Conrad Freiburg is a Chicago-based artist whose It Is What It Isn’t is currently on display at the Hyde Park Art Center. Recently I spoke with Freiburg about his influences, connections between different art forms, and his ongoing projects.
DG: How did you first get interested in the arts?
CF: I can’t remember a specific time I got interested in the arts. It kinda was just always a part of me.
DG: What would you say are some of your influences?
CF: I am really interested and influenced by two entwined things science and nature. I like the proposition that science is looking for less falseness, and the fact that nature just is. It seems that these things lead me to want to convey specific types of ambiguity. Paradox is natural!
DG: What’s an early memory you have of doing something in the arts?
CF: Eating play-dough!
DG: That’s hilarious. Play-dough…which seems like a natural segueway to my next question–what do you like so much about sculpure?
CF: Sculpture to me seems to always be a multi-faceted exploration. It is super maleable, but always must maintain a practical element.
DG: You just mentioned that sculpture is a multi-faceted exploration, and it also seems to me that your sculptures are suffused with multidisciplinary investigations — into subjects such as mathematics, music, and philosophy. How would you say that sculpture relates to other art forms?
CF: Sculpture is grounded in concreteness unlike literature or music. That of course is not to say that sculpture can’t also operate on linguistic or musical terms.
DG: How did you first get the idea for It Is What It Isn’t? Or would it be more accurate to say it was a series of ideas that accreted organically?
CF: The ideas for It Is What It Isn’t stemmed from the process of making The Slipping Glimpser, for which I had to make all kinds of jigs to make the curved wood for the tracks. These jigs seems as much a part of the sculpture as the finished product, but were not seen in the final installation. This Thing that wasn’t there became the most interesting facet of looking at that object, and activated all kinds of potentialities without pinning them down. As an idea, it began to take hold over all I was making. The objects started to be formed by a thing that was never allowed full presence. These hints become much more compelling than a clear statement.
DG: I’d like to go back to an aspect of your work’s interdisciplinary quality, specifically the connection between music and sculpture. Would you explain some more connections between those two art forms?
CF: Sculpture is like music, just a lot slower. Once an object is made it is on its way to decay, much like a sound being already dead by the time you hear it. Of course sculpture, or more typically, the properties of a space affect the way a sound is heard. Additionally, the way that musical intervals are used for creating expectations and calling forth emotional states over time relates to the way that I interweave ideas through an object’s lifespan.
DG: The harmonograph is a central aspect of “It Is What It Isn’t.” How did you first become interested in the harmonograph, and how did that become a key part of the installation?
CF: The harmonograph seems to be a very tidy crossover object between the various fields of my inquiry. Invented by a scientist named Hugh Blackburn to visualize harmony, it could be used to translate harmonic theory into visual forms. The harmonograph I created for the show was a sort of monumental riff on Blackburn’s original idea. It also related to my human-powered aesthetic. Nothing plugs in, you just see what periodic motion can do, and you need nothing more simple than a couple of pendulae cleverly arranged to do so.
DG: Would you comment on the relationship between precise calculations and the unknown in your work? For instance, it must have taken a lot of time, strategic planning, and care to construct the harmonograph — yet the results of any given harmonograph drawing are unknown until it is completed.
CF: The more precise you get the less of the big picture, until you come to Mandelbrot who is responsible for fractals, or images that are self similar. There is something about living with an object as it is being created that becomes this kind of self similar feedback loop. It provides the means for its own making. This is a mysterious process, but I find the less I use a tape measure the more this object can find its own way. This is not to say that when laying out the territory for this object’s being, I don’t take into account the doorway. It has to fit through or the truck it had to be shipped in; indeed those are where getting a precise measurement in mandatory so that within that space this object can float. My favorite tools are the compass and protractor, you can get most of what you need from them.
DG: Would you comment on the relationship between creation and destruction in your work? For instance, your “Ball Dropper” ends in destruction.
CF: As a maker of big unruly objects I must take into consideration that object’s destruction, or I set myself up for heartbreak. What I make are just things in the world. What is most important it seems is people, not things; it’s just that sometimes people need things to talk about…
“It Is What It Isn’t” will be on display at the Hyde Park Art Center until Sunday, June 26. Freiburg’s new CD “Undecagon” will be released shortly.