Skip to content

Events

Art & Art History

The Field

Tuesday, December 09, 2003–Saturday, December 20, 2003

View times

The Field is a collaborative project by the artist Dianna Frid and the writer Stephen Motika. In an earlier project called The Asteroid Mitos, the two collaborated to create a work that dealt with notions of display and site-specificity, with astronomy and the politics of planetary nomenclature, and with the fictional aspects of facts as they related to the factual aspects of fictions. The Field is an expansion of and elaboration on The Asteroid Mitos, which consisted of a display case housing a scaled reproduction of an asteroid. The elongated body was made with very simple materials: wire, paper, and a top layer of aluminum foil; its craters were demarcated by yellow-rimmed holes.

Many of these craters were purportedly named by an amateur astronomer and University of Chicago humanities professor, Dr. Leon Rhetnik. Dr. Rhetnik ’s life ’s work consisted mainly of studying how the concept of exile, so prevalent in literature and mythology, related to history and the human experience. Thus, it was apt that he would name the craters of Mitos after literary figures, who were loosely identified as exiles of one sort or another. Some of the craters ’ names, for example, included Ahab from Moby Dick and Stephen Daedalus from Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. Dr. Rhetnik ’s obituary, along with a document with the names of the craters, is exhibited within the display case. It is mainly through the obituary, the key textual element of the work, that the viewer can piece together the relationship of the different elements in the display case.

By using materials, display processes, and resources in The Field that are, to some extent, transformable, ephemeral, and interpretive, Frid and Motika allude to the inconsistencies inherent in the systems and structures that set out to classify and measure “the universe.” By means of alternative narratives, they embed within these constructions human inconsistencies, contradictions, and desires. 

In Tamara Faulkner ’s essay The Field at the Edge of the Gap: Elegance, Ambivalence, and Elegy, she describes the exhibition as creating an environment that produces “distrust and discomfort” and is “fueled by unrequited desire.” She wrote:

When we think of belief, or faith, we often think of a church, mosque, or other structure where rituals expressing those faiths are enacted. At The Field, we enter another ritualized space, a gallery, which initially bears a strong resemblance to a Christian church. Like a narthex, the darkened stripped-down corridor leads to a series of sensual spaces: a field of human-scaled bluish-silver forms set on pedestals, with spot-lit, wall-mounted clusters of texts and images suggesting apses. A ground of thick plastic, covering a barely visible assortment of pieced cloths, demarcates a forbidden zone in the center, adding to the drama, and as in most Christian churches, indicating how to proceed. We know to step around the scintillating garden of objects, though they are the most immediately inviting due to their anthropomorphic scale. This is an ordered, controlled, environment set up to service the ritual of interpretation, as long as we stay within the margins.

The Field was commissioned as one of the projects in the 2003 At the Edge: Innovative Art in Chicago series.

Related:

EXHIBITION ESSAY

The Field at the Edge of the Gap: Elegance, Ambivalence, and Elegy

Tamara Faulkner

The installation The Field comes at the end of the program At the EdgeThe Field and to some degree why we go through it. Do we control space, or does it control us? According to Encyclopedia Britannica, astronomers thought it important to investigate the asteroids of a particular field for two reasons: “one is a fear that they may collide with Earth,” the other “is their potential as sources of important metals.” They could kill us or save us, depending on how quickly, accurately, and appropriately we assess them. But first we had to believe in the threat and in the promise of investigation.

When we think of belief, or faith, we often think of a church, mosque, or other structure where rituals expressing those faiths are enacted. At The Field, we enter another ritualized space, a gallery, which initially bears a strong resemblance to a Christian church. Like a narthex, the darkened stripped-down corridor leads to a series of sensual spaces: a field of human-scaled bluish-silver forms set on pedestals, with spot-lit, wall-mounted clusters of texts and images suggesting apses (1). A ground of thick plastic, covering a barely visible assortment of pieced cloths, demarcates a forbidden zone in the center, adding to the drama and as in most Christian churches, indicating how to proceed. We know to step around the scintillating garden of objects, though they are the most immediately inviting due to their anthropomorphic scale. This is an ordered, controlled environment set up to service the ritual of interpretation, as long as we stay within the margins.

Many galleries and most museums could be described in similar terms. The program of the plain white, clearly lit box is first and foremost ordered, and elegance is the quality of beauty most suited to it. The elegance of this project is gently contradicted by the experience of going through it. We may have a prescribed means of entry, but if we face and attempt to read the materials of the wall, we lose sight of the forms behind us. Some 35 years ago critic-cum-art history professor Michael Fried wrote of the “theatricality” of Tony Smith ’s large box sculptures. Their “literalist” presence haunted Fried and in his mind threatened the sensibilities that define pictorial art. Smith ’s boxes seemed to act out, insisting on being seen as objects rather than as art. The Field, in contrast, asks that we see them not as objects but as fellow bodies.

“(The proposition, the picture, the model, are in a negative sense like a solid body, which restricts free movement of another: in a positive sense, like the space limited by a solid substance, in which a body may be placed).”

Ludwig Wittgenstein, in 1918, appended this parenthetical ditty to an enumerated list of qualities that define a tautology, putting into words what it means to state that a = a. The push-pull sensation, the desire to inhabit a space and be the “solid body” versus wanting to be in the space and see the solid body, is a sense of active ambivalence, a repulsion and attraction implicit in Wittgenstein ’s quote and experienced in The Field.

