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L.A. based artists Amanda Ross-Ho and Erik Frydenborg talk about shifting focus and priorities after a year of the pandemic. As teachers, the two discuss what it’s been like to work with students over the last year, and they also find common threads across their art practices: attention to detail, engaging with time and archival material, and inviting the viewer into an open-ended dialogue.
“The craft element was not just about a well-made object, but a way to see other objects with precision and close attention to form. Like reading the contexts in which objects come into the world, and where they’ve been—I think of craft as being not just a tool, but a way to respect materiality. It’s a respectful ceremony for objecthood, so thereby it entends to other things in the world that you have not made… For us it’s also like a church of—it’s devotional. It’s totally ritual, devotional, it’s reverence, it’s a world view.”
–Amanda Ross-Ho and Erik Frydenborg
Lindsay Preston Zapas: Hello and welcome to the Carla podcast. My name is Lindsay Preston Zappas and I am the founder and editor-in-chief of Contemporary Art Review Los Angeles. Carla is a quarterly magazine, online art journal, and podcast committed to being an active source for critical dialogues surrounding L.A.’s art community. In this episode, I’m so thrilled to talk to LA based artists, Amanda Ross-Ho and Erik Frydenborg who talk about shifting focus and priorities after a year of being in the pandemic. As teachers, the two discuss what it’s been like to work with students over this last year. And they also find common threads across their individual art practices, attention to detail, engaging with time and archival material, and inviting the viewer in on an open ended dialogue.
Amanda Ross-Ho: It’s a respectful ceremony for objecthood. So then it thereby extends to the other things that you encounter in the world that you have not made and what other people have made. It’s like, I think for us, it’s also like a church like, it’s devotional, it’s totally like ritual devotional. It’s like, reverence. It’s a worldview.
LPZ: This is a packed episode. So stay with us.
AD: The Carla podcast is supported in part by the Pit, a contemporary fine art gallery in the Los Angeles region. Visit the Pit in Glendale to see Erik Frydenborg’s exhibition of new sculptures titled Shear Stress on view now through May 1st. Also on view at the gallery is a solo show by Austin Eddy and a two person show pairing the work of Craig Kucia and Peter Shire. For more information visit the-pit.la.
LPZ: Amanda Ross-Ho and Erik Frydenborg are both LA based artists. They are both teachers, Amanda at UC Irvine and Eric at Cal State Long Beach, and went through the experience of shifting their curriculum and teaching methods amidst a wildly changing pandemic. Amanda and Eric are also a couple and navigated personal shifts this last year, as Amanda moved to Chicago for three months to be a caretaker for family members later, we’ll talk in depth about both artists’ work and their connection to materiality time and the archive. We also discuss how the two use perception and illegibility to point to a world view that asks others to part pay in open ended, meaning making, but first Amanda and Eric open up about how this last year’s events have affected them personally, as artists, as teachers and as people,
ARH: It was truly like a year of triage, you know? So it allowed a little bit of a, a pause to kind of like go into a diagnostic mode anyway. So there was just a lot of being under the hood this year is what I would say.
Erik Frydenborg: I was gonna add just like, from a practical standpoint, this kind of emergency situation took Amanda out of town, kind of during the middle of the pandemic. So she flew to Chicago and it was kind of open ended when she left. We didn’t, you know, it was this kind of emergency healthcare situation and she left thinking well maybe she’ll be back in two weeks. And it turned out that she was actually there for three month. And I was here by myself during that three months. So it was really interesting. It felt like there were these several different phases of the pandemic, it felt like there was kind of the immediate, like initial kind of change when everything went down and then there was this really long period when Amanda was gone. And then actually she came back right when the fires got really, really bad.
LPZ: Just like the most apocalyptic moment to return.
EF: So it was a pretty dramatic kind of arc I felt like during, at least through most of 2020, so yeah.
ARH: Basically I threw anything trivial, just into the trash. I was like, whatever, you know? And at the same time, the things that were ephemeral, like that were joyful also became heightened and became incredibly important too. All of those things became like everything.
LPZ: It’s like turning the volume up on everything
ARH: Exactly. Like everything was put into this new classification system at least and I was away from Eric for three months and that was really tough. And he was like, literally alone for all that time
LPZ: My gosh, with the cats, multiple cats.
ARH: Yeah, kind of holding down our life and also our household here and trying to keep it together and, you know. And then also I was navigating the healthcare system and government structures of bureaucratic things and realizing up close and personal, like how absolutely broken our healthcare system is. Like there are all of these things that we’re just like completely like this raw nerve, but then I’m also grateful for, cause I feel like I got a masterclass in how totally broken our country is. I was like, oh my God.
LPZ: Which must have been, just with the background of everything else like the protests over the summer, it sounds like there are so many layers of that mess, like the broken message of a broken system just being reiterated in every direction.
ARH: Yeah, completely. I like left a nursing home and like went to a protest in Chicago. I was running around like a nut and yeah. So, you know, and meanwhile trying to, you know, keep my academic position going because we did not stop over the summer either. Anyway, there’s just so many things. I feel like we haven’t stopped for a year. So this idea or this narrative that many people were kind of floating around about being bored was like deeply offensive to me. I was like, I dunno what God’s name you’re talking about. And basically there is a line in the sand. I’ve always been very weary of anyone who is in shortage of things to do. Just like, I’m sorry, this is not a condition I can relate to but I also felt this incredible strength of being like, I’m gonna just like give myself over to this and yeah, just do the best job I can in this.
LPZ: And you come out the other side, you know?
ARH: Yeah, hopefully. Sometimes!
ARH: You know, one of the things that I know Eric and I both have conversations with our students to kind of talk about like, well, I think there’s intelligence and data in this moment if we pay attention. And if we’re being careful to like to synthesize and process this time and not just endure it and kind of, if we’re paying attention, we can hopefully learn things and transform and to somebody at one point, it’s just like, yeah, I’m not interested in the time before that, that time sucked! So anyway let’s make a new world.
LPZ: Yeah, exactly. I think that idea of getting back to normal, I’ve had that conversation with several people of like, no, it’s not, that’s not possible, a fork in the road happened and you can’t just go back. So I think what you’re saying about learning and being really perceptive during this time as a pathway of how this experience will form the future is right on. And having students thinking about that as well.
