Nil Contemporary, 221-3182 Through June 30
Armed with a painting degree from Drake University, Laura Fritz moved to Portland six years ago to unleash her creations. In her latest work, Dissections, on view at Nil Contemporary Art, Fritz bridges the gap between art and science. She approaches her sculptures as an impartial biologist or DNA researcher, constructing tightly controlled and detached experiments. The results are finely tuned, minimalist, kinetic sculptures. Each are self-contained environments, reminiscent of petri dishes or ant farms, which reveal surprising discoveries.
The sculpture titled Disposition is made up of wisps of hair lying on a stark white pedestal. This sparse installation seems benign at first, then one observes movement. The hairs writhe and twist slowly. The viewer's impulse is to silently observe and question--What are these hairs doing? Are they mating? Are they thinking? Do they go to the bathroom? Why are some touching, while others lie dead? It is impossible to define. Obviously, there is a whole other world of life, of hair life, that we have only begun to comprehend. But Fritz allows us the opportunity to watch every motion and search for patterns.
The sculpture Alteration stands out from the rest of Fritz's work. Unidentifiable membranes are carefully lined up in rows and columns on strips of plastic. They are aesthetically pleasing as light shines through them, revealing a red vein in the heart of each. One is slightly awestruck by their simple, harmless beauty. Upon close examination, one also notices a little tail making motions. It seems unbelievable, but it's true--the form IS moving! It wasn't a hallucination brought on by last night's drinking binge. The little creatures slowly rock and entice viewers with their jellyfish-like fingers. One feels the inextricable urge to reach out and smush one of them.
Transmutation consists of small, clear plastic trays lined methodically in rows to make a larger square. Each is filled with soil and water. Inside these little organic worlds, small, white, tadpole-like creatures writhe, burrow, swim, and twitch. The piece conjures up childhood memories of catching frogs in the creek and watching ants march in their parades.
This is the world where Fritz puts us. We are forced to become an innocent, impartial observer. She creates controlled microcosms in which we can only try to figure out what is taking place. The sculptures are presented without frills, resembling the cool, sterile environment of the laboratory. Viewers are forced to guess, to search for patterns, to try and relate them to something familiar. This connection is never fully realized as one recognizes that these things are not anything. Each sculpture has very few elements because they are reduced to living biology, contained in a sterile environment.
This becomes an interesting dichotomy between nature and its man-made counterpart. Fritz explains, "I have always been interested in systems of natural occurrences and the common human need to control them." Fritz wants us to question what lies beneath our observations. She wants us to pay attention to how we attempt to control a situation without understanding it. We define our scientific systems based on reoccurring patterns before adopting it as law.
In her work, the viewer only sees the tip of the iceberg, as one can hear all sorts of motors and mysterious interworkings humming away. She is giving us a brief glimpse into a complex world, where the biological is contained by the geometric. There exists an unseen chain of events and reactions. We see organisms in a controlled environment and can only imagine what they are or what relationships they have with each other.