Polly Frizzell: Me and My Shadow by Maria Porges

    Polly Frizzell's fabricated images and objects are a series of gestures, both considered and heartfelt, that point towards the transcendence of nothing. Put another way, they take us on a journey to nothing from something. Freestanding sculptures combine found elements with fabricated parts into elegant contraptions that refer to the act of looking, but in reverse: the gaze, as a means for exploring the mysteries of Inner Space. In Watertower, a mysterious shadow dances erratically inside a tiny illuminated chamber. It grows larger and smaller and larger again, the way grief or love might, or the absence of any feeling at all. A doll, set into motion by a computer fan, is the source of this disquieting ballet, but her shadow-self is what we watch.

    In the Airport Security Series, Frizzell experiments with x-rays, using their revelations of inner structure as a compositional device. Originally, she had wanted to make these prints from machines at airport security checkpoints, inspired by some of the random assortments of possessions revealed within the contents of traveler's suitcases. When, in a post-9/11 world, that proved to be impossible, she went to the radiology department of a hospital. There, she composed images of a wide range of objects, including parts of dolls, a cat toy, shoes, a toy gun, pieces of fruit, a purse, and a rubber band ball. She remains fascinated by the way everyone she came into contact with in the radiology department became deeply involved with the prints that resulted from her arrangements of these idiosyncratic objects in the lab.

    The emptiness inside Frizzell's triptychs of glass jars suggests a metaphorical counterpoint or challenge to the overwhelming presence of the phallus in her art-school education (She attended the University of California at Berkeley during the reign of Peter Voulkos.) The jars are stand-ins, not only for the space within the female body but for the body itself. These haunting images imply that the most important things inside our envelope of flesh remain invisible -- even through radiological intervention.

    Frequently, Frizzell reminds us of our culture-wide obsession with something more tangible: money, and its measurement. Images of newspaper stock quotations (a form of reporting that has become almost quaint, in this Internet age) are incorporated into many works. These quotations -- themselves a kind of abstraction of value -- create a background hum, suggesting a relationship between time and money that goes far beyond labor and compensation.

    Sometimes, a shadow falls across one of these pictures, suggesting the presence of something or someone. (The fact that a shadow is the ultimate nothing-- the absence, even, of light -- compels much of Frizzell's current work.) Ironically, the content of the Shadow Paintings comes as much from the rich, layered ground that she creates for each one as from the allusion to some kind of life made by the fleeting grayish image of a bird, a figure, a dog, a jar, that floats above it. Attracted for years to the random accumulation of information on her studio floor, Frizzell developed a way to build up a surface that evoked the same kind of passage of time, by combining various kinds of paint and pieces of cardboard. These rich, complex grounds evoke urban landscape, or even wood-fired clay. The shadow is actually printed on transparent material that literally floats over this ground, creating a slight, ghostly dimensionality.

    Are we here or not? These shadows, both of the real (the x-rayed objects) and the imagined, ask us to think about this question. And if we are, what makes our presence here significant, memorable, lasting, or meaningful? No easy answers are offered here. Like many worthwhile things in life, Frizzell's new work is about the trip, and not the destination.

-- Maria Porges