ARH: I feel really lucky. I think we both work with really smart people. And I think that even though yes, there has been some of that grief and wanting to get it back to certain aspects of the social structures of how we exchange and all of that. There’s also been a lot of thoughtfulness in terms of like actually really caring about mutual aid. It’s something I hear all the time in all my meetings and just caring for each other. I actually feel like there’s a lot of sensitivity, you know, not across the board and many, many people are still grappling with the loss and the anxiety of having to make these adjustments during the time of grad school, which is a kind of like intense diagnostic time anyway. Or even undergrad, but basically to be doing it while you’re a student there’s sort of this double education that’s happening. I feel like one of the ways I’ve been describing it is how, like, in some ways, some of the fears and anxieties that we kind of talk about in speculative ways are like, well, it’s like moving out of that speculation, right? Dealing with things in present tense in a different way, not that every single fear has come true. That’s not what I’m saying, but I do think many things have been like, the distance has been collapsed. Like we’re, you know, confronting them right now.
LPZ: I think a lot of artists approach topics kind of at arms length or conceptually introduce into their practice and specifically in grad school, what that looks like, but then like, oh, they might be kind of confronting in a much more physical way, some of these things that otherwise might have remained like a little bit more speculative. Have both of you found that working with students over this last year has been like more fulfilling or impacted each of you? I don’t know as artists or just individuals, like, I imagine there’s an extra kind of preciousness around working with students in the last year.
EF: For myself absolutely. As I was alluding to before, I mean, in the moment when the first lockdown started, I was teaching a graduate class and there was this feeling that their experience was gonna slip away from them. And so in addition to the kind of broader fears about everything that was going on, I felt like it helped me focus my energy where I felt like I had, you know, this small group of people that had this very immediate set of needs that I could speak to. And so, in some weird ways, it’s like I’ve been looking for things I think all through this period that could help me like focus my energy in really specific ways. And that was the first thing of that nature, which was, you know, trying to make the experience remain meaningful for them and trying to give them something that would last beyond that moment, beyond just feeling like a bandaid to kinda get through it.
ARH: Like to make it make it meaningful, like Eric said, not just a compromise, you know,? So that’s been something that has taken a lot of energy to try to figure out because as artists ourselve, trying to do the same thing, it’s like, well, how do we make everything in life more intentional? How do we make it all actually meaningful rather than just like, okay, this is like a workaround or compensatory kind of thing. Recently, I’ve thought a lot about how that is a very exhausting position to try to do a good job all the time, but at the same time, it’s like, what else can you do? You know? So to spite ourselves, I think we’ve come very close to burning out several times, but I think that it also comes back in the success of the students or at least in the understanding they’re actually receiving that meaningful exchange. Hopefully! That would be the goal. So not to just get through it. You think that this is like precision moving through the world with intention and something I think about all the time and I know Eric does too. It’s like just like not sleeping through it, defaulting through things, you know? That doesn’t always happen, but when it can I think that’s how we’d prefer to move through the world. But you know, like, it’d be nice to have summer someday because that’s part of the deal, man.
LPZ: And where did It go? I know, I feel you, I feel you.
ARH: But I mean the word that kept coming up, was flexibility. Like, we need to be flexible right now. And you know, there’s good things about that. But students forget that sometimes that you’re like a person you know? So you have to kind of remind them like I’m vulnerable and scared and all the things also but I’ll somehow maintain some leadership here.
LPZ: So I wanna transition a bit into talking about both of your work as artists. So Eric, I just saw your show that’s up at the Pit and it’s amazing. I just felt really proud of you or something, I was just so into the work. So the show, yeah. Tell us about it. It’s called Shear Stress which is quite the title. Is that title, I mean, speaking of just the year we’ve had is that title just a reflection about what we’re all going through? Is it something more? I know you’re interested in sci-fi narratives and things like that?
EF: Well, the title, so there’s a little bit of homophone involved because it’s spelled S-H-E-A-R so shear stress, which is a physics term. And particularly I was thinking of it in its application to geology. It’s a term that comes up surrounding the distortion of land forms from this particular kind of force. So it comes up in conversations about earthquakes a lot and basically ‘shear stress’ is a force that can cause the distortion or deformation of land masses and of rock. But yeah, you mentioned is it a reflection on the year that we’ve had? And I mean, I think inevitably it is, and I thought of it as also sounding similar to just pure stress, sheer stress. So it is kind of but, really it’s talking about that, that sort of geologic response.
LPZ: With that geological response, is that something like when the land mass shifts it’s like an irrevocable change or is it something that is in constant movement, like constant fluidity?
EF: Yeah. I mean my lay understanding of it, because really that’s all I have, is that essentially it’s a particular type of stress, so you can have stress pushing directly down on something. And then this shear stress is something where the forces are pulling in opposing directions and it basically causes distortion. And so I think I was thinking about it in terms of information and I started making this body work kind of in the Fall last year. And, you know, I was working pretty intensively on it around the time of January 6th. And so I just couldn’t escape. I was, I’m sure like many of us, I was doom scrolling constantly. I just couldn’t stop and didn’t stop sort of like meditating on this idea of how extreme disinformation was, was how extreme of a role it was playing. And it seemed like every facet of life. And, you know, I was thinking about it in terms of my own work negotiating, like distortion of information. And so it was kind of like, I felt like I had to sort of face that to my own kind of use of that strategy in addition to sort of like interest reflecting on it in a broader sense.
LPZ: Let’s dig into that a little because for your work, you are kind of sourcing a lot of materials from, correct me if I’m wrong, but like textbooks, I don’t know, fiction, right? Like just kind of an array of textual information and sure.
EF: No fiction actually. It’s all from sources of really objective information. So it’s all empirical. It’s basically all diagrammatic renderings of things that are originally designed to help explain how something works. So it’s like infographics basically. That’s, that’s all the source materials. It’s something that I’ve been doing for many years. That’s all been my source material for a really long time. And I think that the more recent development with it was, you know, thinking about the fact that I was like manipulating information and I was thinking about that in context of everything else that was going
LPZ: So walk us through the process. So what sits in the gallery, just to give a quick description are these really stunning kind of abstract forms that are made from wood. But then they have these stretched and pulled patterns that you’ve very methodically painted onto these forms, but the works start as collage. So you’re kind of pulling images from your source material right?
