American-Statesman Staff
Thursday, July 11, 2002

A review...

  Sandra Fiedorek doesn't want to talk about what type of objects she transforms into art. "I'd rather leave that open-ended," says the lanky 44-year-old at her usual rapid-fire pace. "What I most want from my work is for people to deal with it privately, as something to think about, but never to be sure about. I'm not out to convince people of anything."

Well, Fiedorek's work does convince you to stop and look -- and wonder what it is you're looking it. For the past several years, each of her works has featured a single image presented simply and directly -- almost as if it were a sign or a flashcard. Oftentimes these images are arranged in a grid or row, like the untitled piece that stretches across 6 feet of the gallery wall in "Refrigerated Air," the current group show at D. Berman Gallery. Fiedorek's entry is 13 pieces of 8-inch high bi-colored laminate, each with a circular form -- it might be a sprocket or gear or bicycle chain ring (Fiedorek won't say) -- etched into the shiny plastic: black layered under yellow, yellow layered under red, peach layered under black.

You can't help but try to read Fiedorek's images as if they were texts. Are they an invented symbolic language? Some new kind of alphabet? Fiedorek isn't telling.

The home studio Fiedorek shares with her husband, architect and UT professor David Heymann (and sometimes the couple's two children, Walter, 14, and Helen, 12), suggests the basic grammar of her unique language. On one wall hang several cardboard forms -- flattened packing materials from sporting goods -- and a host of flat metal objects that could be machine parts. In the living room on the mantelpiece is a Styrofoam form that at first glance looks likes a cowboy hat -- it's not; it's some kind of packing material. Next to it is a large curving metal frame much like a giant cookie cutter, a Chinese character Fiedorek found while at a commercial sign show. The packing materials, the sign, the strange metal forms, plastic laminate, sign paint, Plexiglas, steel fabric -- these are Fiedorek's inspiration, which are duly scanned into the computer and then digitally manipulated, until they are virtually unrecognizable.

After she's done digitally manipulating the forms, she e-mails her computerized files to fabricators who have the means to produce the objects. "I like that I can e-mail a file at one scale and have it enlarged and produced on a totally different scale," she say. "Art is about looking for the new. It's about manipulating the new in materials and process."

Born in Midland and raised in Dallas, Fiedorek earned a B.F.A. and B.A. from Rice and then an M.F.A from Columbia University. She spent about a decade outside of Texas before settling in Austin 10 years ago. Somewhere along the way, Fiedorek put down her brush, stopped producing abstract paintings and headed in her current direction. She's intrigued by site-specific work and has sought out and received several commissions from the city's Art in Public Places program.

In fact, Fiedorek's work is familiar to many Austinites, though they might not realize it. Her monumental "To Parts Unknown" extends 140 feet along one wall of the central passenger hall at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport. A series of 7-foot-tall panels that resemble the images found in technical aviation manuals, "To Parts Unknown" is something of a portrait -- or maybe a storyboard -- of the work done behind the scenes at the airport.

Then there's "Dr. Pangloss" -- 10 galvanized steel trash cans that form a neat 23-foot tower in front of the Household Hazardous Waste Recycling Center in South Austin. Named for the optimistic philosopher in Voltaire's "Candide," the piece is a collaboration between Fiedorek and her husband. Hope -- recycling -- towers triumphant.

It's like Fiedorek said: It's not what the art is made of that's important, it's how you deal with it.

jvanryzin@statesman.com; 445-3699

'Refrigerated Air'

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1701 Guadalupe St.
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