Katie Grinnan, <em>Continuum</em>, 2008.

Continuum consists of two tall towers. One is made from casts of El Castillo stacked vertically while the other mimics, in welded rebar, the geometric outlines of the first tower and houses equipment for a 3-channel video projected on a nearby wall. The sequences, filmed by Grinnan, dwell on banal shots of tourists wandering around the ancient site of Chichén Itzá in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, supplemented with shots of lush greenery and abstract, manipulated footage that consists of layered patterns and colors over live shots. On the audio track, a traveling companion says something like, “No, this is just a pile of rocks; it isn’t anything,” to which the artist responds by giggling faintly as the sound and image trail off. The dilemma proposed by the artist of distinguishing “artifact” from “just a rock” offers another means by which to read many works in this show.

Grinnan has frequently explored the relationship between pictorial/photographic space and sculptural form. Often, she employs a strategy by which she locates interesting shapes in a photograph and then emphasizes them visually and reinterprets them sculpturally. Additionally, Grinnan’s artwork has had an ongoing, albeit somewhat quirky, relationship with architecture. This ongoing fascination with form and structure, as well as her acknowledgment of the dilemma posed by distinguishing the value of a given object one apprehends (as artist, tourist or art viewer), is driven home by Henge, a quasi-mystical circle of “real” and faux rubble and ramshackle, upright wooden pylons that alludes to Stonehenge and other such ancient henges. Lying in the circle is a photograph of a stone with a distinct geometric opening. It is impossible to tell whether this stone is a fragment of an ancient Mayan ruin, the artist’s own fabrication, or merely some found construction fragment. The depicted rock reappears as an object within the circle, freshly cast in concrete. It joins a mishmash of found and custom-made concrete blocks, actual rocks, and indeterminate chunks of white plaster, thereby activating a critical/artistic discussion of dualism often undertaken by transposing simulacra with the Real.

The idea of the souvenir is also suggested by the imagery gathered from Grinnan’s travels to the Yucatan and the dualism of a real/original object (or artifact) in relation to an appropriated representation. Literally meaning “to come to mind,” a souvenir gains value due to its link to authentic past experience. Indeed, to Stewart, the souvenir exemplifies the “…capacity of objects to serve as traces of authentic experience.”6 What seems to happen, however, in Alignment, Continuum and Henge is an economy of equivalence, where ultimately one cannot ascertain which object or image is authentic or meaningful. They are all rendered equally important and significant by the hand of the artist.

Katie Grinnan, <em>Between Worlds</em>, 2008.

Grinnan’s intimately scaled sculptures harmonize with the DIY fabrication of the Schindler House.7 The artist’s palette of cast concrete, wood posts, metal rods and photo-printed plastic skew subtly from the house’s slab-tilt concrete walls, wood beams, canvas, and composite board screens. Even the glimpses of outdoor greenery seen through the glazed strips and corners that punctuate the house’s concrete walls are refracted in Grinnan’s psychedelically manipulated photos of tropical plants incorporated into Between Worlds. Moreover, despite their initial appearance of haphazard assemblage, Henge and Between Worlds reveal themselves to be carefully formulated. This new cohesion seems uncharacteristic for the artist, whose practice often embraces the off-kilter and awkward. In some ways, one can infer from the works of Polaris that Grinnan has matured by resolving certain conceptual and formal issues. At the same time, it leads to a perception that some of these works are becoming claustrophobically self-referential and, as such, leave little room for any interpretation other than as that of a strictly surface reading—a comparison of notes between cryptic symmetrical formal elements. Perhaps this is Grinnan’s aim: to deliberately acknowledge and frustrate the viewer’s innate desire for the fixed point of reference, as invoked by the show’s title.

Footnotes

  1. Stewart, 135.
  2. The Schindler House on Kings Road, now occupied by the MAK Center, was designed and built by Rudolph M. Schindler. “Schindler established his practice [in Los Angeles] in 1922 with his own Kings Road House—a house designed as live-work space for two couples with a shared kitchen and an apartment for guests. Schindler’s work focused on the integration of interior space and exterior space using complex interlocking volumes and strongly articulated sections.” Kathryn Smith, quoted on the MAK Center Website, http://www.makcenter.org/MAK_Schindler_House.php. For a detailed history, as well as excellent photographic documentation of Schindler’s Kings Road House, see Kathryn Smith and Grant Mudford, Schindler House (New York: Harry N. Abrams, 2001).
Further Reading