EF: Yeah. I’m basically just kind of mining these, these sources that, you know, I have a kind of database of these like discarded library materials, essentially like old, old educational stuff, print material, and more or less like, I’ve been kind of feeding that stuff into like my own processor for a really long time. And then kind of like running it through that and sort of using that as a way to kind of build abstraction from these concrete sources. So recently I’ve just been focusing more on the front end, which involves the sort of digital processing of this information, the digital intentional distortion of this stuff.
ARH: I think there’s also this really interesting thing where it’s not just the graphic that is distorted, but the actual materiality and that’s one of the sort of magic tricks of Erik’s craft is that there’s actually this like synthetic pulling and stretching that’s happening in space as well. And they kind of reunite in space.
LPZ: Also like the materiality aspect. I mean, these works felt like to me, from what I know of your work felt a little more like handcrafted than some previous works? I mean, I don’t know if you resonate with that, but the fact that they are kind of carved wood but then they look very digital or extruded. So there was an interesting kind of play on the sort of warmth and maybe slowness you get from like a handmade crafted object and then this kind of quickness of like a digital rendering or digital manipulated field that you could tell had, like that kind of precision to the pattern. Like it wasn’t just painted by hand, like completely, like you, you kind of planned that out in a way that was like, obviously some kind of digital process involved right?
EF: Yeah. I’ve used this word, like, interchange between sort of digital space and physical space before and I’m, kind of interested in that, you know, from things like the realm of music, it’s something that I’ve explored in that dimension as well. But I think that I’ve been making things as kind of general exploration for some years now, but I think that over time I’ve gradually kind of gotten more interested in the relationship of the sculpture, particularly to like, other histories of like polychrome objects and specifically like folk sculpture and, and so using wood is something that I’ve done variously over the years. I’ve, I’ve sort of jumped back and forth between using like cast earthen plastic, and rubber, and I always have also used wood. But I think that the recent work I’ve been really more explicitly interested in that kind of connection to folk craft and that history.
LPZ: Right, right. And so I wanna jump back to that idea of kind of recontextualizing information. And like you said, you’re kind of thinking through like, I think there’s just been this awakening of like how biased our own media channels are towards our preferences. But another conversation I feel like that is happening a lot recently, and I think really relevant, it is just like this idea of kind of the archive and like how we’re re presenting archival information in a way that is like properly crediting sources or proper, like, how do, what does that mean to like yeah. Pull from the past, and then like, where does that kind of like, acknowledgement need to come in or not? And, you know, what you do of this kind of abstracting of information.
EF: It’s super interesting. I mean, I’ve been thinking about it. I had already been kind of thinking about this more in terms of like how memory kind of distorts our understanding of certain information and how memory distorts our knowledge just naturally, you know?I was thinking a lot about like, what’s the difference between malevolent distortion of facts versus sort of like the, the kind of like natural life cycle facts. And I was researching this and I found this scientist named Samuel Arbesman had written a book about this as called The Half-Life of Facts. And it’s about just like the natural life cycle of information. And the fact that he invented this term ‘mesofacts’, which is basically like middle length information, which is like information that stays stable for a certain period of time. And then it starts to decay.
LPZ: Wow, what an interesting idea.
EF: Yeah, it’s super interesting. And when I found it, I was like, I was struck because I’ve been kind of trying to articulate this for a really long time that that was more or less what I was interested in because most of my source material is, you know, like 20/30 years old or so. And his sort of like calculation of the amount of time that this takes is that it’s like a four, five year process and I’m like 44 years old right now, you know, so I’m looking at it, you know, I was thinking a lot about the idea of like, what happens through aging and I was thinking about like aging as a person, and then thinking about information, self aging and the idea of like facts decaying over time and like that, you know, we’re, we’re left oftentimes with this like sort of distorted memory of something that, you know we kind of half remember, and I’m sort of interested in that kind of abstraction of information. And so that’s, that’s sort of what the sculptures try to speak to.
ARH: Because I’ve known Erik for so long and have been watching his work, I feel like what’s also interesting about this show that’s emerging a bit like a meta-language to his whole practice is that it’s like kind of the capitalization of something he’s been working on forever, you know? Like, so it’s almost in coming into maturation in the same kind of like arc that he’s describing through the content of the work, which I think is incredibly beautiful and also kind of an incredible time where like some of the work that he was doing in the mining of this information and the sort of like this excavation of like these archeological kind of fragments was, you know, kind of heading towards this place of finding this idea of sheer stress or the mesofacts kind of thing. And this show besides being, you know, an incredible technical accomplishment, because they’re outrageous if I may say, but it’s not coincidental that their forms are kind of like addressing this idea because I feel like they’re kind of like talking about the arc of his practice, which I feel like is really an amazing thing. So they’re not like hermetically sealed as this moment. They’re about their age as like an idea that’s been evolving, you know, for 45 years as an artist. So for me, as a person who’s watched his work evolve, I’m just incredibly like moved by that.
LPZ: Wow, what do you think about that, Erik? Like, I mean, I think that’s so beautiful that the work could exist almost like a portrait of your own kind of trajectory.
EF: I’ve been thinking so much about this in terms of like that, you know, again, this idea of like what happens when, when information starts to slip away, you know? Like something that we think we know kind of starts to disappear or starts to disintegrate and like how that can be really terrifying. And it can also be conversely strangely it can be really beautiful and can create this like really particular kind of abstraction that involves an index of something that we have, like this deep sort of cellular knowledge of, but watching it start to pull apart. I mean, I think I do feel like it’s connected to this like long arc of working with this materialism and also being like this age or something. I don’t, I don’t know, it’s like at this particular time.
