Up in the Air
When I look back in my calendar, I see that Tom Friedman and I first met on November 15, 2005 to start discussing plans for an exhibition at Magasin III. In the years that followed, we decided that he would make a new, larger work in connection with a solo exhibition. Tom came to Stockholm in the fall of 2008 so we could develop our discussions into more concrete exhibition plans. He walked surprisingly quickly through the galleries on our upper floor without showing much interest. But when we entered the ground floor gallery, a room measuring almost 400 square meters with five-meter ceilings, his eyes glowed with excitement. This is what he had been waiting for—it was the perfect site for the new work he wanted to create.
In March 2009, I visited Tom’s studio in Easthampton, Massachusetts in order to discuss the new work and refine the exhibition plans. Tom has a large studio in an old industrial building where he works with a small team of assistants. During my days in the studio we spent time with several works that were later included in the exhibition, such as Green Demon and Monster Collage, as well as Hollow Man Offering Nothing To No One, which is now a part of the Magasin III collection. Later, we discussed at length the new work that Tom had started working on by that time.
When we talked about Up in the Air, Tom described it as a work in which the viewer moves through a room filled with a countless number of objects, attention skipping from one object to the next. He explained that he had been thinking a lot about “open systems” and methods for broadening our way of seeing. A myriad of diverse items without obvious connections to each other would hang in various formations in the room. Certain objects would be instantly identifiable and one would mentally list them, like “baseball bat,” “black hat,” and “speech bubble,” while it would be more difficult to assign simple labels to other objects. During the process, Tom also explained how important it was to him that the work include objects that transgressed political correctness and self-censorship. Consequently, the work includes items that demand that we take note of our own personal views on ethics, morality, and what it means to be human. Tom’s hope is that Up in the Air creates a place for us, as viewers, to slow down: a space in which to discover thoughts we have not experienced before.
Up in the Air took approximately one year to create. The completed work has about 800 parts, all of which are fabricated in Tom’s studio. Tom came to Stockholm with two assistants in February 2010 and over the course of three weeks, we installed the new work and 23 of his previous works together with our technicians and assistants. It was amazing to be present while Tom placed the hundreds of parts that comprise Up in the Air in the room, as if he was composing a three-dimensional musical score.
Richard Julin, June 2014