Mischa Fritsch: Circle of Friends

David Krut Projects, Johannesburg, South Africa
13 Feb 2016 - 02 Apr 2016

Mischa Fritsch: Circle of Friends

Before relocating his workspace to Europe, Fritsch is showing with ‘This Circle of Friends’, an exhibition of old and new works from his studio.

The artist’s studio has evolved over centuries, from the Renaissance bottega, to Warhol’s Factory, to the Koonsian production line. Fritsch’s space fits into the bygone model of the studio as space for contemplation, a meeting place for patrons and other creatives, and the arena in which raw material is transformed into something extraordinary. It is this alchemical process through which the art object is created, that lends the artist’s studio its mythological status within the collective imagination, and Fritsch’s space fits very well to this traditional model. Fritsch is a dedicated collector of resources with which to make sculptures and as a result his studio is a veritable curiosity cabinet – from animal skulls to antique fire-hoses, from space suits to old wooden cobbler’s lasts. A pair of ancient snow shoes picked up on the west coast of America joined with a pair of wooden crutches forms a whimsical dragonfly. A broken canvas is propped up to resemble a figure resting. A rusted bicycle seat and two pieces of curvy scrap metal become an antelope hunting trophy. These are the “friends” to which the title of the show alludes, the material that piles up around Fritsch and suggests its own reincarnation as he works.

Fritsch has spoken of his process as “the mental and visual diffusion of objects or ideas with distinct history and tradition; a filtering of their essence through [his] own history and tradition, followed by a gradual re-assimilation into a different object or idea.” ‘Circle of Friends’ provides an insight into Fritsch’s nostalgic aesthetic and chaotic perfectionism, emphasising his sensitivity to the found object. Art practice in the last fifty years has seen the rise of the “post-studio condition”, with modes such as installation and performance art, relational aesthetics and sitespecific approaches gaining currency. Fritsch has embraced this by creating elaborate site-specific works in remote places such as the Tankwa Karoo, following in the footsteps of Land artists of the mid-twentieth century who began actively to dismiss discussions that centred solely on studio-based practice.

However, unlike the Robert Smithsons and Richard Longs of art history, for whom the action in the landscape itself was the work of art, and the documentation simply a means to access the experience in a second-hand way, Fritsch’s studio remains a site for production. Upon returning to the studio, Fritsch works the documented material from his journeys into highly refined works of art in their own right. The studio also provides storage space for works created on the road that are re-imagined once back in the studio, and the bits and pieces collected along the way.

Also included in ‘Circle of Friends’ is a selection of new etchings produced in collaboration with the David Krut Workshop in Johannesburg – works created in studio, but using methods that hint at the element of chance that plays such a vital role in the work that Fritsch creates out in the wilderness. For instance, finding a copper plate that has been scuffed and marked by months in storage and leaving those “environmental impact” marks as part of the work; or creating complex aquatints by allowing acid to drip from a suspended rubber glove onto a prepared plate – a humorous allusion to the hand of the artist, which these days is often absent in the creation of artwork. ‘Circle of Friends’ provides a refreshing antidote to notions of conceptualism or assembly line production, and a rare window into the environment that has historically been the locus of such allure.