ARH: But I also think too, like, and not to put words in your mouth, but I do think that the idea of like his interest in science fiction, I think what people sense in the work is actually an interest in futurity. And it really is not about the genre of sci-fi. It’s more about the idea of time and long views on things. And so for me, like to have watched him, you know, pursue this idea for a long time is like this interesting -ology, you know what I mean? Not to center it in my experience, but just to say like it’s just very interesting as like a way of reading a person’s practice to see the way that it lives in the world, aligning with its concerns. You know what I’m saying? Like, in this way, that’s like a real synthesis. It’s like, in that way, the work is like really a performative, which is not something you would necessarily say about sculptures. There’s this really interesting sense of literal movement in the pieces, like when you’re in this space and sort of experiencing them physically, there’s like a sense of movement, but I think that’s also indicative of this idea that they are still moving, right? Or at least that’s the proposal on some level or, or that’s what they seem to be proposing, at least from my interpretation, like that we are still in that motion. It’s not a stopping point. Or it’s like a moment of pause, but we’re still experiencing maybe this imperceptible way in which, you know, it just it’s sort of humbling. Right. Like, I don’t know. I feel like that’s really beautiful part of his work.
LPZ: You know, like thinking about too, that a lot of the reference points are coming from books. Right. And like text and back to being a teacher, but then thinking about books and textbooks kind of in relation to that. And like, we’re talking about this kind of malleability of memory and information, but, you know, like books and even history is like told by one person at a particular time, or maybe like a group of people that like, you know, draft a textbook together, but it kind of like locks it into this specific of like a time and place. And then you’re kind of like mining those things and pulling them into this more like malleable fluid space. So there’s an interesting I think dichotomy there with how you’re kind of playing with facts or something.
EF: The idea is that it’s like all objective kind of description. And specifically this idea that it’s meant to explain how things work, the idea that there is some knowable, quantifiable realm of fact that can be provided like from someone to someone else. And I think that this idea that the information I’m using is contained in these books that mostly again, they’re mostly like discarded and the idea being that, like that information is more or less obsolete. I’m really interested in this idea of like, what happens when information that’s meant to be factual starts to be like meaningless to someone or lose its value, you know, expired knowledge. And the idea that then it just becomes sort of like, like material. This sort of like built in memory of having a purpose, but it starts to veer into the realm of abstraction.
ARH: Also that information, even though it’s empirical and objective, it’s like also wildly subjective on some level it’s like illustration, in some cases it’s like, there’s human interpretation of how systems work into like a diagram or whatever, a model, a visual model or a visual aid, like to try to describe things two-dimensionally that are like sure. You know, all over the map in terms of like what’s happening. And so, and also maybe some of that knowledge literally expires, right? Like sometimes you learn, you know, like that is no longer true or no longer relevant.
LPZ: Yeah. So interesting. And maybe kind of shifting to Amanda, to talking about your relationship with archive and like objects because I’m curious, in the light of the conversation we’re having about like shifting memory and kind of facts, your methodology around searching for objects that you interact with in your own work. Like, do you feel like that it’s like a totally different methodology or are there like, through lines to this conversation in terms of just like the archive or kind of this like storage of knowledge around us? Because I think you’re objects are much more just like stuff in the world. It’s like a cup, a like pen, you know, it’s like all this stuff that like makes up life. It’s not super special. Like it’s not this like archaic diagram and like an old textbook that nobody’s seen. It’s like a little more of like daily detritus or something.
ARH: I think there’s definitely a relation and I think what you’re responding to in terms of whatever the quotidian, right. Like I describe it as local reporting. I’m trying to, in many cases, find what I would describe as some kind of connectivity between the basic stuff that surrounds us, but I feel a little uneasy with that being sort of the end of the story, because yeah, like what I’m actually looking for and trying to do with that is to build a new speculative archive of like, so even though many of the things that I end up looking at or using as material or recapitulating in replicas of things that they are recognizable from our made world, I try to put them into kind of an extraordinary position with you in some way that is, but that is maybe a little bit of a slower burn in some cases, and takes a little time to sort of get to the fact that they’ve been refiled in some way. I mean, one of the reason I’m sort of hesitating is because I think my work is changing right now. I feel like right now I’m kind of rewriting some stuff, to say that most of the time I’m interested in kind of like finding some space of like connection to, and also liberation from the things that contain us well.
LPZ: In a similar way we were talking about with Eric’s work, this kind of like shift, uh, like shifting footing or like losing footing with these things that are like perceived as really solid and factual, I mean, I think about objects in like really similar way of just kind of like, okay, I’m gonna like buy this thing and then I’m gonna have, like, we built, we like buffer ourselves with the things around us, I think in a really similar way, because it us feel stable. Like it makes us feel like we are sort of creating our realities. Right. But I think that is also like shifting as well.
EF: Amanda’s work has, ever since I’ve known her, been so deeply involved with the idea of like close observation, like highly attentive observation and forensic reconstruction. And I think that both of those things have run consistently through, through so much of the work that she’s made. And I think some of that can’t exist without a conversation about time. I mean, I think that that’s probably the place where our work actually overlaps the most and I think that like for my perception of Amanda’s work has always been that it speaks to the kind of like emotional impact and the emotional scale of memory and attention. And, and so that’s like, you know, often been my perception at least of her use of scale is that it’s related to that phenomenon.
ARH: Yeah, totally, totally. And, you know, I mean, that’s exactly right. Many of the things that are whatever, relatively unremarkable to be put through some system of like close observation and anatomical disarticulation to come out the other side as a monument or as something that, that is like to my own intimacy with it. Like I spend a lot of time kind of like trying to, you know, forge a very, very close relationship to understanding how something works. So in that way, that empirical kind of like idea of analysis is also a through line between us. But at the same time, my interest, I think in the end is creating something that is both absolutely a monument to sort of my own attention to that thing, but also something that is like flamboyant and theatrical, right? Like that comes out in this, through this like exaggeration that is absurd and creates this absolute, like imbalance between like the reasonable amount of attention that one should pay to something absolutely ridiculous, you know? So there’s like a humor intended even though I usually don’t like to use that word in relation to my work because it’s like intended to be kind of dark or darker humor. But there is like this like absurdity that yeah. I’m interested in that has to do with like, if we change the currency of our attention to be something that is like super hyper sensitive, like what then happens like, yes, we kind of like digest everything in this like imagined metabolism of like theatrical kind of scale, but then also there’s this like cellular tininess too that happens. Or like you understand something on this very micro level.
