Georgie Friedman (b. North Carolina, USA) is a Boston-based interdisciplinary artist whose work investigates a wide range of phenomena including mild to severe atmospheric and oceanic conditions, along with deconstructing perceived geographic boundaries. She utilizes photography, video, sound, installation, engineering and the physics of light, all in order to create new experiences for viewers. Friedman earned her MFA from the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston in conjunction with Tufts University and her BA from UC, Santa Cruz. She is a recipient of the Massachusetts Cultural Council 2013 Artist Fellowship in Sculpture/Installation, and in recent years was named “One of the most exciting new-media artists in the region,” by The Boston Phoenix. Friedman’s work has been exhibited at locations including the Peabody Essex Museum (Salem, MA), the deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum (Lincoln, MA), Carroll & Sons/Anthony Greaney (Boston, MA), the Newport Mill (Newport, NH), and The Armory Center for the Arts (Pasadena, CA).
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I visited Georgie in her studio in late summer, just as she was preparing to ship her piece “Dark Swell” off to an exhibition in Kentucky. After a great show-and-tell of new and recent work, viewing some projection tests on scale models, and having the opportunity to help Georgie take apart the structure for “Dark Swell” (during which I realized the incredible precision required to install the piece), we followed up with the interview below.
AE: Hi Georgie, thanks so much for having me by your studio!
To begin, could you tell us a little about your history and development as an artist? You studied photography and 3D mixed media at UC Santa Cruz, and went on to the very interdisciplinary MFA program at SMFA. I think we can really see all of those influences in the work you make today. Was there a clear moment even before all that when you decided to be an artist?
GF: No, not really. I was always making art, working on creative writing and other creative projects before, during and after college. But, as with most young people, because of our society’s devaluation of artists, I didn’t think it was a “real” or viable option until much later.
AE: Much of your work revolves around natural elements and phenomena such as water, sky, wind, snow, and so forth. In your studio, we talked about your experience living in New Orleans, and how Hurricane Katrina (which happened after you left), had a pretty significant impact on your ideas. Can you talk more about where this conceptual focus originated, and how has it continued to evolve for you?
GF: It’s odd, but if someone had told me 10-15 years ago that I would be making work about natural elements, I don’t think I would have believed them. Previously, I was more interested in implied photographic narratives that transcended the actual moment captured. But Katrina shocked my senses. It didn’t affect me physically: I wasn’t there, I didn’t loose anything, my life wasn’t interrupted or ruined, but it still felt very close to home. I was so scared for all my friends and family who lived there and for the city in general.
So I started to think about the storm, and then all storms (hurricanes, tornados, blizzards, tsunamis, rains that produce massive floods, etc.), and how these storms are simply clouds and water particles and wind mixed with some atmospheric or geological pressures and temperatures. They don’t mean to wreck people’s lives, they are just doing what they do, blowing from here to there, raining havoc on us all. But humans are not innocents in all this. We need to acknowledge how and where our cities have been built, how we have changed or deteriorated the land and air around us, makes us more susceptible.
From these starting points, I began contemplating our general fragility, physically and psychologically, in relation to these immense atmospheric and oceanic phenomena.
In order to directly reference our constructed environment in relation to these emotional and physical elements, I began creating site-specific projections on architecture and sculptural forms, with the goal of creating experiential and contemplative spaces.
AE: I feel really lucky to have had the opportunity to see one of your early pieces, Cloud Room (Version II), a four channel video installation projected upon a cloth cube. This was, I think, one of the first pieces in which you started experimenting with the relationship between your videos and the structure they are projected upon. Like many of your video installations, the viewer can experience the work from both outside, as a sculpture, and from the inside. I still remember how lovely it was to be laying down on my back in this little cloth room, staring at the clouds and sky.
That’s one of the things I really love about your work: you take these things that, in most cases, we have firsthand, everyday experience with, and then you re-present them in such a way that we see, experience, and think about them differently. There are so many things that have to come together in just the right way, in order for this to work. You have the video itself, the sculptural object, the use of projection, the scale of the piece and how the viewer moves through it—how do you control and test out the relationship between all of these components? Would you walk us through the process of making one of these pieces, from idea to installation?
