/Somewhere along the continuum between new media and folk art, DENTON FREDRICKSON’s work invites experiential and contemplative interactions with sound, objects, and architectural space. The seductive lure of both old and new wonders, fantastic inventions, and absurd theories are familiar territories for Fredrickson. He investigates their histories and representations in popular culture through media archaeology and the practice of making. His recent interest in the intermingling of traditional, material-based processes with electronics and digital fabrication has led him to explore how speculative fiction can become awkwardly nestled within the psychology of the everyday.
/DENTON FREDRICKSON received his MFA from NSCAD in 2003. His work has been exhibited across Canada, in the US, the Netherlands, France, and Japan. He currently works out of Lethbridge, AB where he is an Assistant Professor (Sculpture and Media Art) in the Art Department at the University of Lethbridge.
DENTON FREDRICKSON – PRAIRIE FOLK AND OTHER SPECULATIVE FICTIONS
If one reads too quickly or too slowly,
one understands nothing.
Paul de Man, ‘Allegories of Reading’
as quoted by Mark Z. Danielewski
while writing as Zampano,
in House of Leaves, 2000
If the well-worn trope “A little knowledge is a dangerous thing” is true, we’re all doomed. Never before has information been so readily available, deliciously reduced and packaged into easily digestible listicles and wikis to satiate our hunger. Data is hurriedly consumed to lie in wait, for convenient regurgitation at the optimal moment: in an online comment thread, during the final round of bar trivia, to bridge an awkward silence. Quick answers can be sought and delivered and forgotten, without protracted introspection or the laborious honing of specialized expertise.
To what outlying territory, then, are mystery, magic, and wonderment relegated in our contemporary habitat? These problematic states expose our fallibility, encourage confusion, and beckon us back into the cobwebby corners that have thwarted the exposure of fluorescent lights. Encounters along this periphery can bring amusement, frustration, fascination, perhaps even joy. Denton Fredrickson works to fabricate such spaces of play, where we are provided enough information to know a little, but not a lot. He considers this a gift to the viewer, an allowance to revel in curiosity as an end in itself. Fredrickson’s artworks are highly conceptualized, sensorially immersive, and dense with information, but veiled by physical and metaphorical layers that translate and transform the original source. The resulting works obscure the methods of their making and obfuscate clear readings, like a beautifully bound, tantalizingly thick book that upon opening, is found to be written in an inscrutable code with absurd doodles scratched into the margins. Maybe the volume embodies infinite, essential data, or it could be a dredged up collection of salty one-liners. In the special case of Fredrickson’s work, it is both.
Fredrickson makes use of digital data collection and fabrication technologies in his creative practice, pairing their outputs with antiquated and obsolete processes from analog ages. The resulting amalgams produce a sense of slippage, where time compresses and old and new operations are mirrored in each other. For Experiments in the Subaudible Landscape (2009), Fredrickson collaborated with John Granzow to create collages around a narrative about a mysterious ventriloquist’s dummy, whose otherworldly voice is the subject of experiments carried out by thieving field scientists. The images were then further mediated by the programmed actions of a CNC machine that carved shallow reliefs into the tops of miniature picnic tables. The content of the original tale becomes secondary to the warm glow of the illuminated images, modelled on the early 19th century lithophane. The illusion produces an optically rich depth, and possibly triggers nostalgia for carving into public property and misspent youth. This paralleling of antique and modern technological cousins is also found in Dreaming in Science Fiction (2009), where the CNC machine mimics the material outputs of a duplicarver's stylus. Rather than doubling the form of a pre-existing object, though, Fredrickson's products, seven formalist, white polygons, are shaped by information extrapolated from his head's measured nocturnal movements after watching B-movies released in the year of his birth. The resulting "pillows" are superficially tied to Fredrickson's dubious data collection strategies - art that he literally could make in his sleep.
The Phonocrystallograph (2013) similarly functions as a hybrid object, straddling the expanse between 19th century quack spiritualism and the spectres haunting us through our computer screens today. The device promises to give the viewer “brief glimpses into séances of the future”, and indeed, if one dons the offered stethoscopes and stares deeply into the projections of flickering candles, ghostly apparitions spontaneously appear. Was that low murmuring sound underneath the tinkling of the glass armonica only an auditory illusion, compounded by the mesmerizing whirring of quartz crystals and amplified by the carved spirit horns? The expressions of the foggy, fleeting faces (crafted from stills of YouTube reaction videos and hand-tinted by the artist) would almost be decipherable, if only a thick coat of centuries-old dust was not enveloping the machine. The conjuring ability of the instrument is suspicious, as is that of our contemporary digital devices. Yet, in both mediations, we are rapt, and the technology holds sway.
Both The Traditional Deadfall Trap (2014) and Napkin Drawing Console (2014) pair humble, boozy shenanigans with canonized high art execution and materials. Traditional Deadfall Trap utilizes an iPhone photo snapped on a late night walk, where imbibing led to an amateur parkour incident with one of Lethbridge's infamous snake-like bike racks. The installation duplicates the ensnared body into marionettes, which are haltingly flailed by the viewer's own movements, demonstrating how the utopian idea of interactive art actually tethers and impedes user participation. The personages of the puppets are Fredrickson's some-time collaborators and combatants, Theo Sims and Collin Zipp. Group-based creation and hierarchical juxtaposition are also the basis for Napkin Drawing Console - Fredrickson amassed over 300 collective bar table doodles by Lethbridge's finest and cast a select few in plaster, then replicated the crumpled napkins in porcelain. Once again, the source material is altered with the noise of multiple translations, so that bawdy scrawling and inside jokes become abstracted, formalized, glittering forms, displayed as a teetering house of cards on a checker-clothed table.
Fredrickson is critical of the portrayal of the digital realm as slick and perfected. He intentionally heightens the static inherent in technological processes, producing objects that hide much of their content, and slyly belie simplistic readings. We are left to muddle through with only the most obvious of clues, and delight in our interactions with these mysterious, captivating objects. In the realm of unknowing, we can travel along the cyclical path of time, and be granted a magical moment to wonder.
/JANE EDMUNDSON (BFA, Art, 2006; MA, Curatorial Studies, 2013 – University of Lethbridge) has worked as a curator and collections technician since 2006. Her research focuses on cultural history relating to museological practices, public spectacle, and changing institutional boundaries between education and amusement. She currently works at the Galt Museum & Archives in Lethbridge.