EF: And I was gonna say too, with your work, particularly, I think there’s, there’s this exchange between the universal, what you could like refer to as the universal and the persona. I think that that’s always a big factor of it as well. Is the idea of like applying the same degree of attention to things that theoretically have no kind of personal import to you versus things that are like deeply, archivally, you know, important to your own like family history and things.
ARH: Of that nature. Yeah. And over time I’ve slung the word universal around and started to become more and more uncomfortable with that word and leaning more towards something like eternal or like something that is like collective in this way. I’ve always negotiated this like conflict between like trusting my like primary examination of something like primary information, like holding something in your hand, looking at it right. Getting into, and then all of the massive kind of world of how something is understood in, in the world. Like thinking about that kind of like primary engagement and what you can kind of absorb through that and what I can kind of like, like the difference between knowledge and understanding maybe in some ways.
LPZ: You know, also the, the difference of ways of embodying knowledge that are not universal, right. There is like so unique and different to each of us. You know, there are things that are like culturally encoded that we all probably have like a similar input from, but then there are other things that are, it’s like, again, like filtering through our singular minds. So it’s becoming internalized based on our own like previous experiences. And it gets like very psychological very quickly because I think we all have like very different responses to basically everything that we’re experiencing. And so there is no real like universality, like you’re saying. But I think too, the difference between like haptic knowledge versus like culturally informed knowledge versus textbook knowledge. There’s like all these different pathways to connect with something.
ARH: For sure. And then also finding like some mapping of that place in the ecology, right? Like, yeah, just some sense of connectivity for me personally, but also like in terms of like how to make sense of the things that you inherit from the world and then what you leave behind. So I think in that way, my work is headed more and more towards the archive. Like you mentioned in terms of what we inherit what we leave behind in some ways, you know? But yeah, the time element is a key thing that I think links us that is a primary, medium, I think for both of us primary subject or subject. I mean, I think of it as a medium, but you know.
LPZ: You have the press release that lists time as a material.
ARH: And then also that becomes relevant to kind of, to what I said earlier about Eric’s work in terms of getting a long view on the work as it starts to accumulate as an archive of itself. And some of the most recent stuff I’ve been doing is kind of starting to think about like, how does this ecology that I myself have built, like what does, what the hell does this mean? I’m trying to think about them as like this growing logic that the things that we’ve made, not every single thing exists, like we’ve destroyed tons of things and all this what survives and what’s like left and like, if I’m being honest too, you know, lot of time with folks who are in the later halves of their lives and thinking about what they leave behind and how they negotiate their own legacies. And so very much thinking about like the archive in a big way. It’s like diagnostic poetics of the archive.
LPZ: That’s so interesting. I mean, I do think that is like the archive, right? Like that’s a such a deep thing, but I think it’s something that you both are like highly invested in. I mean, speaking of time or like, I guess readability and how time works in that way, just like on a viewer’s perspective, because I think you both play with that in like different ways where Amanda, I think with your work, there might be a quicker readability with certain objects, but like I wanted to bring up also a show you had at the Pit that was just that check engine light, like that thing. I feel like, I think about that thing all the time and it’s just like, you know, you kind of see it and you instantly recognize is what it is. And for people that didn’t see it, it was just kind of like a blown up neon of a check engine light and this very like dark gallery. And so it was just all you saw was this like neon thing. I don’t know that relationship with time where it’s kind of instantly recognizable and for me, like it’s something that years later I’m still kind of like, what was that?
ARH: I called that Eternal Flame, that’s its title.
LPZ: Oh yes. Well, there you go.
ARH: Which is of course like a cheap ridiculous thing, but that’s a cool example. You know, there’s so many implications that were kind of coming to mind. I mean, that’s a perfect example of kind of like my delusions of grandeur, like, you know, just literally driving this car around. I mean, this is how that happened. I’ll just tell this sort of anecdote, like we had this car was just like terminally broken, terminally ill. It was terminally ill. And we like drove around in this car for like years and we would try to get it fixed. It would never get fixed. So basically I just had this like psychotic relationship with this vehicle that I felt like it was just telling me every second that like I was neglecting it and like, and of course this pushes my buttons about care because I’m like a caretaker at the, at the bottom of my, you know, that’s like my first job before art even. And like, I’m like, oh my God, it was just literally like the most triggering constant thing. And I just thought, oh, this is just such a perfect thing to make a monument it to not because of promoting that kind of exchange. But that like, it was just like this deeply hysterical idea of like the perpetuity of anxiety. And at that time I had so much of it and it just felt like I had to scale this thing to that feeling, you know, and of course, it also had this like kind of site specificity that first Pit Two was like a garage. And so it was like exactly the scale of a car. So it was perfect like installation where you walked into the space and it was pitch black. And so your body is like the vehicle, you know, like, so I just was like, oh, this is just a perfect storm and in some ways it kind of came from like acknowledging the space, which, you know, when I can I do that. So, I mean, it was like that was an occasion in which it was like this encounter, this like ephemeral encounter that you would usually just like experience and maybe tell someone a story about it or like about it to somebody, but then throw out. It’s like the same thing as like saving a piece of trash. It’s like an ephemeral thought, it’s like a trash thought, you know what I mean? And so sometimes for me, it’s like I’m taking that trash thought and just like giving it a body and like giving it like a full life to me is like some kind of resuscitative act. Like, I don’t know how to explain that, but it’s like giving that trash moment or that like throw out moment like a full blown parade, you know? Like that’s how it feels.
LPZ: Yeah. But even, I mean, just hearing the way you described your experience with that car and the check engine light and how it triggered certain personal anxieties that you have around care and your own. Like hearing you describe that, I can totally relate to that. You know, it’s such a ubiquitous, like trash thought, like you’re saying, but at the same time, I feel like it’s a symbol that really can have like profoundly deep, like triggering effects on, on our own like self worth or something of like, how am I taking care of this thing enough? And here’s who am I that I can’t afford to like go check my engine, you know?