GF: Some pieces start with a concept I want to address or a physical/psychological space I want to create. I’ll sketch different forms or shapes in my sketchbook; drawing variations, changing them, making them 3D, rotating the views until I think I have the concept and form down. Then I’ll make a physical model, usually 1:12 or 1:24 scale, using wire and simulated projection material. Sometimes the model stays true to the sketch, other times I adapt it while working on it. Periodically, I’ll just start playing with the materials and make a model without a predetermined form in mind. After creating a model, I’ll do projection tests on it with video footage. This doesn’t give a true representation, but I can quickly get an idea about what may or may not work. Based on the tests, I’ll shoot more footage, create test tracks and then project them back on the model or on life-size test-materials in my studio. Once I’ve decided on the scale and proportions, I’ll create physical templates or detailed plans in order to have elements of the piece fabricated.
Other times, I’ll start with some of my video footage and I’ll try different projection methods, create various models, or test it on existing interior or exterior architecture to see which presentation method/location is the most visually stimulating and thought provoking. Then I’ll proceed as above, altering what is needed.
Regardless of my knowledge of how projections work on surfaces, or what I think will be interesting, it is not until I see it that I know. Only by making digital mock-ups or physically testing the projections can I see if the footage/space/form activate each other. After I have set the conceptual emphasis of a piece, I rely on my instincts to determine the details. If I have a physical, sensorial or emotional reaction to it, that helps me know others will too.
AE: In 2012, you did two video installations as part of temporary public art commission at the Boston Harbor Islands Pavilion along the Rose Kennedy Greenway. These pieces utilized the structure of the pavilion itself. Was it difficult to work with the pre-existing structure? How did you choose the corresponding videos for the pieces, and were you able to test them out at all? I often find that things that force us to work a little outside of our normal process can really open up new possibilities (and challenges of course). Did this process generate any new ideas for you for future work?
GF: As soon as I saw the structures, I was excited. They are great forms. I immediately responded to their distinctive curved shapes and knew I could do interesting projections that would activate the space. After being granted the commission, I set up a formal site visit with the facilities people. Part of the commission requirements was for the piece to relate to the Boston Harbor Islands, so on site, I tested over 20 different clips of raw footage of fast moving/abstracted water I had filmed from a ferry to see which would be the most interesting on the smaller roof structure. I choose the footage that was the most dynamic and created a new video making a unified, two-channel projection, titled Overhead Current.
For the second, larger roof structure, after testing video footage with varied content, I decided that the layered lightening-like electricity footage I created was the most stimulating. After the test, I filmed more and then created a longer, more complex piece, layering multiple tracks and “choreographing” the multiple electricity streams’ placement and movement within the frame. In creating Electrified Sky, I enjoyed manipulating the digital tracks in a way that varies from my usual methodology.
AE: Across your work, there are huge contrasts in scale and intensity. You have pieces like Dark Swell, a huge video installation with swirling water and pulsating sound that completely surrounds the viewer, as well as your recent Snow Studies, videos that focus on the subtle movement and play of falling snow. In many ways, this contrast reveals the full range of these natural phenomena: wind can be a soft breeze that cools a hot summer day, or a violent force with the potential to destroy lives and communities. Do you seek out particular things to capture, or just try to always have your video camera on hand? Does the footage you collect drive the pieces you make, or are you first sparked with an idea and then set off to find it?
GF: There are some projects that I set out and travel to very specific places to film (like Alaska and Iceland) and other filming that happens by circumstance. For all the footage in Dark Swell, I specifically went and filmed, where as the filming for Snow Study I-III, (2013) was more spontaneous. During one snowstorm, I noticed the snow’s movement, and just started filming. There were moments that were truly magical. Then I filmed all the blizzard and subsequent snowstorms. It evolved into a piece only after I saw the unique differences in the wind patterns and snow movement during each storm.
AE: I would love to also talk about Flight Series, a group of photographs taken from high-altitude balloon flights (90,000 to 100,000 feet above the earth!). For this project, you collaborated with Justin Hamel and Chris Thompson, who engineered the high-altitude balloon flights. How did this project come into being? Do you see yourself doing more collaborative pieces of this nature in the future?
