Georgie Friedman is a video installation artist whose multi-channel pieces are both contemplative and engaging. Her latest piece,Dark Swell, can be seen as part of the 2010 DeCordova Biennial. We met up for tea and scones at a cafe near her home to talk about clouds, glaciers and geysers.
MN: Can you start at the beginning? What is the origin of your installation work?
GF: Its kind of roundabout. The origin of the work was that before Boston, I lived in New Orleans for about three and a half years. I moved away before Hurricane Katrina hit. After it hit, I still had tons of friends and family down there, and so I went back the year after to see what remained, what people's places were like. I started shooting film, more experimental than narrative, but I started thinking about a hurricane is basically a giant weather form, big clouds. On the flight back I was seeing all these cute little happy clouds out the window and I was like, "They're just clouds, they are purely innocent, they didn't mean to ruin everybody's lives."
So I started thinking about how we are always in these squares, these rectangles in all these rooms, and often so separate from the outside world where time goes on regardless of us and our little lives that we think are so important. So the first installation was the cloud room, which was four video channels of clouds that I just filmed around town, and a little bit from the airplane, and just projected them on all four walls. One version was just on actual walls in a room, so you'd go in and have a shadow, but I also wanted to remove some of the self-consciousness of that so I made the cloth cube and you could enter it and it would be the four channel so you'd be inside of it, but you still have that square, rectangular form to talk about the architecture of the room its always in. That was just what I started.
MN: There are a number of cloud pieces that you made over several years. Did it evolve for you or was it re-making the same thing?
GF: I think each one was kind of different. I started thinking about different versions of the installation where you could just think about the physical relationship of inside to outside. What are these places? There was one where I just projected the clouds on the interior of the glass atrium on the window and it would only appear at night. As the sun went down, the daytime clouds appeared inside but one had to be outside to view it. It was about our physical relationship to those clouds, so that is a very different piece than the others. From there I started thinking about the cyclical nature of the clouds and water and that how Seas and Skies started.
MN: Can you talk about Seas and Skies and the Geyser projects?
GF: Seas and Skies had a long period of figuring out what would be interesting, so for that one I took a lot of footage of skies and water (hence the name) I was thinking of the idea of ripping apart the traditional landscape and then digitally putting it back together. Any footage actually shot in one location, I wouldn't put together. I tried to pick where it would be really obvious where one sky did not match the water; or a bird would fly up and would bust the idea of a horizon line or the water could suddenly become a wave and the whole perspective would shift within the frame. So, the false horizon line would be very obvious. For that one, which I think when its shown as a single channel piece it is really just about the idea of a horizon line and the idea of the shifting perspective in the frame, but then when viewing the installation, there's a couple of ways I've shown it. One was on these big moveable gallery walls, which I angled so that it really added a volume to the pieces and then projected 10 feet high, so at about 5 feet, which would be most of our throat or eye level. The waves would kind of heave so that was pretty interesting because when people would walk in saying they wanted to catch their breath for a second! Then there is a moment and you realize, oh its just video.
MN: When you were talking about your work at Boston College, I was struck by how all your work is in very long forms. You require a lot of patience of your audience to really immerse themselves in the piece so they can get to the point of what it is. And I remember you talked about Geyser and there were more climactic point in that piece. Can you talk about why the long form, why that works for you, what those little moments do for you.
GF: For Geyser, the premise (as I mentioned in that talk) is that our typical relationship to geysers in the tourist sense. You travel to it. As a tourist you go to these sites, you stand around, you wait, it explodes, everybody yells, then everybody leaves. So I wanted to first take that moment and split it in half. When the base finally does explode you don't get the sky explosion, so the sky explosion will randomly just go and you don't have anticipation in which to build up for it like you do with the the bottom part of the piece. The total duration for that video is 18 minutes. There is 4 times where the base goes, and 4 times where the sky goes. There is nothing to literally give you a clue for the sky and at the end of the 18 minutes, they kind of synch up, but it still alternates, like the sky and the base will go at once, but they will alternate kind of like fireworks, and that is kind of like the grand finale.
MN: Does it bother you that a lot of people are not going to put in the kind of time necessary?
GF: As a time-based artist, I know not everyone will put in the time. But sometimes people will accidentally put the time in, they will just sit down and relax, because there is a bench, and then they just realize they watched it. 15 minutes isn't all that long, in real life, just for viewing a piece. We're such a fast-paced society now, that I do want to have these longer durational pieces, but I don't want it to be agonizing, I actually hate art that is long and agonizing. Which is maybe ironic. But I think its about re-centering our observation and our focus, and our attention of thought. I try to have it long enough so that even if they only catch a part of it, they at least get some aspect of the piece. The longer you sit with it, the more you get from it. Which I think is also true for this newer piece that I've done.
MN: Pulling back a minute from individual pieces can you talk about the creative process. How do pieces originate. What comes first? Is it the shooting? Where do the ideas come from and how do they come together.
GF: The chicken and the eggs.