ARH: Totally. And I was like, oh, here’s how much of a scumbag I am. I can go to the great lengths of developing this beautiful neon work and edition of five, but I can’t fix my fucking car. You know what I mean? Like it was like, oh my gosh, what does that say about like, wow, we just are like, what is happening? But I also was like, that’s hilarious, hilarious. The indulgence in that moment, if I’m being honest, was like, in some ways celebrating our own like ridiculous decrepit misdirection of resources. But also just like, those are the choices you’re forced to make when you’re having this light. I don’t know. I mean, in fairness we tried to fix the car. The engine light never went off. It was like, something was like terminally wrong. Like we just threw, we basically just spilled the car for like a hundred dollars. It was like basically it was at the end of its thing, you know? Right. I also think that there was like this moment, I’m always a little bit relishing the moment when like, whatever the perceived glamor of this art life is, it’s like, you know, here you go. You know what I mean? It’s like, I don’t care what you think this life is. And let me like, just gimme a little taste. So yeah. Yeah. I mean, it was like trying to, it was self-deprecating, it was also like processing this like shame and trying to digest the trauma and turn it into something else.
LPZ: Right. And again, that those can have different kind of pathways for understanding for every different person right? Like how that experience is digested and can differ for all of us. So, I mean, you did a piece I think in 2019 was the first time you showed it called HURTS WORSE where you were recreating these feeling chart smiley faces. I don’t know what you call those. And I think similarly, you know, we’re talking about how experience is so subjective, but like tries to be universal or something. And I think these feeling charts do a really similar thing where it’s like presenting a patient with options that are supposed to just be universal for everybody, but how to measure pain is so arbitrary. I feel like that there’s a connection there in a way.
ARH: Yeah, there’s a total connection to the check engine light in terms of it being like a metric of like disrepair, right? Like, so, right. Yeah. So those are called universal pain scales. And they were invented in like the early eighties by a pair of nurses who basically devised them to help pre-verbal children or anyone with any issue of ability to communicate the sensation of pain, which of course is an abstraction. So it’s basically facial ideograms that go from 0 to 10. And the idea is it gives some kind of like idea of a metric that, you know, you can describe your pain, but even with verbal description, like even if you have verbal description, like the wildly subjective, like ways in which we would describe it, right, gives us this kind of structure. So, you know, that was what those were devised for. And then there are many, many different versions after that, that popped up in medical environments and were different illustrative, stylistic versions throughout the years. And of course they precursor the emoji too, which is a whole of the same thing. But most of the mythmaking of like how an artwork for me happens is like, I just saw something and it’s just an observation. So, you know, I was just spending a lot of time in medical facilities with my family and I kept seeing different versions of this thing and I thought, oh, that’s really interesting. So I had this interest in that scale because I mean, it’s like the perfect object to talk about the intersection between the personal and the more collective.
ARH: And specifically I became interested in them because of the fact that they are an ideogram of the face that there’s like this kind of slippery subject object question, like, because the person who is supposed to be looking at the face is the person in pain to pick, you know, which one sort of meets basically is meant to feel like a mirror, like which one is the closest mirror, but then it’s also for a third party to like, you know, then interpret and da, da, da. So I was like, thinking, oh, there’s something in there. I mean, there was like multiple interests collapsing on one, but there’s something in there that is interesting in relation to, uh, the way an artwork kind of works, you know, in terms of like, it it’s directional, like what is the arts’ job? Is it meant to reflect our anxieties, you know, like the viewer? Or is it expressing some thing of my anxiety. So anyway, there are a number of different things. Part of why I was into with them is the failure of that metric system. Like that pain is an abstraction. And it had all these kind of implications. So basically for that series, which I made a few after that and HURTS WORSE worst is like one of the verbal descriptions that came along with those scales, the scales have many different verbal descriptions, hurts worse being the end of the scale, the most painful. So that’s why that title. But I just took 12 of those from the far end. So just to give you an indication, like searching and finding different versions of that, this is where Erik and I, and our ephemera taking up and all of mine were like JPEGs.
ARH: So, um, when they’re so not paper material really, you know, like just digital stuff. And then I just translated them into these textile pieces. And so the textiles are large scale, they’re like 52 inches, which is just the limits of a bolt of fabric really. And I just made them as translated into these like very tactile, haptic textile pieces and that was really kind of about pulling, you know, some graphic information into like corporeal form, but also something really anxious. So they’re sewn together.
LPZ: There’s like a lot of loose strings
ARH: Yeah, exaggerated. And I also was like, intentionally kind of like theatrically de-skilling cause I, you know, can tailor. And so I was like, okay, I’m like letting these be shitty to sort of give this heightened sense of anxiety. And that was happening kind of like right as the Trump administration was kind of like exerting itself. The beginning of that series started like in 2017 or something. And then I showed them in 2018 and 19. So, I mean, there’s a lot of different things in there. Like I think that they were meant to feel kind of like tragedy masks which is a motif I’ve used a long time, like separated from the other half, together as a group, they kind of were doing something sonic, like screaming all at the same time. So it was like this thing that was like, okay, this thing that’s supposed to encompass something incredibly personal and then something that’s supposed to be a totally democratic.But yeah. Farcical kind of idea of democratizing this incredibly internal subjective experience.
EF: But also there’s, and there’s a dead pen of like the, the sort of negation of like, like the idea of a scale, demonstrating something. And then it’s the all like the worst possible.
ARH: Right, you don’t have an option to go to zero at all like, we’re just at 10 everybody.
LPZ: We’re at 10. Well also I was thinking about it, like as a chorus too. it’s like this chorus of like hurts worse people, you know? And so it’s this kind of collectivity that’s sort of suggested, but again, like I think that back and forth between you subjective and kind of universal as we’re talking about is like really interesting way to think about that. Like how do you show something that is like a proposed collective experience?
ARH: Right. And also, how do you, you mean like the far of trying to devise something that is like able to be like a truly yeah. Like, I mean, again, going back to that universality kind of, uh, fiction or whatever, but yeah. Yeah. And, and they were also kind of like feeling like they themselves were kind of like under pressure, you know, like sort of felt like they were about to fall apart or barely holding together or, you know, like it was just like, it was like kind of like taking that suggestion to this like extreme,
EF: You know, like a material interpretation of that. Yeah.
