9 October 2012 - 10 November 2012
Review by Beth Bramich
Tom Friedman’s first solo exhibition at the Stephen Friedman Gallery since 2002 features a collection of new works (all 2012), which continue the investigative efforts of the artist-alchemist into the exploration and transformation of the familiar and everyday.
Tom Friedman is a thinker. The more he looks at something the less clear it becomes. His process is to deconstruct ideas and materials; a physical and conceptual unravelling that ultimately allows for a phenomenological discovery as opposed to the acceptance of a didactic explanation. The resulting works are each self-contained crystallisations that transmute these thought experiments with everyday materials into something unexpected.
On entering the first of the two Stephen Friedman Gallery spaces divided by the Old Burlington Road the audience encounters a tangle of wires suspended from the ceiling and gently twisting. Stepping around the outside of this freeze-framed explosion, the twists begin to form loose impressions of faces in profile, revealing a crowd in this gathering of lines. This work is a taster, an introduction to the demands that Friedman’s work puts upon the audience, to not trust the authority of our mind over the evidence of our eyes.
In the next room there are more cartoon-like arrangements, which occupy the walls and floor or are hovering somewhere between. Two party balloons, one blue and one green, have been tied to a skeleton and a lectern. Both dangling objects come from a place of education, a hierarchical situation of dry lecturing on subjects from long ago. These balloons enter the scenario to turn it on its head, bringing a much-needed levity to the situation.
The balloons, skeleton and lectern on closer inspection have all been rendered by the artist in polystyrene, a material that is 98% air, allowing the floating effect to be achieved by the support of a single monofilament. Rather than in the tradition of trompe l’oeil, where there is a hyper-reality, these works have a verisimilitude, operating via the internal logic that helium balloons in children’s stories can lift the heaviest objects.
On the flipside of the physical forces at play, the work Untitled (Gravity) sees a human head in a white material, approximately life-size, that has been squashed into a lozenge-like shape. The squeezed head with the face on its side could be a model in white tack, which once completed and considered by its creator has been pushed down onto a nearby surface until it can next be of use.
Across the road the exhibition continues with a more minimal presentation. Untitled (Becoming Unbecoming) sees a wooden cube that through 18 slices across different planes has become a much smaller cube. Each stage of the process exists as a separate object displayed across a shelf. Much like a diagram every action is represented, but rather than a pictorial depiction we are able to fully see the effect on the wood of each incision. In Untitled (Holey Paper) there is again the precision of craftsmanship in the manipulation of material. A paper which at first glance has had a number of circles removed from it to become a very fragile sheet has in fact gone through a process of removal and layering to create an intricate and rhythmic pattern.
Friedman is influenced by Quantum Physics, his intensive and obsessive practice driven by his desire to distil every idea and material down to its purest essence. The division of this exhibition allows two sides of Friedman to be displayed, on the one side the comic and on the other the deep thinker. These are not mutually exclusive but facets to an intelligent and obsessive mind with an anti-authoritarian streak.