THE FOURTH WALL
The garbled title appears at first a lackadaisical effort at obscurity. A limp hand pointed apathetically to direct our attention to the elusive yet essential substance of the event. This vaguely comic gesture evokes and pokes at academically validated absurdities. “Isohyet; Isopleth” speaks in tongues, yet others go to great lengths to ensure the phonemic non-sequiturs are rendered intelligible. Handle the sculpture with silk gloves. Put a suit on the baby. An Isopleth is a map that integrates geographical and meteorological information across a visual plain. One feature of an Isopleth is a line, an Isohyet, which connects two locations on the map that share nearly identical meteorological behavior at a given point in time. Farstad and Frohlich have reversed the dynamic between these concepts. Around their Isohyet, they have constructed their Isopleth.
Frohlich and Farstad's masonite wall occupies what would otherwise be an open archway. It renders the show into a self-contained environment. Here, the works are tenants in a subsidiary space, with its own rules of conduct, where exchanges can be mediated between the show and the rest of the museum. It is an exhibition with interiority; the gallery as a ghetto. The vacuum is sealed even more securely with flooring that further demarcates this immersive environment. The show is suspended in its own black void, populated by its own contradictions. In this stormy space of contrasts and clashes, “Isohyet; Isopleth” produces its substance.
A basic chemical precipitate reaction occurs when two liquids are introduced to one another and form a solid. This solid's molecular composition can only be forged between two atoms with opposite charges. Farstad and Frohlich's work complement one another in their vast differences. The impact of each is contingent on the presence of the other. In a vacuum with no external reference point, the works that comprise the show would be illegible. Without their opposite, they could not produce substance.
These fleeting atomic moments of precipitation are accompanied by a cacophonous soundtrack of a mass of birds whose cawing cascades off the walls and skitters onto the floors. A downpour of noise. With this storm in full effect, the titular analogy can be understood even in full ignorance of its terminology. But this frenzied babble is also a meaningless conversation of a thousand participants, picking at nothing, repeating one another and still with something to say. Perhaps this suggests a fatigue with the didactic. What is it but more chatter that invades and contaminates the exhibition space?
This concern gives rise to the confined chaos of “Isohyet; Isopleth”. Across the room, Frohlich and Farstad are nonetheless united by their Isohyet. From their respective points, they operate in the same register, albeit with idiosyncratic results. They are two answers to the same question.
Erik Erikson's theory of Psychosocial Development conceives of the self as the outcome of eight stages of binary conflicts throughout the lifespan. It would seem the works find themselves in the midst of the sixth stage, intimacy versus isolation. Of course, the closed off space of “Isohyet; Isopleth” tends towards the latter. Farstad and Frohlich have built a wall to isolate themselves, to mitigate the trappings that come along with transfer from studio to gallery show. Here, the enclosure can be read as a facsimile of private space constructed for the purpose of a public spectacle; an attempt to extract performativity from the act of creation.
Frohlich's collection of diminutive works, ranging from two to twelve inches in size, includes a few so small as to very possibly be passed by unseen. In their reserved attempts to physically assert themselves, a cluster of them protrude, ever so slightly, into the gallery space. Their plainness beguiles, because with something so simple there has got to be a secret, even if it has nowhere to hide. But Frohlich's pieces are pointedly non-confrontational. “I don't want the work to be an argument, but it is anyway,” Frohlich said. Even so, they are timid, unassuming, non-aggressive. They are works of miniature monumentality, dwarfed by the modesty of their own ambitions. Perhaps they were never meant to be seen at all.
Farstad's “Double Swaddle” serves as a departure from this logic. The languidly draped strip of pinkish fabric at the center of the piece, reminiscent of a disembowelment, is a flourish that demands attention yet induces repulsion. It is gaudy, bawdy, god-awful. It is unfit to participate in the polite society of other art objects. The flamboyant work repels in contrast to the controlled neutrality of Frohlich's. Farstad's assemblages make use of repurposed materials, but their origins are irrelevant. “You could think of all the things it used to be, but what I want you to do is accept it now in this new state,” Farstad said. For both Frohlich and Farstad, there is no preconceived audience. The works must be viewed in isolation.
“Isohyet; Isopleth” is immersive to the effect that the works it contains can be submerged in its influence. The logic that governs the private creative space differs greatly from that in the forum of presentation.
As the character of “The Father” states in Luigi Pirandello's “Six Characters in Search of an Author”:
“We perceive this when, tragically perhaps, in something we do, we are as it were, suspended, caught up in the air on a kind of hook. Then we perceive that all of us was not in that act, and that it would be an atrocious injustice to judge us by that action alone, as if all our existence were summed up in that one deed.”
In Pirandello's seminal work, a troupe of actors are confronted by a group of six characters who are fictional characters incarnate. They speak to the fickle and flexible world of reality from the stasis of archetype, of permanent suspension in an unalterable creative construction. The terms of their representations are set. They are bound forever to a performance while the actors can find repose in the wings.
With their fourth wall, Farstad and Frohlich isolate themselves in what should otherwise be an open space. They may not be able to control the performance, but they can at least build the stage.
A two-person exhibition with Katelyn Farstad and David Frohlich
Minneapolis Institute of Arts
April 19–July 1, 2012