FPS (120), made up of one hundred and twenty tall, narrow photograms installed in a row, is one of the highlights of the survey Liz Deschenes, Works 1997-2022. Occupying a room of its own, the work is the latest in a series called Rates (Frames Per Second) that alludes to the number of frames per second needed by the human eye to transform a still image into a moving one.
FPS (120) was first exhibited in 2021 at the Sprengel Museum in Hanover, Germany, where it was part of True Pictures?, a show that examined the responses of North American artists to the flood of images in photography’s digital age.
Deschenes created FPS (120) in response to the Soviet artist El Lissitzky’s Cabinet of Abstraction (Kabinett der Abstrakten), a room-size installation that functions as an art piece as well as a background for the paintings and sculptures that would be installed in it. The work was commissioned in 1927 by Alexander Dorner, the director of the Provinzialmuseum in Hanover, Germany (and later director of the Rhode Island School of Design Museum, where Deschenes studied), who advocated for art museums to become places for active participation and immersive engagement.
Today, a recreation of the Cabinet of Abstraction is part of the collection of Sprengel Museum. It is considered a milestone in the development of exhibition architecture.
In El Lissitzky’s Cabinet of Abstraction, the walls are clad in black and white slats made of iron strips, which appear light or dark depending on the position of the viewer. This “optical dynamic” activates viewers, as Lissitzky wrote.
Deschenes’s choice of silvery photograms, unprocessed vintage chromogenic photo paper (a creamy white), and black, fully exposed and processed chromogenic paper alludes to the tones in of the slats in Cabinet of Abstraction.
Another point of reference in FPS (120) is the work of Étienne-Jules Marey, which Deschenes first encountered while teaching the history of photography. The 19th-century French scientist invented devices for studying movement over time, and his work measuring and recording bodies in motion is seen as a forerunner to cinema.
In 1882, Marey developed his first series of chronophotographs, in which he took multiple overlapping exposures of a single subject marching across the frame. To picture the subject’s head, arms, legs, and feet, Marey attached white strips along the edge of the subject’s black suit as he walked before a black backdrop, resulting in an abstracted pattern of dots and lines. Like Deschenes’s installation, Marey’s geometric chronophotographs exhibit otherwise imperceptible expressions of movement through space.
At Fraenkel, FPS (120) is installed in the second gallery, in the piece’s North American debut (and also the first place Deschenes has been able see the work installed, since the Covid pandemic kept her from visiting the Sprengel Museum). The work encompasses all of the walls of the room, installed in a pattern that feels, as Deschenes notes, “like a shutter—staccato, random, but yet reconfigured until randomness approaches a rhythm that allows your eye and body to keep on moving.”