Max Frey


Movement, light, physical phenomena and chance are the leitmotifs in Max Frey’s art. In his works, objects from everyday life are turned into installations which use dynamic processes to produce and make visible varying structures. The observer witnesses a multiform game of the ever recurring, an indefinable and unpredictable game which oscillates between change and repetition.

In his work Rotor d64 (2007) – a constantly rotating bicycle wheel, fixed on the wall, with numerous light elements (LEDs and mini fluorescent tubes) attached to its spokes – constantly changing, flickering light patterns are created. The light elements are controlled by a mechanism of four small rotating discs coated in copper with a pattern etched upon it that are placed beneath the rim. In conjunction with the sliding contacts they function as the control. The “programme” which produces the light patterns is perfectly discernible to the viewer as an automatic control mechanism. However, it is not intuitively comprehensible because of its complex organisation. One of the four discs controls the rotation of the other three discs. And those three discs control the function of the light elements in the rotating spokes. Thus a second level of control is formed that produces unpredictable, random patterns. The patterns etched on the discs do not follow the usual aesthetics of conductive paths as we know them from computer technology, but they rather form images, details of construction drawings of the object itself. In short: the installation processes images of itself. The output is the permanently changing, fascinating light patterns that appear on the rotating wheel as if on a display screen. Like a musical score or a piece of celluloid, the images etched into the copper are “read”, transformed into electric signals, interpreted and visualised through a different medium. This piece of work does not represent, it varies – ad infinitum. Like in serialism, the audience is invited to observe variations, seek similarities, find patterns. A constant, potentially infinite process.

Numerous features of this installation are characteristic for Frey’s work in general: the infinitely circulating; the act of visualising complexities; the unbounded, apparently absurd game of varying forms and structures; and the haptic experience. These features can be found in a number of other works as well: in pongping (2007) a number of table tennis balls driven by a fan, circulate in a shell-shaped construction made of cardboard. The balls move incessantly in their orbit, caught in the stream of air. They spin along the walls of the cardboard shell, on the inner side they slide along an upward curve; at the ascent they are tossed into a free trajectory, fly through the air and roll back, down the slope and are caught again by the stream of air. An infinite process which is repeated constantly. If we watch this repeating, but never identical, process for a moment, an image of a rotation appears, formed by the entirety of the rolling ping pong balls, and it absorbs our gaze.

Rotating Color Slides (2007), too, plays with the elements and parameters of the exhibition space. This time it is not teeming table tennis balls but variations of lighting that subject the space to a permanent transformation. This work consists of four slide projectors, each containing 40 slides showing colour gradients of all spectral colours. All the projectors are directed towards a rotating mirror cube positioned in the centre. The mirror cube throws moving reflections of the projected colours onto the walls of the exhibition space. Overlaps create additive colour blends, which morph constantly due to the changing colour reflections, thus permanently creating variations in the atmosphere inside the room.

Constantly moving, the objects shun illustration or interpretation. Beyond all forms of representation, they create a poetry of “things” which constantly form into new shapes. Thus the viewer watches these works and what they produce: a game of constantly shifting parameters. The pleasure of watching complex processes. The anticipation of the next moment. And the beauty of chance.

Frey’s works can thus be read as reflections of contemporary culture. As representations of unpredictable, inscrutable and somewhat recursive processes, they playfully refer to our world, which is dominated by the multimedia recycling of symbols. In the context of the ubiquity of encoded information, they present their particular “algorithms” and translate the information of a certain format into another, they turn clear images into flickering light patterns (as the Rotor installation does with the construction drawings) – i.e. variations of structures instead of representation. To be more precise, the variations themselves are the focus of attention, the minimal differences that, in an apparently absurd process, become visible in the permanent repetition: alternative spaces for the imagination of the viewer.

Michael Ammann