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Let X Be

Frederick Clarke

Opening: 16th July 6-9pm

Second opening: 19th July 11am - 3pm


Review in Wallpaper Magazine


HAZARD gallery presents an exhibition of new works by Johannesburg artist, Frederick Clarke. Made during an intense period of work that began in January this year, the works reference multiple influences from deeply esoteric mathematical code to organic, everyday experience.


In this collection of works, titled ‘Let X be’, Clarke brings together a refined, mathematical order and a thrilling chaos. “The challenge and excitement with each work is to harmonize chaos and order into a form that has a remainder of some kind, like a seed to keep the resonance of the composition alive.”


The collection begins with Clarke’s fascination with automatic writing, initially sparked during his 2013 residency in Argentina and on trips into the Amazon.




“Let X be…” is a common yet poignant mathematical phrase, as it begins an equation that exists for the sole purpose of being solved. In many ways it echoes the biblical “Let there be light…” - like a higher power conceiving a puzzle pattern or equation that will generate fractal branches out of itself through intrinsic ‘un-definability’.


This exhibition approaches the phrase from simultaneously philosophical, abstracted, personal and literal angles. Instead of “X” needing finite labeling and solving - perhaps “X” can simply be X; the insoluble and infinite question. It is only humans - the creators of mathematics and all other languages known to us, that have felt the need to define existence at all. There is no other species on Earth driven by such an insatiable desire to question and know the entirety of existence and the enigmatic totality of ourselves. We appear to be continually waking from dormancy, feeling an expanding excitement and terror with the growing realization of our place on the operating table of life. Why we are conscious is a mystery, what we do with our consciousness is a more immediate question - and yet all questions, words, thoughts, actions, time, love and fear - all vortex into the singular enigma of X the unspeakable.


It seems impossible to construct a uniform and total definition for humanity. We are far too diverse and hybrid in our excitements, phobias, obsessions, beliefs, behaviors and expanding nature to be “nut-shelled”. Yet, there are deeper languages that permeate through our beings. These languages exist within the coding of DNA, our cellular heritage. We are designed to intuitively understand vibration through forms of composition and harmony, to respond to existence itself, to experience the art of being - as both creators and witnesses. As much as we are animals processing practical information to survive, there is another side to us, we are capable of transformational magic, through our uniquely human state of awareness and creative expression.


The word “magic” is problematic, as it is more than often linked to illusionary magic, requiring suspended disbelief to fulfill the illusion of magic. Illusion is a trick, and magic is mystery.


This work is a response to these thoughts and perceptions, windows into other spaces, fragmenting and reassembling coding into new forms. If we are supposedly made in God’s image, then computers are made in ours. Manifested technology exists as an interesting blueprint for the inner workings of a human being.


The core focus of “Let X Be” is to reconnect with the “organic” internet of thought channelled through the body, to remember and explore our universally unique biological hardware and software, to stream, download and play the games and programs we are designed to enjoy and evolve, letting X be.


1.) Can you tell me a bit about the relationship between chaos and order in your work?


These two forces are core drivers in my creative process, as well as being universal principles. Order and chaos co-create the dynamics that allow for organic language to expand; in a constant state of flux and adaptation. Like any binary, you can't have one without the other, so it is like a game. Each is an infinite toolkit of possibilities, especially when combined with the other, echoing natural form.

The challenge and excitement with each work is to harmonize chaos and order into a form that has a remainder of some kind, like a seed to keep the resonance of the composition alive.


2.) Where (and when) did this collection of work begin?


This body of work was started at the beginning of the year (2015), six months in the making - all produced at home in Johannesburg. There is one 2013 work titled "Origins", which is included because it is where my interest in automatic writing began, during a residency in Argentina and trips into the Amazon.


3.) Is 'X' your starting point or are you working towards 'X' as the unknown?


It's both and neither. My experience of what I'm feeling X to be is something free of time, or binaries. It is the point between two opposites, a kind of mind-warping speck, un-definable by definition - like the Zen Koan "the sound of one hand clapping".


4.) Your work suggests a hidden system of knowledge, appears to reference ancient codes and esoteric language yet there is also a playfulness and confidence in your mark-making. The effect is that the work is both direct and yet obscure. I instinctively 'get' it and yet the codes and language/s are beyond my comprehension. Can you talk about this exciting duality of perception.


I'm excited by exploring and expressing the formal building blocks of the universe as well as looking into my own psyche and spiritual nature. Phenomena such as the Pi ratio, golden mean, and other natural geometry inform the drawings in a mathematical and symbolic way, while the experience of freestyle drawing provides a counter element of play and chaos. I find expectations hinder my creative process. As much as the symbols and compositions are carefully considered and structured, they are never pre-planned.


Not knowing what comes next keeps the process exciting. Art-making remains a powerful medium of channeling ancient and timeless coding which appears as a kind of free-range language, one we can fluently recognize and individually create, but not fully understand. We are both writers and written. Much of this work is inspired by DNA and the idea of a program that mutates and adapts over time. Perhaps the hieroglyphs and other ancient language emerged in a similar way, from inside out.


Automatic or intuitive creativity is natural to humans. It's a state that allows for a different kind of mark to emerge, similar to musical improvisation - or the sound of nature, as an organic conversation.


A core theme of this exhibition is the process of art-making itself, as an ancient and intuitive human language - where spirit and design combine. Although transcendental, scientific and academic discourse is often experienced as stoic, I feel great humor permeates through all cosmic phenomena. The big bang sometimes feels like the punchline of a cosmic joke.


5.) What are you reading right now? Are there any works of literature that have informed these works?


I've come across several visual and written works that are sources of inspiration for this body of work. I'm steadily reading The Math Book, an illustrated inventory of mathematical concepts for the layman, that I more than often don't understand but enjoy looking at.

Gary Larson's Far Side is another amongst other random references. I find jokes carry mathematical structure, and are inclusive as they require the reader to complete the meaning of the structure through laughter - which could be seen as the answer or remainder of an equation. So lighthearted, rude, bizarre and often single frame "texts" I often find very informative and enjoyable. Indigestible or "bad" work often carries the equivalent vibration of a good joke.


My reading happens less in books and more in life these days. It often feels like each day has a theme or overall lesson, which needs reading of a different kind, through lenses of hind and future sight.


I'm inspired by Japanese aesthetics in general, their marks are fearless and precise. The symbols on a simple sake bottle can be as inspiring as Egyptian hieroglyphs, and other ancient and tribal coding. For someone who doesn't understand the language literally, "foreign" language can become familiar and readable in a different way, visually or phonetically. Even English words often carry deeper meanings when isolated and explored. Two examples that come to mind are "knowledge" and "believe". In "knowledge" there are the words - know, now, no and ledge. In believe there is - lie, eve, and a kind of anagram of "be evil". Reading in this way becomes personalized and abstracted, and yet often reveals a deeper meaning in language.


6.) Your work appears to have been made as some kind of meditative practice. I'm reminded of Zen Buddhist ink paintings. Do you have a system or code that you follow to generate your marks?


In my experience art-making is a space of meditation and discovery. I'm inspired by multiple cultures and disciplines - Zen being one - but don't subscribe to any. In many ways I'm enjoying the freedom of creating my own language, coding and culture through art-making.

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