Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Art Space Talk: Michelle Fried

I was introduced to the art of Michelle Fried while visiting the New Insight exhibit at Art Chicago. New Insight is an exhibition featuring graduate work from the top art schools. Michelle showed some of her recent video work during the exhibit. Michelle has stated that her most recent works start from the confabulation of memory and autobiography. I contacted Michelle and she agreed to discuss her work with me. Michelle is currently finishing her studies at Carnegie Mellon University.

Stomach Trouble-- Video Still, 2008

Brian Sherwin: Michelle, I observed your work at the New Insight exhibit at Art Chicago this year. For those who don't know, New Insight is an exhibition of artwork by promising young contemporary artists. The exhibit was curated by Susanne Ghez, Director of the Renaissance Society at the University of Chicago and coordinated by Sarah Krepp, artist and professor at UIUC. Can you tell us about your experience at New Insight?

Michelle Fried: It was my first time feeling A-listed so I had some mixed feelings: alienated about the commercial hustle, astounded at the type of money that goes into such events, and awkward about having slipped through a crack and into an Art Fair. Of course, it was a tremendous honor, so I got shy about it too.
The other graduate students made impressive work; not to mention, I think it's a fabulous idea to get 24 graduate students from the top schools in the country into one show. It gives the opportunity to survey the mystique of MFA programs. But overall, I was very excited about some of the artwork I saw in the larger show, NEXT.
Thousands of works of art were arranged in a football field-sized room and most of it was fun to look at; it seemed very young and fresh. I think I spent 2 days perusing the sights of NEXT. And when I say "sights," it was a great people-watching venue as well.
Stomach Trouble-- Video Still, 2008

BS: Michelle, you are currently finishing your studies at Carnegie Mellon University. Can you tell our readers about your experience at Carnegie Mellon? Have you had any influential instructors? What is the program like? Do you have any advice for students who are considering the school?

MF: CMU's MFA program is interdisciplinary and loosely regimented so you can basically make whatever you want. I came in with single channel video, made sculpture and performance somewhere in the middle, and ended up back into single channel video. This kind of experimentation was challenging, expanded my practice and allowed me to grow in impossible ways.
Also, there are only 18 MFA students at any given time at the School of Art, so you can solicit endless amounts of attention from the 20 or so faculty members and visiting artists. Additionally, CMU is a university and not an art school. It's renowned for its computer science and engineering programs, so you have an environment that is filled with a diverse demographic with varying interests. The School of Art is constantly bridging relationships to other departments and it's pleasant to be part of a school that is constantly checking itself with its larger, non-art context.
Finally, I got lucky and got a huge private studio space; it even has a utility sink! As for advice, for incoming students: First of all, work your ass off. With that said, if you really want to do something, do it. You're allowed to fail and if you don't figure it out your first year, you have another year and a half. Just don't drop the ball on your thesis project; you'll stick out like a sore thumb because there are only 5 other people with you in a huge gallery.

Stomach Trouble-- Video Still, 2008

BS: Michelle, tell us about your work. Perhaps you could discuss your process? Give us some insight into the thoughts behind your work...

MF: My most recent works start from the confabulation of memory and autobiography. These stories are simple, but I fracture and twist them to create farcical mise-en-scenes of child-like adult characters finding their way through a world that rejects them. Creating characters is major impetus for teasing out a narrative piece. They are built with faults – naive, id-driven, charlatanistic, vulnerable, ugly, and generally unresolved.
Usually, a character is challenged with a problem and, because of their limited mental resources, they end up in chaotic situations with little resolution. However, the protagonists usually possess a superhuman capability – i.e, willfully splitting her personality, conversing with inanimate objects, or being able to crawl into her own body. Additionally, creating sets, costumes, props; writing scripts, learning special effects make-up; directing actors and editing video are all involved in the immense production of creating a narrative video. I've never sourced out specialists in any field, so my process involves a lot of self-taught technique. It's more fun this way though.

Stomach Trouble-- Video Still, 2008

BS: Would you like to select one of your pieces and tell us about it?

