Los Angeles

The Art of Katie Grinnan: Perception in a Changing Universe


I first met Katie Grinnan 15 years ago in the desert, so maybe it's uncannily appropriate that when I ask her to diagram for me a concept of hers, she draws someone staring at a cactus. Her drawn cactus is potted; unlike the ones we stared at 15 years ago in the desert. The diagram she draws has two parts. The first illustrates the bifurcated nature of perception. Experiencing the world, in many ways we project ourselves outward into the landscape in dimensional space and distance, far beyond our physical skin. We are infinite among this field of consciousness, though our experience visually is reduced to a limited view of the world, created within our heads through the restricted aperture of our eyes. The second drawing, a solution to this dubious crisis of subjectivity, illustrates this person with their head smashed into the drawn cactus. Plaintively Grinnan has written on the diagram, "the space is gone." She tells me she wants to complicate how we see. And I assume that if your head has merged with the space separating human sentience from that of a cactuses... well then, there you go.

Katie Grinnan graduated with an MFA from UCLA in 1999. She is amongst a group of Los Angeles artists that can be defined by there playful approach to crafting objects, coupled with a seriousness of purpose regarding the concepts built into them. The hands-on crafting is evidenced in Grinnan's sculptural installations as well as her photographic-collages. The distance existing between the flatness of these one-dimensional photo images and her (frequently) sprawling three-dimensional works may drive her well-regarded career. Grinnan's art is in the collections of LA's three contemporary art museums; she's been in New York's Whitney Biennial exhibition; she's received a Guggenheim Fellowship and a Pollock-Krasner grant. Grinnan has two studios, one in the city and one in the country under big oak trees.

Katie Grinnan, Rubble Division Interstate at Rhyolite, 2006 | Photo: Dawn Kasper

I've expanded myself by traveling great distances and time with Grinnan. Back in 2006, I was a passenger upon an abstruse but wholly universal parade of her own creation. There was only one float in this parade. It was called Rubble Division. It portrayed the ruins of a destroyed building supply store. We drove this sculptural and large photo-collage qua-solo-art-parade-float to actual "ruins", across the United States. And as a free-jazz band played from it, and its sound moved outward towards the landscapes surrounding us, we hoped some kind of auditory, visual and cerebral connection would syncopate with Grinnan's creation and the ruins we toured; among them (then president) George Bush's Crawford Texas Ranch, and the Las Vegas Strip. In the ghost town of Rhyolite, Nev. a historical sign informed us that the very road we paraded upon had been the site of boom-time parading a hundred years earlier.

"Mirage" is the title of another time-traveling projection. Grinnan exhibited it at the Hammer Musuem earlier this year. It is made from a material called "friendly plastic" and sand. It also explores perception. The intricate sculpture makes solid the fluid movements of a distinct series of yogic asanas known as the Sun Salutation. One hundred years ago the artists Marcel Duchamp and Giacomo Balla captured series of movements as a single and simultaneous image. Duchamp and Balla's paintings, of a woman and a dog in motion (respectively), were completed in the earlier years of moving pictures. These renderings are frequently considered emblematic of their mechanical and modernist era. As today we're in the throws of a new age of perception, aided by digital technology, Grinnan's sculpture is representative of a current zeitgeist.

Grinnan tells me, "friendly plastic is like Photoshop in real space. I can edit and cut just a fast as I can on a computer." Likewise her sculptures offer a perspective of the body unique to our digital-age. "Mirage" is all there at once, though simultaneously as a dimensional object it depicts the passage of time. In order to perceive this simultaneity you can't look at it from a single perspective. Literally to understand it, you must see it from multiple angles. This is the mirage of its title. The effect of the sculpture is like the one you see in an action films; when a speeding flying subject is frozen in time and the camera swoops around him, providing what were previously hidden views of that levitating subject traveling through space and (unique to the sculpture) time.

Katie Grinnan, Inner Weather, 2011 Photogram C-print mounted on Sintra 24.75 x 19.25 inches

Katie Grinnan, Junkpile (stage set/sculpture), 2012, Crescent City Opera, Los Angeles, inkjet prints on PETG, C-prints on Sintra, inkjet prints on fabric, piano hinges, aluminum angle, pipe fittings, rebar, concrete, wood, paint, tires.

This ability to embody multiple points of perspective is reflected in the subject of the sculpture -- the yogic Sun Salutation. Some say this asana began in ancient Vedic era and has flowed continuously until today. The salutation is meant to vitally center its practitioner, prostrate to the celestial. In the Hindu tradition, the sun is the eye of the world and contains the potential for all life. In Grinnan's sculpture, the practitioner mirrors this sacred being by radiating outward her human heart, the place Hindus believe human wisdom is sited. The sculpture "Mirage" embodies sentience organically as a representational sculpture. However its conceptual foil is back in the field of flat perception- where inorganic visualizations are offered by computational versions of digitally aided total awareness. Amen to our informational enlightenment.

