The Challenge of Navigation: Timothy Frerichs at the Morgan Conservatory
The impact of humans on the planet is a great subject for art audiences these days. That’s not just because it matters, which of course it does in an existential crisis kind-of-way, but also because people know enough and are beginning to care enough to relate to it. They’ve heard on the news, and even seen for themselves how fertilizer run-off from farm country flows down rivers and feeds algal blooms that have in recent summers clouded the entire western basin of Lake Erie in green, making the water un-drinkable. They have had enough experience to share in the anger and alarm over what people, especially since the Industrial Revolution, have done to our surroundings.
Timothy Frerichs has worked in this vein for 25 years, and takes the subject beyond the realm of content: For him, the sustainability of his creative process is a key point. The professor of art at SUNY Fredonia has a new exhibit of mixed technique works on paper–especially handmade paper, pulp painting, and intaglio monoprints–plus found objects and video. Navigation: Lake Erie—Great Lakes is on view by appointment February 12 through March 19.
There’s a lot to take in. In a video, Frerichs says he initially was going to make a documentary video using facts about the Great Lakes Ecosystem. But he didn’t do that, because he found there was simply too much information to deliver. Instead, the video becomes an appreciation of the magnitude, both of the Great Lakes and the challenge human impact presents. He notes, for example, that in the Spring last year, the lake level was at a record high, 37 inches above normal. People living along the shore have certainly been aware of his impact, as the waves gnaw farther and farther into their back yards.
But speaking of too much, there are dozens and dozens of individual works. The intricate and beautifully rendered ink drawings of natural objects could command a show of their own. There’s a large, goose-sized feather, its barbs crumpled in disarray, showing Frerichs’s impressive ability to translate cold observation faithfully into lines of ink, and capture the beauty in the transitions of life.
In fact there are many similar drawings of indigenous and invasive flora, and various remains of fauna, and things left behind by fishermen: a daylily root, a length of rope, floats and bobbers, fish vertebra, parts of flowers, all on paper handmade, using milkweed, hemp, cotton, and algae.
And when there are frames, those works are framed either in recycled wood or driftwood Frerichs found on the beach.
To look at the pieces individually is to see them as quasi precious objects: You go walking on the beach, and you see a snakeskin left behind by molting. This happens all the time, of course, but to find the evidence of the natural process feels lucky. To try to take in the whole is to be overwhelmed.
There are multiple US Army Corps of Engineers maps, mono-printed and pulp painted. Some of these are hung for their own sake; others serve as the substrate for drawing and pulp painting, evoking algal blooms currents, and meteorological phenomena. Some are presented individually, while in other cases maps that separately show sections of Lake Erie are presented together, assembled like pieces of a puzzle to show the whole lake.
Of course the magnitude of the challenge Frerichs takes on with this exhibit was created by millions of people over the course of the last century. No wonder it is a daunting task. But his work goes a long way toward engaging people and impressing upon them the scope of the challenge. Would that we could have mustered such anger 100 years ago
The Morgan Conservatory is emerging from the deep freeze—not just from winter, but from nearly a year-long hiatus on in-person programming, brought about by the COVID crisis and its impact on a hands-on, community access studio. It was almost exactly 1 year ago that CAN brought out its Spring 2020 magazine at the Morgan, and the party drew more than 200 people, packed in around art and refreshments and each other. Those were the days.
In these days of our slow return to “normal life,” you can check out Navigation by making an appointment during the Morgan’s regular business hours. For information, go to morganconservatory.org/lake-erie.