ARH: Right. Yeah, exactly. Exactly. So, but yeah, they definitely have like a sonic feeling. I think I even describe them as a chorus in the press release or something because they, you know, they definitely, with their mouths agape had this kind of like sigh thing even though they’re absolutely quiet. So, yeah. Then also just thinking about like our increasingly reductive communication, like I was thinking about how they would kind of be digested through photography and social media and stuff like that. Not that that’s like what they’re about in any way, but that there would be this weird confusion slash misunderstanding of them and people would call them oh, your emoji pieces and something like that.
LPZ: Or comment with an emoji, like matches the face.
ARH: Exactly. And I was like, oh, there’s like this weird doubling of like, trying to respond to those and this other like reductive thing and like yeah, it’ll be weird. So yeah, so, but yeah, that’s like, basically that thing.
LPZ: Yeah. So one thing we talk about is like physicality and material, and I think you just kind of alluded to that, Amanda, with like the materiality of those things. And then I guess just like squaring your own impulse as makers and as physical artists. So like really value craft and making and materiality kind of with this idea of like the archive and this kind of like, you know, sourcing of information.
EF: It definitely comes up for me in conversations with people about my work all the time. There’s like a focus on the idea of craft being at issue. And I mean, I just, anecdotally, I mean, like I went to a school that really valued that it was an indoctrination of sorts, I think a certain point in time. And like, and, you know, once those things get in, I don’t know how they get out. A word that I I’ve come back to a lot and Amanda and I have tossed this word around a lot too, is precision. It’s something that I more and more over time, have realized that precision is really important to me. And I think that that has to do with a certain degree of articulation of things and like that can happen materially through craft and in a way that, you know, is like I’m able to control the language of something through its craft. And so I think that that’s really why it’s important to me. I mean a lot of times I set up this oppositional thing between expression and precision and we talk about this a lot, but I say I’m like, I’m not interested in expression, I’m interested in precision.
LPZ: And then does precision mean it’s like this opposing thing, because to be precise actually means that there’s a lot of like hand work involved but then you’re like hiding that. So you’re almost like covering your tracks, like being so precise that your own hand starts to diminish.
EF: Yeah totally. Well I’m more interested in the idea of somebody interfacing with the thing on its own terms and not thinking about it being like an extension of my ego, I guess, or something. I mean, of course it winds up being that anyway, the idea of like having to interpret an object and try to understand how it came to exist is really interesting to me and always has been. And so I think that that’s probably as much a part of as anything it’s like, you know? I say this a lot too in conversations with students, it’s like, it comes down to like, how do you like to read? You know? And it’s like, for me, if I like to read things that are opaque and that are difficult and usually require a certain degree of like interpretation. And I think that, like for me, craft offers an opportunity to encode an object that way, as opposed to thinking of it as just like a sort of pure kind of expression of my Id or something if that makes sense.
ARH: Yeah. And I think which is a really good lens to think about this, because I think of craft in some ways as being kind of like long form you know, in terms of it’s long hand and maybe that connects to the idea of the hand being visible. I think that, like, for me, I use it in a lot of different ways. Sometimes I use absolute rudiments. Sometimes I use things that I’ve synthesized so intensely that you do not know what you’re looking at. Like Erik said I’m interested in combining those sensations sometimes and asking your apparatus to have to keep shifting. But I think this idea of reading and language is really pertinent to both our work, especially Erik is a gifted writer and thinks very much about kind of like articulation, like an object or a form articulating in this way that is not an inadvertent and there is not, and is not arbitrary.
ARH: And so I think both of us think very surgically about the work that we make even though the outcomes are very visually different. I think we both think very much about like, surgical precision in the sense of like making a gesture that does not lack energy, but is not about just being given access to an energetic gesture. Like that it’s about synthesis. And one of the things we both value is this idea of like, not knowing what you’re looking at and that productive confusion is something that like, I think we both really value and continuously have an appetite to see in the world not just in art. Like just like things that challenge your expectation that not in this like, goofy way.
EF: And things that are like insistent, but like uncooperative.
ARH: Uncooperative is a really interesting sensation and to sort of like not like show its cards easily and to sort of like offer itself slowly, you know, and ask you to work. Like, I used to describe it as a form of generosity to ask someone to like, have to cogitate like a lot to just like right. Kind of like of the work. And so if that is like something that sort of like invites you to be proactive in order to sort of like, feel some sense of engagement, that’s the work. It doesn’t have to be like coming to some conclusion or like, you know?
LPZ: But, and then it’s so interesting to think about like being precise in order to make something that’s like uncooperative, like you said, you know, it’s like precision to make something that’s like not precise and it’s readability, you know, but I do love that idea of like, you’re talking about Amanda, like having this open invitation to a viewer, but, you know, but then where that meets precision on your end as a maker, but then from a readability side of things, like having this kind of, it’s almost like, all right, you’re up, it’s your turn art viewer, like what, what are we doing here? Let’s have a conversation about this thing that was like, made so specifically to be this thing.
ARH: I mean, Erik’s Instagram handle is @drillegible. It’s from a title that he made from a show a bunch of years ago, but that like, in some ways encapsulate that idea in the sense of like, you know, this idea that illegibility or like speaking in terms that need to be decoded to some degree is like a really interesting position in that, like, not that you kind of create this unnecessary kind of like acrobatics, but like sometimes you know, and that can be like a complexity that you build into something that it does require, it means that the decisions are not about arriving at expected outcomes or like obvious conclusions, right. Like that there are, I think for both of us, a lot of subtleties built into the things, or we try, you know, that’s some part of the precision that really rewards somebody who spends time, because I think we’re both asking people to pay attention, you know, really closely as a way to move through the world if I may. But I do think that is something we share, like, you know, asking for an elevating, the kind of like job of the viewer too, is part of the work, right. Like that it’s not just like, okay, this transactional kind of thing where it’s like, okay, I did my job. You did like, it’s like asking more engagement than that.
EF: For me, I think the richness of the experience of an artwork usually has to do with its invitation or its like generosity through its materiality to an open-ended question basically. And so like this idea that it’s offering you something that’s generous, but then it’s insisting on a degree of decoding or deciphering in the experience of reading it.