GF: It varies. Sometimes I'm fascinated by a type of element. The clouds or a certain type of water. I traveled to Iceland and I wanted to film some of the small iceberg chunks that are breaking off of the glacier and look at that ice movement. I also wanted to get the geysers, and these glacier waterfalls. So in that case all the shooting and footage came first. Then I think about what would be an interesting way to view this, or experience this. So then I spend a long time, I do a lot of sketching and a lot of drawing in my sketchbook, and then I start making models. I usually do 1 inch to 1 foot models so they are maybe a bit bigger than a traditional model, so I can really get a good scale and then just start seeing it, and from there I'll do projection tests in the models. Sometimes what I've thought is really interesting, like in my notes it'll be "oh I'll do it like this,"and I'll set it all up and it will just totally fall flat. It will be completely boring. I'll just start playing with the projector on the models and sometimes I'll see things right away that are really intriguing. If its intriguing in a 9 inch model, its usually intriguing at 9 feet. So I definitely have that level of testing. From there, I start doing life size, just with scrap materials: sewing and pinning stuff together, and just chunky wood. Again just to test if its really interesting, and also if the physics of the projections will work. After all that, then I finally go to the final material stage.
MN: Do you do your own fabrication?
GF: I've done some in the past, but for the past few of these pieces there is stainless steel sheeting, so I'll either make wooden templates and bring those to the metal smith and have them construct it and so for these last few pieces, I'm bringing templates to other people to have them fabricate it because they will just do it better and quicker than I can.
MN: So, I remember at your talk at BC, Dark Swell was just a sketch at that time. It seems different to me because its more of a form and the other one's were city scape-ish, blocks. The newer pieces have a much more organic shape.
GF: Actually I see this piece as much more of a psychological piece than some of the other ones. In 2006, for about 6 months I was having these stress and panic related dreams that involved tidal waves, tsunami's, boat crashes in the water, airplane crashes into the water, but I just kind of put that aside, it was a personal event and didn't plan on making any art around it. But in the process of these, the dreams came back to me and the psychological aspect of this big form and our powerlessness in our relationship to these giant forces. I wanted something that grew, but also shrunk at the same time. The initial idea was to use the wave form because it has this growth shape with a big side and a small side. In your sketchbook you can do anything you want, so at first I wanted it as long as a subway car for the interior, so there would be a really long passage and really big and then I starting thinking. Can I simplify? Can I just have it be like a tunnel, instead of a wave-form? Then I realized with the tunnel it might be to much like a safe passage. Too much like you are just walking through and with water all around you and I didn't want that safety as much... I wanted this growth to be more apparent. Just coming from the wall, just come down like this so its coming from the wall. But then it wasn't as surrounding, you would only be from one side. So I went back to have the growth and the tunnel. And so its definitely echoing the wave-form, its not a true wave-form because waves are actually more of an eyelet shape when they're closing down around you or as they are crashing. I was also thinking about the sine waves and undulating forms so I was combining a number of things, but the back isn't an echo of the front so the form itself is kind of a complex shape and it twists a little
MN: As your moving through it, it definitely doesn't feel like a tube, kind of evolving as you move through. Now the video that is projected onto that, obviously you were thinking how the two would play off of each other. Did you craft the video for the form?
GF: In this case, I did. If the other one's were the egg and chicken, then this is the chicken and egg. Generally speaking, I look for what form is most interesting for the videos that I shot. In this case it was what video would work best for the form. I took a lot of the water footage that I had from before and I started testing it. I shot a lot of new things also. This was something I had to work through with the lifesize model, when its this big and taking up a whole room and you're inside of it. What is interesting? Because there was some stuff that was just a little too stagnant, and it just wasn't activating. So there were other ones that I just liked how dynamic they were, they are coming at you, just the surface waters, the more light ripples. There are some that are coming at you, there are others that are going away. There are the one's that are the really dynamic waves, and they're going really fast around the piece and going out. So there are some that go around the piece and away at the same time, so there are others that go straight at you, then away from you, and then back and forth.
MN: I was there with a 3 year old child. He felt he was inside a whale.
GF: That is cute. Last time I was in a whale... oh wait.
I also started to choose some of the darker footage I had. Or actually altering the footage so it was darker. So it was just the blues and the darks. I liked that it had a darker, more psychological feel, than just a happy... I definitely wanted to get away from the surfing reference.
MN: Right, yeah. Which was actually going to be one of my questions. It is nice that you addressed that first because it could have gone that way, but I didn't think it did. The 3-year-old's response about being in a whale is actually a dark response to the piece. It is actually kind of a success to get it away from the surfer vibe.
GF: I definitely don't want it read as simply creating a wave. But more... I think I constantly strive to make these experiential pieces, where you walk in and have some sort of a physical action, maybe a little disorientation. Or maybe some kind of psychological reaction, and I also did a lot of stuff with audio, to make it a bit darker of a feel to it.
MN: I saw it at the opening so there was way to many people to hear it.
GF: I actually have 4 speakers up and there is probably only 8, or 16 if you double it, tracks of audio: water, distorted water, I put some kind of lava tones in there that were kind of bubbly and I tried to put in some kind of subtle thunder, for a bit of a rumble. Other kind of drones.... I think, it is the same in that, the longer you sit with it, the more you might notice. If you're just initially walking through oohhing and aahhhing, you won't notice, but it got to the point where I was doing some tests and just having the audio playing, I needed to turn it off after a while, it was just kind of grumbly? Or disturbing... Because I would be in my studio for hours, it would be dark and all sorts of crazy footage and audio.
MN: So, my wrap up question. What is the next project? Where does this go? What is the future?
GF: I don't know for sure. I still have the ice footage from Iceland that I love. And I'm wondering.... Sometimes I feel the footage I'm most attracted to or the content that I'm very attracted to is almost the hardest to work with. Because I want to be sure I do it in an interesting way, and also I have to be sure it doesn't get read as science museum like. So that one is still on the shelf.
"The 2010 DeCordova Biennial" is on view January 23 - April 11, 2010 at the DeCordova.
All images are courtesy of the artist.