2017: Issue 8: Review: Tom Freeman: Small time: Paper Mountain

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Tom Freeman. Small Time sculptures. Studio documentation. 2016. Photo by the artist.

Tom Freeman’s Small Time, exhibited at Paper Mountain, is a collection of works, accrued over years of making, that are imbued with an infectious generosity toward everyday life and time and the act of making itself. A gentle cacophony of hand sculpted and assembled objects and delicately painted works on paper, most no bigger than an outstretched hand, perch on the railing that runs the length of Paper Mountain’s gallery, on the purpose made tables that run down the centre of the room or on the hand-made shelves or hanging apparatuses on the facing wall. And although it is tempting to read these works, arranged as they are in a linear fashion, as tracing some kind of narrative or evolution, the effect of the whole instead leads me to encounter Small Time as a kind of collected monument to everyday life and time spent making, and to enter the gallery and encounter each one individually is to encounter a pocket of time, small time, everyday time, made material.

Tom Freeman. Vertical line shades. Ink and acrylic on paper. 28x21cm. 2015. Photo by Bo Wong.

Time, as the title of the exhibition suggests, is a key consideration, or perhaps component of this show, and as I move from one work to the next I find a measured progression, and an egalitarian dispersement of attention (time spent), and I think, affection, so that there is a steady ebb, from one work to the next, that speaks of the experience of the ‘time’ of everyday life. According to theorist Rita Felski, the everyday as a term “conveys the fact of repetition” and this repetition is born out of “diurnal rhythms that are in turn embedded within larger cycles of repetition: the weekend, the annual holiday…” so that an essential trait of the everyday is its cyclical nature. For many early theorists of the everyday this cyclical nature was a deadening force, a closed-loop of habitualized time, to be broken free of in the pursuit of progress, time in a linear form. However, Felski suggests: “the passing of time surely cannot be grasped in such rigidly dualistic terms. Thus acts of innovation and creativity are not opposed to, but rather made possible by, the mundane cycles of the quotidian.”

Considering Freeman’s works, arranged as they are, I think of the rhythms of everyday life, and consider that it’s his immersion in the time of everyday life that have brought these things to fruition. By allowing one day spent in the studio to inform another, allowing generative echoes and reverberations (visible in the works) to pass through them, he embraces both the cyclical nature of everyday life and time, and the possibilities it affords. As each day arrives and takes its place alongside the last, and is followed by another, they form a steady and reliable repetition, a comfortable vantage point from which smaller moments and details can be attended to. This is what I understand Freeman’s Small Time to be, or where I imagine it to be found, in the small moments provided by daily time.

Tom Freeman. 2017. Small Time installation view. Image Courtesy of Paper Mountain. Photo: Desmond Tan.

In this way Small Time finds Freeman extending a spirit of generosity and receptivity not only to daily time, but also to the content of everyday life, as well as the act of making. Just as he allows the most rudimentary, craft-like of materials, things like cardboard, diamantes or glitter, to mingle with those we more readily associate with high art, he allows his everyday life to fold into the studio, and find its outlet in the works that subsequently leave it. Life is not put on hold in the face of making, not suspended or left at the door so that an artistic practice might exist, but rather the two coalesce, the moments and pace of everyday life feed into the works, and the works in turn memorialise them, lending them a material form. This form, I believe, is not descriptive so much as intuitive, and is perhaps led as much by an enthusiasm for materials, or the discovery of relationships between them, as it is by a moment, or the look, feel or sound of one, that might have lodged in Freeman’s mind that day. In this way each work; a clay object, a delicate painting or a playful mélange of materials, can be seen as both an embodiment of a lived moment and an expression of the artist’s enthusiasm in translating it materially.

Embodiment is perhaps a fitting idea to conclude with here. So many of the works bear Freeman’s fingerprints, not to the detriment of the finished product, but as evidence of the lived body, of the real life and time poured into them. As I find the shape of his palm replicated in clay, or read the mechanics of a work’s construction, available to the viewer rather than polished into invisibility, I am once more reminded of, or transported to, small moments, pockets of time, that are available in the everyday and have been grasped, attended to and made material, and so visible, by Freeman. As such, Freeman’s Small Time engenders an attitude of attentiveness, and exists as a kind of holistic merging of life and artistic practice that is both a material reflection of Freeman’s own daily life, and a gentle invitation to the viewer to re-attune to their own.

Tom Freeman. 2017. Small Time Installation shot. Image courtesy of Paper Mountain. Photo by Desmond Tan.

Written by Mardi Crocker

Rita Felski, Doing Time : Feminist Theory and Postmodern Culture, 2000, New York University Press