Thomas Faison: Phase Change Act III finale [opening Friday at Frederick Arts Council pop-up]

All things must come to an end…or does it? One thing’s for sure: my digital recorder has shit the bed. I know this because I’m staring at a screen indicating that a terrific 30 minute interview never actually recorded.

That interview was on Wednesday with Thomas Faison, Frederick’s native son who returned from the hinterland of Baltimore’s wildly creative art scene to see to an innovative installation piece at the Frederick Art Council’s pop up gallery on 11 W. Patrick Street. This is no ordinary installation work – it has evolved over the course of the year. We are about to enter the final act and the last changing of the variables in Faison’s mediation on the phases of water and its broader impact with and within humans, with reference to climate change disasters among the reflections. Lest you think it’s simply environmental activist art, pedantic it’s not. He managed throughout the year this difficult high wire act drawing on powerful emotions with the transformation that water brings, first in it’s destructiveness in Act I (think Ellicott City), then followed by Act II – deliverance in the shape of a boat that carried the weight of loss and the renewal that survivors working collectively brings.

OPENING NIGHT FOR PHASE CHANGE: ACT III is October 11 at 5pm at the Frederick Art Council pop up gallery, 11 W. Patrick St (across from the Weinberg).

Back to the goddamn recorder… I think perhaps it’s now a blessing in disguise. Interviews can reveal a lot, but there’s merit in being able to process a conversation without the literal recording to handcuff oneself to. So here goes. In recollecting the pieces together, it’ll be a re-mix of what we talked about and maybe, just maybe, it’ll interest you further into getting yourself to see this show, before it passes on into faded memory.

Photo: Ashley Hoffman

The discussion began with my fawning over seeing ACT II on opening night, May 10th. I had previously interviewed him for Subversive Zine’s last issue around that time frame. In ACT II, the synchronized looped videos endlessly fascinated me. Therein the mundane task of carrying out steps to phase change water from liquid to steam was given to millennial actors portraying survivors of the flooded urban city in ACT I. Now climate change refugees in the country side, they must adapt and get elemental – namely by finding and burning wood to create boiling water. It was ritualistic, it was hypnotic, and the music added to a boiling point of its own, like a rave reaching it frenetic peak as the videos connected together in its own dance.

Observing this art, you get the sense that this work is brilliantly innovative. So much so that it doesn’t feel like it belongs in Frederick. My spider-sense tells me this is something that will wind up at the Hirshorn in DC…

Opening night for Phase Change: Act II

We talked about the interactivity of the art. Act I people could manipulate the pieces to divert the river that was wreaking havoc in the town. Act II, people could add their own thoughts by typing into an old manual (and on brink of self destructing) typewriter. They could then add it to the proverbial water under the boat. Interestingly, Faison recounted people choosing to draw plants – to replace the ones that died when the Frederick Arts Council shut down access to the building for several long weeks due to mold growth (not from the art installation mind you, that mold for quite some time festered due to leaks in the building roof. Talk about water issues…

Photo: Ashley Hoffman

Moving finally onto Act III with our conversation, Faison didn’t have it all completed at that moment – he was still working to the deadline to have it ready on Friday night at 5pm for the opening. He showed me what he had designed thus far. All the bricks used for ACT I and parts of Act II were reused to build an angled stairway eventually reaching the ceiling and an exploding brick revealing an 8mm film screening of children, who, according to the FAC press release, “build, destroy, and play, demonstrating a creative freedom as a possible answer to this grand tragedy.”

IS there really a way out? I asked him about the news that lent gravitas to his work -the news of rising flood waters – increased frequency and intensity of storms – melting glaciers – islands getting swallowed up by rising seas. How strange that reality isn’t now a dystopian novel. The present has this feeling…like we’re approaching the end of the world. We’re fucked…aren’t we? Faison seemed to be nonplussed; after all, 1+1=2 and hyper-capitalism was all along going to inevitably lead to this unsustainable catastrophic conclusion as we stare and still can’t quite believe what we see on other side of the mathematical equation.

The question then transfers to…what next? If given a process to rebuild, to renew, then perhaps art or creativity will lead us to…whatever that “next part” is. It’s an open ended question, one that Faison is willing to explore with his heart on his sleeve. Rather than approach the end of the world from a nihilistic POV, in his art and in this last act of his installation piece, he transfers a curious wonderment of this unknown future and the possibility of rebuilding that’s just around that corner. Of a cycle that repeats – and as much as it destroys – it also has the potential of rebirth… and of renewal.

Extra Time: Ashley Hoffman‘s companion photo exhibit to Phase Change (I think) will continue at the FAC pop up gallery. Her show opened the same night as Faison’s Act II back in May.

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