MF: Sure, I can talk about my most recent production, "Stomach Trouble." It's about a character named Michelle who is suffering from a severe stomachache and ends up getting gastric bypass surgery.

Story Line (quick and crude): Michelle wakes up in the middle of the night with a stomachache. She calls her doctors, but he cannot see her for another week. Michelle is convinced she will be dead by then. As a desperate measure, she riffles through her phone book and finds Dr. Derk Wolmuth who performs "stomach detachment and rerouting surgery." Her stomach urges her that this is a bad idea: "I think that means taking most of me out," he says; however, Michelle persuaded by Dr. Wolmuth.
The next day, Michelle and Dr. Wolmuth are in his office watching a crude instructional video on the radical procedure. She passes out from the pain, falls from her chair and lands on the ground. Dr. Wolmuth exits the scene and a cockroach runs up to her face and pleads that she run away. As the cockroach exits the scene, Michelle slips into a semi-conscious dream state and her stomach is sitting at a dining room table. She is serving him cake that resembles a cockroach.
When her stomach asks, "Is this the end?" Michelle consoles him: "Don't worry Stomach. It's for the best. For both of us." She feeds him a spoonful of cake.
The viewer travels with the cake down the stomach's esophagus and inside the stomach's stomach, a band plays a song called "Run for Joy." Meanwhile, Michelle is on the operation table. Dr. Wolmuth is cutting open her abdomen. As the flesh is pulled away from the incision, we see the stomach's face and he pleads with Dr. Wolmuth. Michelle wakes up, looks down, screams and passes out. "Michelle! Help me!" the stomach says.
Michelle slips into another dream where she is traveling through her esophagus and into her own stomach. After wandering in the wet, wrinkly lumen of the stomach, she comes across a giant pustule that spits out bloody puss. "I think I found something! Stomach I think I found the problem," Michelle yells to the stomach as she is sprayed with a load of puss. She digs into the pustule. She pulls out a tiny television set, similar to the one in Dr. Wolmuth's office and turns on the dial.
In the television, is a scene back in to operation room with Dr. Wolmuth. The stomach is on the table being cut in two by an electrical turkey knife. Dr. Wolmuth looks at Michelle through the television set and says, "It's too late. I've solved your problem. Now you can go on with your life… Oh, and I was wondering… Maybe you'd like to have dinner sometime?" Michelle wakes up in her bed, where she started. Sweaty and pale, she lifts up her shirt to find two incisions.
Stomach Trouble-- Video Still, 2008

BS: Can you go into detail about your influences? Are you influenced by any specific artists?

MF: It's difficult for me to pin down my major influences, as I have been taking inspiration from so many different realms of life and popular culture for so long. The range varies from animals to cults, Judy Blume novels to low budget independent films and performance based musical groups; countless movies and people I meet; bodily functions and teenagers. As for artists, I have much appreciation for Jesper Just, Franz West, Paul McCartney, John Bock, Pipilotti Rist, Orlan, Tony Oursler, and Bjorn Melhus.

BS: What are you working on at this time?

MF: I just finished "Stomach Trouble" in March, so usually I spend some time closing loose ends on projects, editing and finding venues. Simultaneously, I start brainstorming on new projects. I love this phase of the art-making process because this is the time I take to draw, think and write about ideas. It's where the process is truly creative and not burdened by busy work, keeping schedules, and fighting with technology.

Stomach Trouble-- Video Still, 2008

BS: Finally, is there anything else you would like to say about your art?

MF: Yeah, it's lots of fun. Thanks for reading ya'll!
You can learn more about Michelle Fried by visiting her website-- www.michellefried.com. You can read more of my interviews by visiting the following page-- www.myartspace.com/interviews.
Take care, Stay true,

Brian Sherwin


One Cold Hand said...

This is great - love the blog.

Unknown said...

This interview gives a great slice of the life of a contemporary artist with more creative ideas than the time to make them all happen!
I enjoyed reading this very much. Go Michelle!