Number Sea

Shotgun Review

Number Sea

By Michael Schoolnik September 24, 2014

For his Number Sea exhibition at Important Projects, which was also the space’s last, Derek Frech takes the larger of the two rooms and presents three works with security as the theme. Digital video 9 Pin Bright is a black-and-white loop comprising an undulating dot-matrix pattern that calls to mind tests for color blindness. One must look closely to see the changes taking place as the dots momentarily merge to create patterns and shapes, such as a 12-key keypad one sees on telephones or building security systems. Two nearly identical standing pieces comprise Number Sea 1 & 2, which incorporates data-center server rack stands, special tamper-proof bolts, and outdoor painters’ netting with a camouflage-like white print on each structure. The final piece, Tamper Evident Type I #000002, is a transfer print on aluminum of a theme from Frech’s previous Moroso Projects show: two enlarged product-security stickers, typically used on personal electronic goods in retail settings to warn that if tampered with, the product’s warranty will be voided.

The theme extends to even the “press release,” a 324-page galley of passwords starting from simplest (“password, 123456, 12345674, 1243, qwerty”) and becoming increasingly complex (“eeeee1, eyphed”). The press release is useless to an editor or reviewer, which led me to wonder what IT security professionals would make of Frech’s work. Would it come off as a joke, or would it resonate with them, given that the pieces in Number Sea employ elaborate security processes (the special bolts) and techniques (the tamper-proof sticker) to protect, in effect, nothing?

Derek Frech. Tamper Evident Type I #000002, 2014; aluminum, toner, metallic foil, and wax. Courtesy of the Artist and Important Projects, Berkeley. 

Whether or not you’re in on the joke, 9 Pin Bright is undeniably hypnotic and brought to mind the vision-testing videos one encounters at an ophthalmologist’s office. Frech’s pixels move like tiny iron filings pursued by a narrow magnet quickly following behind, forming into recognizable shapes for a split second, only to dissolve back into particulate matter. It was as if Frech was instructing me to “call it when you see it” but I couldn’t react in time because the dissolve happens so quickly. But I also didn’t know what I was looking for.

Although I appreciated Frech’s attention to detail, materials, and construction in the other pieces, perhaps they required too many pre-reqs from the viewer. Would a previous purchase of an electronic product with that sticker be needed for me to even get the source of the wall piece’s imagery? How many viewers have ever been in a data center? Not having a background in IT security, I felt shut out by Number Sea. But given that Frech’s art is so obstinately cryptic, is it not somewhat fitting to have to play the Luddite? 

Number Sea is on view at Important Projects, in


, through September 14, 2014.

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