Grinnan is fascinated by sciences of consciousness. I send her a quote by the surrealist poet Andre Breton, and she sends me back a video of a talk by cognitive astrophysicist Barry Madore. My Breton quote is a critique of rationalism, Madore's talk is about "magic, shadows, words, and linguistics." It falls upon the impossibility of true knowledge in a universe we only perceive with limited modes of understanding. She's amazed how neuroscientist Sebastian Seung is mapping the brain. She's interested in how we're beginning to understand how states of the mind formerly thought beyond the reach of rationalism, like dreaming, are being quantified through the use of technology. Also of interest is the recent Harvard experiment where researchers were able to link the brain of one subject with another. Via computer they got a pair of individuals to share a linked consciousness.

Grinnan problematizes for me the manner she sees machines merging with humans, and in the process makes an argument for her artwork.

Digital compression is another thing. It removes space. It just talks about information. Human experience meanwhile will always be there. (Information) templates scare me. Computers feel like they are limitless in their ways of knowing, but in the end they exhaust themselves into chain stores.

As a practitioner of human consciousness, Grinnan's artwork has explored a potpourri of experiments in subjectivity. Of particular note is her Astrology Orchestra. It used her astrological birth-chart to create a symphonic composition on unique, zodialogically tuned, instruments. The composition scored her objective place in the universe at the time of her birth in this cosmos.

Katie Grinnan, Astrology Orchestra, 2012. Performance at Mount Wilson Observatory as part of KNOWLEDGES curated by Christina Ondrus and Elleni Sclavenitis | Photo: Robert Wedemeyer

Katie Grinnan, Astrology Orchestra, 2012. Performance at the Integratron presented by LAND (Los Angeles Nomadic Division) | Photo: Erich Koyama.

Back in her Mid City studio/home, Katie shows me the simplest sculpture I've seen by her. It's a sculpted brain on a block. It's called "The Matter And A Story." Katie bends over to open up a concealed hatch in the brain. It reveals a small audio device. Turning it on and re-placing it inside the organ, the sculpture emits the sound of her reading a year and a half worth of personal diary entries.

I just discovered a new physicist Garrett Lisi who has a different theory of everything, which competes with string theory. His theory is very abstract. It is based on a certain geometric shape called E8 consisting of the different particles such as electrons, neutrinos, quarks, and higgs bosons along with their anti particle partners, creating a pattern in 8 dimensional charge space. According to Lisi, in this E8 model there are 20 gaps or particles that still need to be found by the Hadrion Collider in order to complete the pattern. The shape twists and warps through the eight dimensions of space-time causing the geometric pattern to shift form and appearance and each of these forms are seen as different particles but are actually a part of the same E8 shape.
I like Mr. Lisi's attitude. He lives a nomadic life in Hawaii in a van, surfs and thinks about physics. He says he tries to live a balanced life so that if his theory is proven wrong he won't feel devastated. I wonder which reality the Hadrion Collider will prove? I wonder what it was like to think the Earth was flat?

When I was in middle school, I idolized the singer Prince especially during the album Purple Rain. Last night I had a dream that I was at a Prince concert except it was at a community center with metal folding chairs. Prince was sitting too and didn't have a guitar. He had the hair from the early 80's but otherwise looked older and kind of sickly. He was performing songs from the Purple Rain CD. There were two girls that were supposed to be Wendy and Lisa but they seemed kind of off, not so sexy. When he started performing he did it all from the chair and kept messing up and having to start over again. Then the dream switched and Prince and his entourage were on a steamship. Tim and I were on the water somehow too. The steam ship was hit by a barge and threw the whole crew off the boat. Suddenly Tim and I were on the steamship. Maybe we were on it all along and my mind was just showing different angles of view. Tim said we should thank Prince so we both dove overboard to swim and thank him. When I jumped I got caught in a net and started to drown. Then I woke up and thought about the different options that could have happened. Either Tim saved me or the barge hit the ship again and I drown or I kicked free of the net and survived.

Katie Grinnan, "The Matter And A Story," 2013. Installation view at The Print Center, Philadelphia, oil clay, concrete, mp3 player, speaker, 90min soundtrack | Photo: Katie Grinnan

Here in Grinnan's studio, and standing next to her, I realize I'm looking at her brain, or a facsimile of it. I'm hearing Grinnan's thoughts, or a facsimile of them. Over a year's worth of her mental activity is now housed in a small recording device. Standing there, viewing the art, suddenly it becomes weird; I perceive the illusion: I am seeing myself seeing Grinnan's brain from inside my brain, perceiving this.

Want to read more? Check out more of Artbound's most recent articles:

Astral Oriented Art Installations Expand 'Knowledges' at Mt. Wilson Observatory
The Mt. Wilson observatory hosted an experimental art show with photographs, two-dimensional art, and performances and concerts all exploring the relation between man and the universe.

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Top Image: Katie Grinnan, "Mirage," 2011 Friendly plastic, enamel, and sand 79 x 63 x 72 inches Installation View at the Hammer Museum, 2013 | Photo: Brian Forrest

About the Author

Robby Herbst is an interdisciplinarian broadly interested in socio-political formations; behavioral architecture, languages of dissent and counter cultures. He is a writer, artist, teacher, and something other. He co-founded, and ...
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