Martha Friedman, Floating Thoughts

Temporary Public Art | O'Connor Building

October 20, 2023 – May 18, 2024
Ralph S. O’Connor Building for Engineering Science
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Rubber, wooden frames, LED lights
Courtesy of the artist and Broadway Gallery, New York


The history of science and the material properties of rubber inform this body of work by sculptor Martha Friedman. Inspired by the drawings of Nobel Prize–winning neuro-anatomist Santiago Ramón y Cajal (1852–1934), Friedman translates human neurons into shapes adapted from our historic understanding of bodily processes, while referencing the sensations of our physical, lived experience. Beginning in the nineteenth century, Cajal made foundational discoveries relating to the structure of the nervous system and the anatomy of the brain that fueled future research. Friedman’s use of rubber, a material that exists in both liquid and solid states, references the pathologies of the brain and the ways neurological processes transverse physical boundaries. 

To make these works, the artist mixes small batches of rubber with color, then physically stretches and pulls the material into lines until they solidify on a flat substrate. Friedman then floods the plane with a clear layer of rubber, creating a translucent ground. Once this ground cures, she peels off the entire rubber drawing from the horizontal surface, revealing an image created upside down and backward, echoing how paper is pulled from a printing press.  Friedman’s lines of rubber color, floating within an elastic substrate, gesture toward a slippage between material and image, liquid and solid, structure and surface. As a series Floating Thoughts reflects Friedman’s interest in the vulnerability and porosity of the human body as it changes over time, and how our thoughts and memories are simultaneously ephemeral and concrete.

About the Artist

Martha Friedman (b. 1977, Detroit, MI), earned a BFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (1998) and an MFA from the Yale School of Art (2003). Her work has been featured in solo exhibitions at Art@Bainbridge, Princeton University Art Museum, NJ (2022); the Henry Art Gallery, Seattle, WA (2018); the Institute of Fine Arts Great Hall, New York, NY (2016–2017); and Locust Projects, Miami, FL (2015–2016), among others. She frequently collaborates with choreographers Susan Marshall and Silas Riener, reflecting her interest in the intersection of sculpture and dance. Friedman is currently a senior lecturer in visual art at Princeton University, and she lives and works in Brooklyn, New York.

Martha Friedman, Floating Thoughts is organized by Alison Weaver, Executive Director, and is made possible by the Moody Center for the Arts Founders Circle.