Much like the activity itself, Stargaze—Atlanta-based artist MaDora Frey’s exhibition at Georgia State’s Ernest G. Welch Galleries—unfolds slowly across the senses. The show’s culminating installation, Sky Mirror Box: Inside, held my attention as refreshed images were projected on the walls. Surrounded by digital skies and the sound of buzzing cicadas echoing through the gallery, I temporarily lost my peripheral vision. Just as the ground beneath you seems to evaporate as you lie on your back, looking upwards at the vast, star-dappled sky, the white walls of the gallery appeared to recede behind Frey’s captivating illusion.
Throughout the exhibition, Frey brings the outside in, both physically and digitally, unloading six tons of granite rocks into the space for Sky Mirror Box: Inside (for which she lists labor as a material). Other works incorporate bones, cedar, and a maiden fern alongside digital projections of the sky and documentation of land works created in situ at Arabia Mountain and Crescent Beach, Florida.
Two of Frey’s sculptures, Untitled 1 (Wander) and Untitled 2 (Quarry Bloom), seem to be prepared for a ritual. I imagine some unknown activator will don the draped mesh cloth like vestments and begin a ceremony before the mirrors and lights, using the propped bones, wood, and metal to orchestrate a prayer. Opposite this work, two monitors show footage of a ritual that has long been eroded or forgotten. Arrangements of rocks, raked sand, and mirrors are evidence of a ritual performed in their making, and this digital documentation is all that remains of it. Throughout the history of Land Art, artists have relied on video and photography to bifurcate the work from its objecthood and, in some cases, prove its very existence. For most viewers, to witness a work of land art is to see only the documentation. Of course, forms of documentation such as video and photography can be fabricated, but the magic lies in believing that the artist did slowly and deliberately create such labor-intensive yet temporary arrangements. It is easy to draw parallels from Frey’s work to that of Land Art’s pioneers, a comparison enhanced by a looping video, Mono Lake, of the legendary Nancy Holt and Robert Smithson on a road trip out West.
At the Welch Galleries, Frey’s Stargaze is paired with A Facsimile of Events, an exhibition which historicizes twentieth-century Land Art, contextualizing the long arc of humans’ adaptive relationship with nature through artmaking. Frey’s integration of digital tech enhances traditional land art’s inescapable ephermality with a multi-sensory approach that elevates the work into a contemporary context. Although I was alone in the gallery due to COVID-19 precautions, I realized that solitude allowed my immersion in this digitized sublime to become—if only for a moment—totally complete.
MaDora Frey: Stargaze is on view at Georgia State University’s Welch School Galleries through November 13.