Mason Professor’s Art Presents Many Layers of Meaning

Posted: March 11, 2009 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By Catherine Ferraro

For more than 30 years, Helen Frederick, professor in the Department of Art and Visual Technology, has been exploring the power of images and their relationship to her identity, as well as society’s identity.

Helen Frederick and students
Helen Frederick shows students a print during the College of Visual and Performing Arts’ recent Making Connections Marathon.
Photo by Evan Cantwell

Her one-person show at the Washington Printmakers Gallery in January, “Indefinite States of Emergency,” attempted to show that people are products of their environments and have deeply rooted beliefs. To overcome these biases, people need to see beyond them and free themselves from the usual way they interpret things.

In particular, Frederick believes that individuals are bombarded with images from the media and are, therefore, never free from processing messages and information. Sometimes we are capable of sorting out these messages, but other times they influence our way of thinking.

Boots and Bomb I
Boots and Bomb I
Image courtesy of Helen Frederick

Evolution I
Evolution I
Image courtesy of Helen Frederick

“Everyone looks at the world with a certain bias depending on factors such as social and cultural experiences, political affiliation, gender and religion, and we all experience anxiety in different ways,” says Frederick. “The images in the exhibition are intended to show these differences, but also show how they fit together.”

Frederick developed the idea for the exhibition more than a year ago. She was strongly influenced by “The Way of the World: A Story of Truth and Hope in an Age of Extremism” by Ron Suskind. The book posits that America relinquished the moral leadership it needs to fight the real threat of this era: a nuclear weapon in the hands of terrorists.

Wanting to create a series of works that explore personal and universal trauma, Frederick combined digital media with the printmaking process. The images reflect the sacredness of what we are given on earth, and ways these things are threatened, she says.

The images include atomic explosions, natural disasters and a pair of a deceased soldier’s boots. There are also images that reflect hope: a frog’s metamorphosis, a smiling Buddha and candles sitting peacefully on welded steel rods.

Layering the images on top of one another brings their meaning together and creates not a message of total despair, but rather a consideration of the possibilities of regeneration after disasters, whether they are man-made or natural, Frederick explains.

“We live in a world of anxiety because we are never really sure about the authenticity of what we are hearing and seeing, and because of the many biases that affect our understanding of others,” says Frederick. “It’s an artist’s job to help make sense of these anxieties and offer enough of a resolution that the individual can fill in the rest.”

As a mentor and guest artist Frederick will exhibit a print titled “Debris” at the Hamiltonian Gallery in Washington, D.C., in May in conjunction with its first fellowship exhibition. She has been invited to be a distinguished artist-in- residence at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, this month in order to create the print and present a lecture at the university.

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