Right: Martha Friedman, Rubbers, 2008, cast rubber, dimensions variable. Left: Martha Friedman, Ladies Room, 2010, silicone rubber and fiberglass reinforced FGR, 9 x 1 1/2 x 1’. Production still.


The Brooklyn-based artist Martha Friedman often examines quotidian objects in her sculptures, manipulating the scale and material of waffles, rubber bands, and nails, for instance, to emphasize the surreal aspects of average and familiar items. This fall, Friedman’s work will be featured in two solo exhibitions: “RUB” opens at the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit on September 10; “RUBBERS” is on view at the DeCordova Museum and Sculpture Park in Lincoln, Massachusetts, from September 18, 2010 to January 9, 2011.

I WAS BORN IN DETROIT. My mother was a doctor and my father was a molecular geneticist. Sometimes I would go to my dad’s lab and sort fruit flies and, because of my mother’s work, I was surrounded by strange imagery of the body sliced up or covered in weird growths. My parents would talk about which diseases were curable, which were inherited, and which were congenital. This was a constant conversation. Early on, I developed a sense that what goes on in your body is controlled by invisible forces––chemicals, genes, microorganisms. There is a whole ecosystem inside of a person that is invisible but that reveals itself in how you live and how you die, or how you receive pain and pleasure.

In general, I am interested in the processes and the materials of sculpture that seem to be in conversation with or make reference to the systems and materials of the body. I make things that might remind the viewer of corporeal forms and various body functions. For example, something as common as a rubber band can look like or at least evoke sensations of fleshiness or some fold of the body. I am always interested in this strange divide between what you know and recognize, and what you don’t. I try to play with that through the objects, materials, and forms I use.

The show in Detroit has two installations that take up one gallery. The first work that you encounter comprises a forest of 108 hand-cast giant rubber bands that are different variations of beige. The ceilings of the space are twenty feet high, so the bands are knotted together to make thirty-six floor-to-ceiling lines and are laid out in a six-by-six grid. They are knotted together in simple looped knots. At the far end of the space there is a large black rubber flap that is screwed into the wall about eight feet up and which slumps down onto the floor. Right in front of it, there is an almost four-foot-long rubber tongue attached to the floor, the tip of which is holding up the edge of the rubber flap. It is sort of probing into and under the black sheet––peeking into this dark and mysterious place.

The tongue was inspired by a conversation I was having with someone about a meal they had had at a Chinese restaurant. They ordered something, and what arrived was this little pile of . . . duck tongues. I thought, who is tasting whom? Who is eating or kissing whom? I began obsessing about the tongue. It is something that lies smack in the middle of the continuum between the body’s inside and outside. It is very much about exploring pleasure and decadence, it pulls the outside in but it is also what you need to talk and communicate with the outside world. It is one of the strongest muscles in the body and yet we see it fleetingly. When it is blown out of scale it takes on a life of its own and can seem like a self-contained living being and a disconnected gnarly meat muscle that is a reminder of what is in our own mouths.

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Martha Friedman discusses her show at the DeCordova Museum and Sculpture Park. (2:59)

— As told to John Arthur Peetz