When we follow the path around The Field, the first cluster consists of documents, a description of Frid and Motika ’s project, and a set of rules for naming an asteroid from a government Web page. The next cluster more fully establishes the rules of the project. This group includes another plausibly authentic document from a seemingly reputable source, anchored by a drawing of an asteroid named Sennifer and a list of its craters. The other materials flesh out the picture of how the names were assigned. By the third grouping, we are less sure the documents are authentic or truthful. I wonder whether our distrust isn ’t fomented by the decreasing ratio of texts to images. “Borges,” for example, the fifth asteroid document set, seems simultaneously the least plausible and the most beautiful. I want an asteroid to be named after this mind-shattering author, the describer and creator of so many labyrinths, but something about all those non-textual, ephemeral materials tells me one isn ’t. My desire for it to be true, and my attraction to the beauty of Frid ’s embroidered mazes, means it can ’t be trusted, it can ’t be true.

Distrust and discomfort are both cumulative effects of enacting the ritualized procession set out in this project. There is a palpable tension, which Fried bumped into, between reading and looking. The seduction of a striking photo, heightened exponentially by the glimmering silver asteroid forms behind us, reminds us that reading is most often a private act, an intimate act: you take the text and fold it in your body, or face it on screen as you would look at a mirror, close enough to see only your face and not your surroundings. To look at something, see it as distinct from you, requires distance. Is this why we feel more watched, more anxious, when we read texts on the wall than when we look at the objects? Public protocol, how to read, how long it should take, whether we catch the lie or get the joke—all these considerations provoke anxiety. The photos and embroideries are temptations, but their potency is restrained by the clusters composed on the wall. Our field of inquiry is limited by the implicit task of figuring out how the article illustrates the name, not as much what it is, or even if we like it, but why the artists include it.

The asteroid models keep this ambivalence from deteriorating into an anti-image “Whose Line Is It Anyway?” where only the artists know the answers and we are the suckers publicly fumbling to assess the truth. While the intellect gnaws on the texts, the untouchable, even less accessible grace of the sculptures, a sight to behold, becomes more autonomous. We just end up wanting to get closer, to see the minute layerings of foil Frid has lifted onto the papier-mâché forms, to prod the craters, body to body. The more intimate we become with the texts, the more intimate we want to become with the sculptures.

But like many ritualized environments, The Field is fueled by unrequited desire. What draws us to it isn ’t masochism per se but possibly a slight case of nostalgia for a kind of engagement found in 1960s American conceptual art. It revives the simple beauty of work that stripped down the identity conflicts played out violently on the campuses, city streets, and television news broadcasts of the 1960s and brought them into the gallery. Works like Robert Morris ’s I-Box made us laugh and just one second later played with the idea that we are not in a fixed position, that our uniqueness, or I-ness is arbitrary: “I” isn ’t me, it ’s this naked guy I see inside the box who I assume is the artist. So who am I then, and where am I defined?

“Our military is bogged down in a guerrilla war overseas, the federal government is spending way beyond its means, and a president from Texas has opened up a credibility gap. Is this 2003 or 1967?” (2).

Like 1960s conceptual art, Frid and Motika ’s Field furnishes an oasis. The identity questions—the bodies being counted and named, the field and its players—have expanded. We feel comfort in this hierarchical, solemn, and sparkling space because we can leave the unmarked sloppy arena of societal discourse and slowly, quietly consider what it means to trust authority, know you are lied to, and live within the push and pull of active ambivalence.

1. Narthex: the portico of an ancient church; a vestibule leading to the nave of the church.
2. Steve Chapman, “Commentary,” Chicago Tribune, July 20, 2003.

****

Tamara Faulkner, The Field at the Edge of the Gap: Elegance, Ambivalence, and Elegy, December, 2003.

This essay was distributed in the gallery during the run of the exhibition.

EXHIBITION SUPPORT

The Field is supported by the College of Architecture and the Arts, University of Illinois at Chicago.

Special thanks to the jury that selected the 2003 At The Edge projects: Danielle Gustafson-Sundell (artist and co-director of Deluxe Projects), Paul Ha (Executive Director, Contemporary Art Museum, St. Louis), Kevin Kaempf (artist), Jennifer Reeder (artist and UIC faculty member), and Lorelei Stewart (Director, Gallery 400).

ARTISTS BIOGRAPHIES

Dianna Frid Head ShotDianna Frid has had solo exhibitions at Saint Mary’s College, Notre Dame, IN; Allegheny College Art Gallery, Meadville, PA; and Esso Gallery, New York. Her work has been featured in numerous group exhibitions at Betty Rymer Gallery, Chicago; The Burnished Chariot, New London, CT; Optica, A Center for Contemporary Art, Montreal; and the Hyde Park Art Center, Chicago, among others. Frid earned an MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where she was a Trustees Merit Scholar. Frid is currently Collegiate Assistant Professor in the Committee of Visual Arts at the University of Chicago.

Stephen Motika HeadshotStephen Motika is a writer whose work has appeared in The Common Review, the National Post of Canada, and the Palisadian-Post in Los Angeles. A graduate of Vassar College, he is currently Coordinator of Literary Awards and Services at PEN American Center in New York City.

EXHIBITION CHECKLIST

Dianna Frid and Stephen Motika

Hood for Detecting Minor Planets, 2003
Cloth, adhesive, aluminum foil, and Velcro

The Field, 2003
Asteroids (Borges, Eros, Idilia, Ignea, Mitos, Sennifer): papier-mâché, wire, aluminum foil, tape, adhesive, wood, paper, paint, and ephemera

Solarium, 2003
Binder, photocopies, books, table, and chairs

Window/Frame/Window, 2003
Mylar, adhesive, aluminum foil, and masking tape