Pete Froslie and Erik Burke
Reno, NV 89501
On the screen of a TV in the front window of the Sierra Arts Gallery, a red paper bird appears to fly in front of the facades of various buildings. Even as the bird’s wings move up and down, it remains centered on the screen while the backgrounds constantly change. The piece, “Still Life” by Erik Burke, is a stop-motion animation that is part of the show Birds of a Desert.
Birds of a Desert is a two-person exhibition that includes the work of Pete Froslie and Burke. The artists, originally from Nevada and now living in different parts of the country, came together for the show, which is comprised of two distinctly separate bodies of work.
“Prior to and during the show, Pete and I have been in a strange state of geographical and mental fluctuation,” says Burke. “I think my portion of the show hints at that, more as a bi-product than a goal.”
This state of fluctuation comes through in all of Burke’s pieces in the show. Whether it is through a collaging of old and new elements, as in the “Assemblage for Bob Goss,” which combines wood and artifacts found in rural Nevada with Burke’s signature paper birds, or through a series of photographs that are almost diary-like, as in “Palm Pilot,” the element of time is evident.
“Palm Pilot” reads as a series of self-portraits in which the artist’s forearm is shown up close and to the left side of the frame. A tattoo of the page of a notebook is visible on Burke’s wrist and, in some of the photos, contains writing on the blue lines. The backgrounds of the images change, showing different people, places and events. Similar to the cleverly named “Still Life,” “Palm Pilot” has an obvious forward motion implied by the changing elements in the images and yet seems to stay rooted in one repeated moment.
“The inspiration for ‘Palm Pilot’ is that our actions are both temporary and permanent with the only difference being our concept of time,” explains Burke.
Froslie’s work also deals with time. However, the concept becomes more complicated and convoluted in his work. Using the image of John Wilkes Booth, who looked uncannily like the artist, Froslie creates a fictional character in place of the well-known historical figure.
“I think of it like gears and pulleys inside of the skin of his image,” says Froslie. “It’s like stealing him and breathing a new, completely different ghost into his body.”
Froslie accomplishes this by creating stories about the character that are told in a variety of ways. Included in the show is a book—the ‘Booth Manual’—that records much of the fictional histories, a video, and various dioramas. One diorama, titled “Booth’s Journey to the Center of the Earth,” invites the viewer to look through a peephole at a scene of Booth in a cave while listening to a repetitive and disjointed narration—at one point about a conversation between Booth and his missing arm.
Froslie’s work, although gruesome at times, is playful and toys with the notion of history as a subjective fiction. The work of both Burke and Froslie, though visually disparate and seemingly unrelated, come together on this point: They both deal with history—histories that are personal and can be rewritten and reinterpreted.
Both artists talk of wishing they had time to really collaborate together on the show but mention that it has sparked interesting conversation.
“We have been able to start a dialogue that I hope continues into the future,” says Froslie. “Much of what we are considering overlaps, and I feel we are in the infancy of an idea better articulated together down the road.”