San Francisco

Mineko Grimmer

Bruce Velick Gallery

Mineko Grimmer’s two works in this exhibition made use of natural elements, such as ice, stone, water, wood, and bamboo, substances that have extraordinary esthetic and metaphorical weight in Asian art traditions. Both works were also time-based. The lesser work was Music Boxes, 1988, which consisted of a pair of wood structures shaped something like square baskets with handles across their tops. Each box enclosed a metal trough of water surmounted by an open latticework of bamboo sticks. Beneath the bamboo in one box were three taut metal wires that acted as sounding strings. In place of the strings in the other box was a brass cylinder that would chime when struck.

What caused the strings and chime to sound were pebbles falling into the music boxes from above. From the “handle” of each box hung a pyramidal popsicle of ice-bound pebbles. As the ice melted, the pebbles would fall, one or a few at a time, making aleatory music as they ricocheted among the bamboo, strings, and chime.

Music Boxes provided a clue to the major piece in the show, Moveable Feast, 1988, which existed most of the time as the remnant of a previous process work. Moveable Feast was activated three times during the show’s run. Most visitors to the gallery probably saw the piece only in its final state: as a trough, a couple of inches deep, nearly full of small, smooth stones running along two walls of the gallery on the floor. Above, at about waist height, projected a horizontal row of square wooden pegs, each about 6 inches long, and spaced about 6 inches apart. On each peg stood a little pile of pebbles, all that remained once the piece had run its course.

At the outset of the process, the entire row of wood pegs supported long square bars of ice-bound pebbles, placed end to end. A row of chairs permitted viewers to watch the ice melt at eye level, an activity that looked absurd at first but came to seem less so as it continued. Initially, nothing seemed to be happening. Water droplets fell sporadically, almost soundlessly. As the ice warmed, seemingly from the intensity of people’s attention, pebbles slowly loosened and started to fall, ticking on the stones below and sometimes rebounding in arcs onto the floor. The process was more audible than visible at first, but at a certain point it became possible to see heat and gravity eating away at the pebbled icicles. Eventually the pebbles began to fall in clumps, until the sounds of their impacts became almost continuous. When the bulk of the pebbles had fallen, the piece progressed discernibly toward stasis and silence once more, leaving a tiny heap of pebbles atop each square peg.

Moveable Feast was an intensely lyrical process piece. While risking preciousness, it adhered to Minimalist principles of respect for gravity and use of simple, undisguised operations. Grimmer’s work is rooted in memories of nature, of the sun loosening winter’s grip and the beauties of chance in rainfall and erosion. Finally, with its seismically sensitive, standing piles of pebbles, her piece made sense in earthquake-conscious San Francisco in a way that it might not have elsewhere.

Kenneth Baker