Arts Visual Art

Instinctive Break

It bobs along with almost sentient grace. Submerged in a tank of cold water, its movements are relaxed, slow and meandering like it was lost in thought, or drifting through a daydream. It’s also a head-shaped clump of hair, that, despite the hum of the motor above it, seems to be moving all on its own, a nightmarish image if ever one existed.

“Some people are disgusted by it, some people can’t stop staring at it, some people have both these feelings,” says its creator, Andrew Frosst, standing beside the tank. “It’s hair, and it’s removed from the human body, so different types of people have different aversions to it.”

Instinctive Break is the most immediately arresting part of the Calgary-based artist’s neo-surrealist exhibition in the AGA’s New Works Gallery, an idea that came to him quite by accident.

“It began as a miscommunication between myself as a friend,” he says. “She was talking to me and I thought she said ‘wig in a tank’ when she said something else completely. But those two words evoked something in my mind, and I started thinking about it, and thinking about animating hair, and it just transported itself into this project.”

Frosst designed its motor himself; it rests high above the tank, but not intentionally hidden from sight—”I’m not into creating just pure illusions,” he explains. Meanwhile, at the other end of the room, a few curious prints  hang beside a book of what appears to be nonsense words.

Which they are, in a way: the garbled lines and non-words that make up both book and print were created from a computer program of Frosst’s design, set to record currently unsearched text combinations—combinations of letters  that have few to no search results. Words that, even in the infinite spread of the Internet, don’t exist.

The book begins with words that had a handful of entries—perhaps shorthand for something, or part of an algorithm used to store some information—but as it goes on, shifting colour as it goes, the terms drifts into what Frosst dubs “anti-language.”

“It began as a game I would play with myself,” he explains, “This group, the Arbour Lake School and I, we used to do this comedy thing, and part of it was creating these absurd PowerPoints. I had to come up with strange images that weren’t in most people’s inventory on the Internet, and I would type in random assortments of letters or numbers, and see what images came up. I started doing that for websites on a regular search, and every now and then I would come up with weird websites or something, but sometimes I would also come up with no results at all. And I started thinking about that, and the idea that the Internet’s our biggest access to everything that’s ever been written, and if a word doesn’t exist there, it’s pretty much like it’s never been written in a book. Maybe it’s in someone’s scrapbook, but it’s never been recorded. So it’s really a word that’s so far removed from language—I mean, I’m using the 26-letter Latin alphabet, so I’m restricting it to languages that use the 26-letter Latin alphabet. However, within that constraint, these words have never existed; you won’t really see any words that are even similar to anything else you would recognize.”

Like Instinctive Break’s hair-motor, Frosst designed the computer algorithm and made the prints and book himself. He hadn’t worked in those mediums before, but, that’s hardly a hurdle today—Internet tutorials aside, Frosst notes there are plenty of groups and niche societies that can help an artist learn a skill.

“This is the first time I’ve done printmaking. Or building frames, or making a book,” he says. “When I have a project in mind, I really just think about what medium will fit it best, and I just think of how can I try and make that work. And if I can learn how to do it, I will.”

Until Sun, Jun 8
Works by Andrew Frosst
Art Gallery of Alberta

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