Martha Friedman: The Organization of Batter at Wallspace
April 10 – May 16, 2009
619 West 27 Street
New York City, 212 594 9478
Martha Friedman’s exhibition “The Organization of Batter”, represents a celebration of, but also an intense meditation on mass produced objects, in this case waffle irons/waffles, rubber bands, and slabs of butter, through the lens of minimalist and modernist sculptural forms. The gridded waffle form, the focus of all but one sculpture in this exhibition, is an anonymous artefact, hardly thought about for any great length of time outside of its practical value as a factory made consumable, that becomes in this exhibition a humorous counterpoint to the universal geometries of minimalist sculpture and the psychological archetypes of modernism. Friedman’s art brings together different concepts of matter, soft and hard, organic and fabricated, and all of the physical sensations and memories we associate with them, and generates contradictions with straightforward gestalts.
The organization of batter, the act of forming a waffle using an amorphous liquid batter and the metal or plastic template stored in the heart of the waffle iron represents a creative act or a controlled act of composition, albeit one done within the confines of domestic life. The waffle grid forms in this exhibition are ambiguous because it is never clear if we are seeing traces of the waffle iron, the machine, or the consumable it produces. Friedman’s focus on a relatively old fashioned food preparation process has a romantic element to it.
Throughout her oeuvre Friedman transforms single units of something into an overall form like a pyramid, a wavy line, or totemic horizontals. Her inclusion of the simulacra or replicas of organic matter we ingest such as cantaloupes, yucca, cucumbers, and eggs, along with human made edibles like bangers (sausages), macaroni, and waffles, and other common objects such as chairs, nails, rubber bands, and rope, add a humanist element to her formalist sculptures. She references objects we are familiar with in our daily life, that we have had tactile experiences with, and that appear within our living spaces.
The odd juxtaposition of these common objects with an abstract formal language gives the work social dimensions and sensual qualities. At the very least they introduce a tactile element to the work that lures the viewer into the experience of the work. The inclusion of these forms also adds a layer of vulnerability in that real food stuffs and organic matter decompose fairly quickly and are not considered as permanent as objects made from industrial materials. But of course her faux food stuffs and organic matter are made from industrial materials.
With this exhibition Friedman is less interested in recreating the surfaces of organic matter as we saw in her previous sculptures that included carefully rendered models of yuccas and cantaloupes and cucumbers. The waffle forms that appear in the marble, paper pulp, and rubber sculptures in this exhibition are either carefully trimmed so that only the outline of the waffle or outline of the interior of the waffle iron is included, as in the Petrified Waffle series, the waffle form is surrounded by a rubbery flat substrate that is trimmed in an asymmetrical way and hung from the wall directly or using a metal rod, as in the Flap series, or the waffle form is reproduced with paper pulp in actual-size and sits in the middle of a rectangular flat slab of paper pulp that is colored the same color as the waffle form in the middle of it, as in the Waffle Paper series. In the Waffle Paper series the isolation of the waffle form transforms it into an emblem or herald, and also suggests a drain. This series forces us to ask the question, “Why do certain shapes and textures become part of our everyday domestic life and others do not?” Like everything Friedman does it provides a valuable lesson in the malleability of reality.
In the series of marble sculptures in this exhibition entitled Petrified Waffle, Friedman uses different colored pieces of marble, which vary in coloration and vein patterning, and places them on formica covered plinths. The formica obviously suggests a kitchen counter, or the environment we commonly associate the waffle making process with, but the art historical associations we have with marble, transforms the whole through odd juxtaposition. If the artist had placed an actual waffle iron on the plinth, offer it up as some strange religious artifact or perhaps luxury item on display in a department store, the series would stand as a sort of ironic testament to consumerism. Instead Friedman creates a carved marble rendition of a mold of a waffle iron interior rendered with the help of a software program. This can be seen as a tribute to the basic skill set required for the manual labor involved in daily domestic life, but we can also see this as the artist’s search for a new vernacular, a new way to make abstract art that uses as a launching pad, traces of the real.
In Column Waffle, 2009 Friedman enlarges and fragments the waffle form, uses the reference point as a launching pad for a material transformation. It is fascinating to see how much an artist can manipulate a referent before it becomes something else. The large white rubber mold of an enlarged waffle grid goes perfectly with the white column it is hung on. So Friedman recontextualizes the manual process of making waffles. A machine made to do one thing only can be used for completely other purposes, and common objects can take on meanings that go beyond their practical value. In Friedman’s world, no values are universal and the naming of things, the rigid associations that exist between mental constructs and real world shapes or patterns or objects, can take on new layers of meaning.