A dominant theme in the ravished and wretched worlds depicted by dystopic literature is that natural beauty has been banished to peoples memories and living flora and fauna and flora are so rare that they must be preserved in museums. By combining re-cycled and deconstructed photographs of nature with elements of the natural world such as tree-branches and soil, Katie Grinnan brings that theme to life. Her sculptures eloquently warn against allowing the worlds decay to continue to the point where our perception of the environment is reduced to a fractured set of recycled images.
Los Angeles-based Grinnans contribution to the recent Whitney Biennial was inspired by her research on the ecosystem of the Great Barrier Reef, tropical rain forests and Arcosanti or "City Of The Bells", an utopian experimental town built 70 miles from Phoenix Arizona, that was designed to demonstrate how urban development can be improved to minimize environmental destruction.
Grinnans work will next be seen in "the Dissolving Space of Experience," a group show at Modern Art Oxford in Oxford, England that will run from Sept 25 Nov. 28 2004. This exhibition, curated by Suzanne Cotter, will also feature work by Wade Guyton, Christina Mackie, Bojan Sarcevic, Paul Sietsema and Hiroshi Sugito exploring our contentious and often confused dependency on the space we inhabit.
Ana Finel Honigman: How do you feel that your work relates to our contemporary fractured and fragile relationship to the environment?
Katie Grinnan: I think the way we perceive our environment is very complex and the spaces that make up an experience are so varied: the street, your place, your job, your head, the newspaper, the web, the beach, desert, city, mountains, places you travel is distanced from the narrative you create for yourself because you begin to edit information.
My sculptures use photographic imagery that interplays with physical elements in actual space to portray this process where multiple logic systems come together.
AFH: Do you consider photographs the most potent way we "edit" our experiences to create deceptive narratives for ourselves?
KG: I think we are used to photos as a means of mediating information and we are all subject to our own opinion and reality. In my work, several different environments can merge into one sculpture and one multifaceted image. The composite space that is generated usually has a familiarity that is hard to place, because of the diverse nature of the source material. The armature for the final image/structure is balance (visual, physical and spatial) implying fragility and the abstract nature of ones perspective.
I'm interested in the way photographs, photograms, and digital collage
show the fractured way we see events and places.
AFH: Do you mean fractured or idealized?
KG: Yes, in many cases. I'm interested in the gap between what's there and what we want to see. I played around with this idea directly in the show "Adventures in Delusional Idealism" at the Whitney at Altria. There, I created a sort of parallel universe where the sculptures in the show mirrored parts of the existing space. The photos that I used within the sculptures were also taken from the public plaza, the street and the Altria store. The pieces move from mirroring space directly to taking on a utopian, collective hippie aesthetic, but my interest was in the space created by the merging of the two visions.
AFH: When you use the word "hippie" are you referring to the ideology in songs like Joni Mitchell's, "They paved paradise and put in a parking lot," or Chrissie Hynde's, "I went back to my city"? Hynde is not a hippie, but those songs seem to relate to your work. Dont you consider "hippie" a pejorative description for political art? It seems that label is often used to make relevant statements sound anachronistic or too extreme?
KG: I disagree. I think because I was born in the 70's and missed the 60's I idealize the word hippie. I admire hippies because I associate them with freedom, open-mindedness, experimentation, revolution, peace and an uncorrupted attitude towards money.
AFH: You must be referring to the original hippies. Don't you find there to be something distressingly nave about current-day hippies since that aesthetic and those ideals have been so mocked and commercialized by subsequent eras?
KG: Well, I really like the Easy Rider "we can live off the land" idea of a hippie, but it's a little disheartening when the song "Revolution" refers to
Nike. I'm pretty fascinated with the way the meaning of the 60's has evolved. I don't think the term hippie would be used now. There isn't really a specific hippie style anymore and attitudes have shifted and broadened due to hindsight. They've fractured into multiple groups like environmentalists, the health conscious, organic farmers, political activists, anarchists...etc.. even yuppies.
AFH: What is your attitude towards categorizing your art as political?
KG: That classification is a little confusing. I think my work is mainly interested in different types of space. With "Adventures in Delusional Idealism" I was using aesthetics associated with 60's hippies, farmers market collectives, and utopian architecture like Arcosanti in Arizona teamed with the existing corporate aesthetics to form a boundary for an undefined type of space. I thought of it as a lab for creating different possibilities. I like to keep things open and to look at something from as many viewpoints as possible. A lot of my work operates on a formal abstract level also. The narrative, in many cases, is lodged within the process or the structure. Gravity, color, scale, form and placement play an important role. Maybe its an attempt to articulate how vision feels or the psychological process of how memory works.
ANA FINEL HONIGMAN is assistant editor at Artnet Magazine.