ARH: And I think you can make something of conviction that is absolutely like communicating without it like giving all of its terms up in just like the experience, right? Like a slow thing, like you were saying earlier, or like that kind of attaches itself, you know, to other associations that we have all the time, it kind of like sticks with us or, you know, becomes like some kind of footnote to these things that we encounter and time releases themselves to you, you know?
LPZ: Yeah. And then I think too, just like the idea of again, encouraging, like being really precise about encouraging kind of like a non understanding or just a non-legible or non-clear understanding, there’s something we were talking about earlier just with hierarchies and like systems of power and understanding and like in a way I think this kind of goes full circle to that conversation too, in terms of suggesting something that’s like more open ended. Like it’s not this topdown, like here’s the answer, I’m the maker, this is what it should be, but it’s like more of a provocation that invites multiplicity.
EF: And respecting a viewer enough to leave the task of interpretation up to them.
LPZ: And that like, that’s okay, you know?
ARH: Yeah, yeah, totally, totally. And I think too, going back to the idea of craft too, I mean, another part of that I guess, is like this idea that like an interesting craft and we both went to schools that kind of like had, you know, programs that valued craft: Art Institute, MICA. But that also generated like an intellectual curiosity into a reality how things are made. Not just how things are made, but how things exist. So all the questions that we kind of were touching on earlier about objecthood and materials and, you know, time enacting themselves on materials and, and you know, all those things like, so the craft element was not just about like a well made object, but also a way to see other objects with precision and with close attention to form and reading the contexts and the conditions in which objects come to the world and where they’ve been and all the things, you know, it’s like a craft, I think of craft.
ARH: It’s not just being a tool, but also like a way to respect material reality. It fosters this way of moving through the world and closely being attentive to all this stuff. Right? Like it’s a respectful kind of like ceremony for objecthood. So then it thereby extends to the other things that you encounter in the world that you have not made and what other people have made. I mean, for some it’s an outcome and a tool, you know? For some people it’s crafted the purposes of that and da, da, da. But I think for us, it’s also like a church, it’s like devotional. It’s totally like ritual devotional. It’s reverence. It’s a worldview.
LPZ: The Carla podcast is produced by Contemporary Art Review Los Angeles and me Lindsay Preston Zappas with production assistance from PJ Shahamat. Joel P West composed our theme music.The podcast is available on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher, or wherever you get your podcast. We also archive and post every episode, along with transcripts on our website at contemporaryartreview.la. So it’s been a, a full year y’all since we’ve printed our quarterly magazine. We switched to a digital format due to the pandemic last Spring, but big announcement: we are going back to print in May. I’m so excited to get another print issue out in the world. So you can pick up the magazine for free at about a hundred galleries around Los Angeles, or you can order a subscription and we’ll ship it straight to you. So you can head to shop dot contemporary art review dot la. And as a podcast listener, use the offer code podcast to get free shipping on a one year Carla subscription. Don’t forget to follow us on Instagram. We’ll keep you up to date on everything Carla and the launch of the new magazine issue. And finally, if you’re a regular listener, give us that review. We wanna keep doing this. We want others to keep finding this, give us a review on iTunes to help others find this podcast. Thank you so much for listening and we’ll catch you next time.
Amanda Ross-Ho holds a BFA from the School of the Art institute of Chicago and an MFA from the University of Southern California. She has exhibited widely, both nationally and internationally. Solo exhibitions include Cherry and Martin, Los Angeles, Hoet Bekaert, Belgium,The Pomona Museum of Art, Mitchell-Innes and Nash New York, The Visual Arts Center, Austin, TX, Shane Campbell Gallery, Chicago, The Museum of Contemporary Art Los Angeles, Vleeshal Center for Contemporary Art, Middelburg, Netherlands, the Bonner Kunstverein, Bonn, Germany, Tramway, Glasgow, Scotland, The Approach, London, Praz-Delavallade, Paris, and Mary Mary, Glasgow, and Kunsthall Stavanger, Norway. Group exhibitions include Artists Space, New York, The Henry Art Gallery, Seattle, The Orange County Museum of Art, The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, The Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco, The Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, The Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, The New Museum, New York, and The Museum of Modern Art, New York. She was included in the 2008 Whitney Biennial, and the 33rd Ljubljana Biennial of Graphic Arts, curated by Slavs and Tatars. She has presented commissioned public works at The Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, City Hall Park, New York City, the Parcours Sector of Art Basel Switzerland, and the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. Ross-Ho’s work has been featured in Artforum, The New York Times, ArtReview, Modern Painters, Art in America, Flash Art, Art + Auction, and Frieze among others. She is Professor of Sculpture at the University of California, Irvine and lives and works in Los Angeles.
Erik Frydenborg was born in 1977 in Miami, Florida. He holds a BFA from MICA in Baltimore, MD, and an MFA from the University of Southern California. Frydenborg has held solo exhibitions at The Pit, Glendale, CA, Andrew Rafacz Gallery, Chicago, IL, Albert Baronian, Brussels, BE, The Suburban, Oak Park, IL, and Cherry and Martin, Los Angeles, CA. Previous group exhibitions include NADA House, New Art Dealers Alliance, Governor’s Island, New York, NY, 100 Sculptures, Anonymous Gallery, Paris, FR, Divided Brain, LAVA Projects, Alhambra, CA, Real Shapes, Dateline, Denver, CO, Skip Tracer, M. LeBlanc, Chicago, IL, Knowledges, Mount Wilson Observatory, Los Angeles, CA, Re-Planetizer, Regina Rex, New York, NY, TRAUMA SAUNA, ASHES/ASHES, Los Angeles, CA, Full House, Shanaynay, Paris, FR, BAD BOYS BAIL BONDS ADOPT A HIGHWAY, Team Gallery, New York, NY, Trains, Night Gallery, Los Angeles, CA, Set Pieces, Cardi Black Box, Milan, IT, and The Stand In (Or A Glass of Milk), Public Fiction, Los Angeles, CA. His current solo exhibition Shear Stress is on view at The Pit through May 1, 2021. Frydenborg’s work has been reviewed in Artforum, FlashArt, and The Los Angeles Times, among other publications. From 2017 through 2019, Frydenborg was a partner in the cooperative artist-run Los Angeles gallery AWHRHWAR. Erik Frydenborg lives and works in Los Angeles.