. Yet the calm is interrupted in his works by our questioning what we see.
Distant overarching conceptual threads are present in Fridge’s videos. For example, his experimental imagery links to alchemy, to his interest in theories of human development by Swiss psychiatrist and psychotherapist Carl Jung, and to Romanian philosopher and historian of religion, Mircea Eliade. In the late 1990s, Fridge was reading, among other things, Eliade’s notions of “body-house-cosmos.” In The Sacred and the Profane, 1956, Eliade’s thesis splits reality into sacred (religious and mythological) and profane (secular). He posits that throughout history and in the modern world, reality is largely governed by the sacred, and this framework has defined concepts such as space and time culturally. Eliade discusses the human body as a microcosm of the cosmos, and house as an extension of both body and cosmos, as a way to create one’s own relationship to the universe. The three elements—body, house, and cosmos—for Eliade, are interdependent. For Fridge, though he is hesitant to discuss it, these ideas are relevant to secular art. Like Eliade, Fridge sees an interchangeability between our perceptions of body, house, and cosmos, and he uses subtle signifiers through his process of recording objects to challenge our notions of reality and question established cultural beliefs as they relate to space and time. “A house could model the universe, or the universe might be seen as a model of the body, etc., and these become intertwined,” he explains. But, that said, he sees his work as having an “innocent agenda, not in comparison to the sacred, [or other fixed referents]. In my work, there is an ongoing attempt to unify things, trying to get at a core or an essential.” 2
In the series Sequence 36.1–36.5, 2010, intricate forms unfold on screen one by one, materializing like something akin to botanical drawings, natural growth, proliferation, arterial flow, ink bleeding onto paper, and so on. The scenes are uncertain, and what they depict relies on an impulse within the viewer to relate them to corporeal or external experiences or thoughts, while they also recall something at least vaguely recognizable. As the videos evolve before our eyes and then stop when the forms’ momentum seems to naturally cease, the images mark time in ways that only video can, through motion. “If the passage of time is the perception of motion,” Fridge explains, “then how motion is articulated is interesting to me, as are the models of beginning and culmination, attraction and repulsion, and of boundaries and lack thereof.” For the artist, these concepts “correlate with something observed in outer space, experienced with one’s own body, or that mirror a social dynamic.”
In his latest work, Sequence 25.1, 2013, what reads as a static, white, two-dimensional architectural rendering is overlaid onto a still, black ground. This becomes the setting for a foreign, also white, organic substance to eventually usurp the space. The free-form mass is initially seen on the right side of the screen, in one corner of the “house.” It progresses to completely fill and seal the outline of the structure, without bleeding over. How does a liquid become contained within what looks like a two-dimensional rendering of a floor plan in Sequence 25.1? The answer is that we, as viewers, are not shown. “Video does not have to answer to gravity. It is a way of bringing together very specific things that have very general qualities.” With this and all of his work, Fridge maps information of sorts, which ultimately relates to something else, something greater, for viewers. Sequence 25.1 draws parallels between the natural (organic mass) and the manmade (floor plan)—or is the mass the foreign object and the structure the universe, as in body-house-cosmos? In either case, the work is provocative in its suggestion of the human relationship to the world and the perplexing character of life, as well as how we are, to a large degree, contained and defined by gravity and structure.
The accompanying silence of 25.1 induces an internalization of what we see, similar to being alone with a thought. It is two minutes long, and the singular event is launched by the introduction and movement of the mass; since both mass and structure are white, it concludes with the engulfment of the structure. In a sense, it is peaceful and gratifying—there is resolve, even though there is no narrative. In another sense, it is fleeting. The mass leaves absence, of the space that was represented, which in the end is a ghost-like memory.
The relationship between us as observers and the observed image is one set through the video camera, which acts as a disembodied eye making visible something seemingly undetectable to the naked eye. In other words, Fridge creates fluidity with his camera, of time, space, scale, and our associations with objects; and by literally recording movement and light, he influences our perception of the flow of an event. In his work, the process of metamorphosis from real objects to amplifications of their abstract qualities elicits reflection about our grasp on the reality of things we think we know, like the way a liquid behaves. Or like the cosmos, which usually comes to us through channels of television, language and reproduction. In the space where these conduits fall short is Fridge’s imagery, hovering between free association, reverie, the physical world, notions of reality, and our unlimited potential for innovative perceptions of it. This gap connects to our need to understand life and imagine variable dimensions of human existence.
– Andrea Karnes, Curator, Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth.
1Since 2002, Fridge has used “Sequence” followed by a number designating a family or series and a number within that family, as in 11.5, to title his works. The families of titles are based on likeness of form or theme.
2All quotes are from conversations between the artist and author, January 13–17, 2014, and e-mail conversations February 21–25, 2014.