F.R.E.T. stands for “Forecast Reference Evapotranspiration Report,” a climatological analysis of the rate at which fallen water evaporates. Similarly, “fret scapes,” an exhibition of black-and-white photographs and an installation by Shannon Ebner at Kaufmann Repetto, cycles back into itself like water from land to air. A poem titled “FRET” is printed on the gallery wall. Composed from the “WET LETTER ALPHABET”—part of the artist’s 2019 show “WET WORDS IN A HOT FIELD”—it consists of paper letters roughly half a foot tall. Ebner used water—that most flighty of media—to paste the letters up a building. There, she photographed them as they slipped and drifted like the old signs of a desolate small town. In scrape 17 (all works 2022), the “N” and “C” of the word “LANDSCAPE” swerve to the sides, the “S” becoming unnaturally enlarged as it warped.
In “FRET” and the photographs on view, other connotations of the delightfully wavering word are at play: “fret” can suggest worry or anxiety; gradually wearing away at something; a fog; even, in the studious affixing of the letters, an echo of the musical sense of installing frets upon a neck of an instrument. “FRET DROPS INTO THE ATMOSPHERIC WINDOW A ZERO CALM,” Ebner writes.
Lettering by a different hand, typically in urban environs, also holds fascination for the artist: the dispassionate institutional hand of the government; the invisible one of commerce; the intimate yet anonymous one which scrawls sentiment into wet concrete. She shoots the artificial layering of the letters of “SAMPLE SALE” over “RETAIL SPACE” of a storefront in timbuk2. commercial place consists, quite literally, of hanging signifiers: clearance tags bearing prices but no goods hang in the window of a closed store, only the backward yet instantly recognizable insignia of a Chase Bank visible as a reflection. —Lisa Yin Zhang
Shannon Ebner, FRET, 2022. Archival pigment print on Photo Tex, 116 x 237 inches. Courtesy of the artist and kaufmann repetto Milan / New York Photo: Greg Carideo.