One Show, One Piece: Chris Fraser, Incline
By Amanda Roscoe Mayo
An in depth look at Chris Fraser's Incline, 2013 on view in San Francisco at Incline Gallery until November 22, 2013
Climbing is something one must become accustomed to when living in the Bay Area. Hills are so steep stairs have been constructed in the sidewalk to aid the process. Incline Gallery, located on Valencia Street in the heart of the Mission, has harnessed this terrain for art-goers. The space itself is a large ramp one may ascend and descend to view artworks and installations similar to a Guggenheim experience on a much smaller scale, and with angles. Currently on view until November 22 is an exhibition entitled SPACE:1999 and features the work of Randy Colosky, Chris Fraser, Sandra Ono, and Dean Smith. This show makes reference to a science fiction program about Earthmen set adrift into space left to experience entirely new laws of nature and the universe. According to the exhibition concept, “Each of the artists involved uses everyday materials in innovative ways to explore and explain the mysterious and beautiful, whether it is the experience of the human body, the properties of light, or the re-imagining of utilitarian materials.” Rather than focusing on this show in its entirety we will go deep into the space Chris Fraser created for the ramp.
Incline (2013) was created by Chris Fraser on the occasion of SPACE: 1999—assigning the name was an obvious choice. There are two ways to enter Incline Gallery, at the street level and at the third level through a building housing offices. Fraser’s piece becomes either the first thing encountered or the last. On the first floor, and the first ramp, a section of the adjacent wall was removed by Fraser exposing the lattice like boards supporting the drywall. The exposed wall is bisected by the second ramp allowing the viewer to simultaneously peer into the storage area of the gallery (hidden beneath the floor of the ramp) and the second ramp itself. This is not the work however. Fraser is interested in the projection of light and the phenomena it creates when manipulated or simply allowed. He has built intensely large camera obscuras which project light so specifically through a slit that the image of the outside world explodes into perfectly straight lines of color. In the case of Incline the slits in the wall are helped with fluorescent lights lining the floorboard on the opposite ramp. The piece, the real piece, is the shadow cast onto the white wall. At first glance it seems to make sense, a shadow that is geometric in nature, but upon further investigation it is clear that the shadows are actually diamond shapes rather than rectangular like their positive counterpart. When something larger obstructs the light, like a person, the shadow morphs into rhombuses. This is the work, the power of light to naturally abstract something the viewer might not perceive to be possible.
Installation perception based work is not unfamiliar to the art world, especially in California. Artists like Robert Irwin, James Turrell, and Doug Wheeler are just a few iconic artists who investigated matters of vision and experience using light and space as mediums. Chris Fraser’s interests in these similar effects stemmed from photography and the knowledge that light projected through space creates an image. The perception shift in Incline is significant because it challenges the philosophy of seeing in the subtlest of ways. There is actually a great deal to look at and consider, like a moth to the flame a guest might investigate the light pouring through the slats or the trees stashed in the storage room, even the shoes of those strolling down the now visible ramp. The work is happening regardless of whether or not the viewer truly encounters it. The shadows are darting across the wall, animated by a life. When the brain recognizes that darkness on the wall does not resemble a person, or even the object it should, something happens and truly there is no going back. The desire to continue to manipulate and try to understand how a human shadow can naturally be cast as perfectly geometric shapes takes over. This is what true perception based work does, it takes over in a way that alters the brain’s understanding. Fraser has this experience as an artist investigating these things, but so few of us do. After encountering a work like Incline it is impossible to forget the capability of a shadow, something we see hundreds of times a day but will now truly see.
Chris Fraser lives and works in Oakland and is represented by Highlight Gallery in San Francisco. He received his MFA from Mills College. Fraser has exhibited widely both in the area, nationally, and internationally. His work is on view in the Venice Biennale in the exhibition Personal Structures at Palazzo Bembo, Venice, Italy and in a touring show originating at Vitra Design Museum, Weil am Rhein, Germany. Upcoming exhibitions in the Bay Area include All Good Things at SOMarts (November 22 – December 21) and a solo show at Highlight Gallery December 5 – January 18.