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Zipora Fried / Flash Art International
As a child, Zipora Fried kept vigil at her sick mother’s bedside, scribbling her way through hundreds of coloring books day after day. Each turned page in this palliative rite became a record of careworn energy, cathected into votive marks. This Penelope-like work of filial devotion foreshadowed the hand-numbing tenacity that can be seen in her mature work: monochromatic graphite drawings reaching almost nine meters in length. Painstakingly made from durative scribbles, each drawing takes Fried three or four months of daily labor to complete. What was once ameliorative for a child is now midwife to conceptual endurance. “I remember my patience with empty spaces as a child” says the New York-based artist, “and now I find myself in front of huge empty spaces on paper, still challenging myself.”

It’s an intense undertaking that even the graphite struggles to support. Dozens of pencils shatter in Fried’s hands during the months it takes to fill the large polygonal outlines that almost completely cover the long, banner-shaped strips of paper. Lines are vigorously accrued hour after patient hour---clouted heaps of plumbago dust carefully swept away---eventually creating a solid mass verging on sculptural volume. Taking the notion of ‘work on paper’ to its literal and categorical limit, the economy of means situates Fried’s work somewhere between drawing, conceptual practice, and performance.

Just being aware of the maddening effort needed to fill each space elicits strangely emotional investment from the viewer—remarkable for work in which there is decidedly ‘little to see’. Yet it’s precisely the exertion involved in creating them that makes the drawings spellbinding. Fried made the transition to what she describes as “this manual gesture and pure statement” after working as a filmmaker in Vienna, with several international awards for short films to her name. Her aim was to impel the viewer to react emotionally to the potential of abstraction. “I wanted to challenge someone to consider monotony, rhythm, and endurance,” she says,” and to contemplate the silent story of these within the shapes.” The imperative seems unavoidable.

As well as contemplating the time inscribed on the vibrant black surfaces, one wonders what thoughts crossed Fried’s mind during the protracted moments that works such as No. 35 plot out? Was the pencil gripped tighter or pushed harder at the hopeful beginning or the exasperated culmination of the year spent on All I thought and forgot, recently exhibited at the Center for Contemporary Non-Objective Art (CCNOA) in Brussels? As with Agnes Martin’s grids, the apparent minimalism belies a hand working meticulously towards and idealized end, yet faltering in a uniquely subjective way. As light hits Fried’s reflective masses of black lead, tonal changes in the seemingly uniform surface become visible; these varying densities, intrinsically linked to the consciousness that traced them, stand as evidence of something laboriously endured in order to be poetically deciphered.

Joao Ribas