GF: I know Chris Thompson from high school (Portland, OR). A few years ago, he and Justin Hamel began the balloon launches as a hobbyist-engineering endeavor to see if they could successfully launch and retrieve a high altitude balloon. Via social media, I saw some of the images from an early flight and immediately wrote to Chris, proposing collaboration. They were more interested in the science/physics side of the project and of the possible heights achieved (as documented visually by the camera), where I was interested in what the images revealed about the complete lack of human control, the processes of flight and unpredictable occurrences: wind patterns, atmospheric conditions, gravitational pull and the limits of automated photography. Through the partnership, I was able to reframe some elements of the flights that they saw as disappointments (for example, condensation on the lens that obscured the imagery of the first flight), and via my pieces, they found new appreciations for what they had written off as flawed.
I would definitely welcome future collaborations. I enjoy developing ideas and pieces with people who have different processes or motivations.
AE: As an artist working in video, photography, and sculpture, how does your studio function for you? What materials and technology do you use on a regular basis?
GF: In my practice I use both my home office and my studio. I do most of my research and video editing at home (and filming on location), and then I’ll bring rough edits to my studio to test it for scale, viewing experience, single vs multi-channel pieces and for projection tests on models or various materials. I’ll hook my laptop up directly to a projector, so I can make changes in real time as I test various options. I’ll mark the footage and take extensive notes so I can make more precise edits or film more as needed later. As stated earlier, in my studio I’ll build maquettes (with wire, fabric, paper or vellum), make scaled floor plans or exhibition space models, create life-sized tests, prepare plans or templates for the fabrication of the sculptural elements, and build or assemble the actual piece. My structures have stainless steel armatures and 10′ wide projection fabric.
AE: Are there any other pieces or ideas in the works that you want to talk about?
GF: Besides the Snow Study, which is new, there is another project I recently finished but haven’t screened yet, Sky Study, No. 1. It is a long-form observational video triptych with footage from one of the high-altitude balloon flights. The three sections of this piece slowly transition between abstracted views of the sky, creating ever-shifting color field relationships of the sky’s light, colors and gradations. I sequenced the piece by time, so there are many formal and visual surprises that happen randomly through the piece. I really enjoy the fluidity of those visual and conceptual relationships to the uncontrolled nature of the flight.
As far as other projects, as I showed you when we were poking around my studio and hard drive, I have many test ideas, and works-in-progress, but most of them are still in the development stage so I’ll refrain from talking about them until they are closer to fruition.
AE: You have a show up right now at Transylvania University in Lexington, KY. First, does that school actually exist (and why didn’t I know about it when applying to college, because it would look awesome on a CV), and second, tell me more about the exhibition!
GF: Ha! Yes the school does exist and they often refer to themselves by the nickname Transy. It is a small Liberal Arts College that has been around since 1780 when the area was still part of Virginia and governed by Thomas Jefferson. According to their website, the name is Latin for “across the woods,” and comes from the eighteenth-century settlers’ term for the lands west of the Appalachian forests.
The exhibit is in the Morlan Gallery on campus and was curated by the gallery director, Andrea Fisher. It is a two person exhibit titled: Waves & Currents: An Exploration of Sound, Light, and Time and includes my piece Dark Swell and a great piece by the Czech/Canadian artist Lenka Nováková, River, 2005. Fisher writes, “The title Waves & Currents references not only the ocean waves and river currents visually represented in the video installations, but also the media in which the artists are working: sound waves and electrical current.” You can read the full press release here. Also, they did a short video interview with Lenka and me during install that gives a few sneak peaks. The exhibit will be a part of Kentucky’s only Digital Art and Music Festival, Studio 300.
AE: Congrats Georgie, it sounds like a great show. Thanks so much for your time!
GF: Thanks for the studio visit, it was fun!
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For additional information on Georgie Friedman and her work, check out:
Those of you in the Boston area can check out Georgie Friedman’s “Snow Study (excerpt)” (2013) in Art on the Marquee, an ongoing project organized by Boston Cyberarts and the Massachusetts Convention Center Authority that displays commissioned public media art on the new 80-foot-tall multi-screen LED marquee outside the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center in South Boston.
The opening reception is Monday, Oct. 28, 2013, 6-8pm. This round of work will be on display through the winter.
Sneak Preview below!