A Political Rebirth 

Fredrick Holland

WHEN Through 2/16

WHERE Flatfile, 217 N. Carpenter

INFO 312-491-1190

"I couldn't believe the country was being held hostage to a blow job. I was disgusted with the spectacle of self-righteousness I saw," Fredrick Holland says of his renewed interest in politics in the late 90s. At the time he was making abstract cast bronze sculptures obliquely referring to seedpods and fetish objects. "They were selling," he says, "but I wasn't discovering anything. I was starting to feel like I was just making Fred Hollands." Then came 9/11, and everything he was doing seemed superfluous. Within months he was no longer working abstractly--all his art was political.

The best of Holland's 16 antiauthoritarian works at Flatfile, part of a joint show with Dread Scott, raise pointed questions about power and are carefully, cleanly designed. Bill of Rights (Revised) is a large wall-mounted text with ten articles, at least some of which Holland agrees with: "Legislative members shall earn no more than twice the current poverty level," for example. A flap at the bottom is marked "Lift to Reveal Author"--who turns out to be Timothy McVeigh. Holland says that in our rush to execute him, "we never really found out who he was. You kill the man and you kill the investigation." Meet is a photograph showing an opened Torah in Hebrew next to an opened Koran in Arabic, each with a strip of bacon arranged like a bookmark. Playing on headphones is the song "Let's Call the Whole Thing Off," which makes supposed cultural differences seem arbitrary and absurd. Hands Off is a reddish blown-glass model of a uterus with the word Private on it. In 1970, when Holland was 15, his girlfriend got pregnant. Abortion was legal in only a few states, and though friends pitched in to send her to Kansas for one, she feared she was too far along to qualify, so she induced one herself with a metal implement. She hemorrhaged and wound up in the hospital. "This is not a theocracy," Holland says. "I do not like the assault on reproductive freedoms."

Born and raised in West Rogers Park, Holland has always been a bit of a contrarian: he reacted against his early Jewish training because he didn't believe in Old Testament miracles. His first memory of the Art Institute is the time a guard gave him "a really hard look" when he touched a sculpted figure; later Holland intentionally made work to be touched. He opposed the Vietnam war in high school, and he and a friend made a film that "countered the antidrug rhetoric of the time. The authorities were lying--I've never known anyone to have a flashback."

Holland began as a political science major at the University of Illinois at Chicago, then switched to graphic design. "I was attracted to the clean design aesthetic. I moved from having slipcovers at home to looking at Mies's Barcelona chair." In his senior year, while working in Montgomery Ward's advertising department, he switched his focus to fine arts. His early sculptures, heavy timbers hanging by ropes, were meant to convey tension. When he had a job building sets and wore a nail pouch in codpiece position, his interest in tension took on a sexual cast and he began to make objects with nails sticking out of them. After he fell from a second-floor porch he created clay figures missing arms or legs, and because of a childhood fascination with armor he made sculptures about the "projection of power" that included breastplate- and macelike forms.

In the current show, the visual appeal of Holland's work modulates its provocations. The colorful print Flame On shows a grid of more than 100 different flags, set on fire at the bottom. The piece was inspired by congressional debate on banning flag burning and by Terry Riley's liner notes for 1969's A Rainbow in Curved Air describing a utopian vision: "National flags were sewn together into brightly colored circus tents," Riley wrote, "under which politicians were allowed to perform harmless theatrical games." The installation Wage Slave includes a gateway with metalwork at the top that reads "slave wage slave." The design is copied from the entrance to Auschwitz, which read arbeit macht frei ("Work makes you free"). A large social security card in the center has been issued to "Noah Hope," underscoring the point that the current social security system is also a lie. "If you're going to fuck with somebody," Holland says, "don't fuck with their sense of hope."

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Meet (detail).

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