Los Angeles

Katie Grinnan


Although I might wish for the death of photography almost every time I have to stomach it in a gallery (despite my whorish delectation of photographs daily), I think the idea of the death of any medium is absurd. This, however, is very different from being interested in artists who destroy and deconstruct their medium in order to reconfigure, recycle, or renew it. Katie Grinnan uses photographs as material for sculpture and plumbs how photography’s use of color, shadow, light, and space changes when it forms a physical interior or exterior. Folded or bent space, actual space, and remembered space are activated and collapsed in different ways throughout her work.

Take Phantom Limb (all works 2003): A tree branch forces its way out of the gallery wall, supported by a cord from above and wooden “crutch” from below. A weird nest constructed from palm fronds, its bottom covered with ripped photocollage, rests on the limb. A gray cutout strip of photo adheres to the wall, in part a photographic representation of the crutch’s shadow; actual shadows from gallery lights criss-cross it. Does the title refer to an absent limb unavailable to human vision, to the various “limbs” of the “crutch” and photographic “shadow”? Is it a commentary on the phantom limb–like prosthetic relation we have to photography and the way our view of the world is affected by its viral insinuation into all realms? On the unseen that supports the seen, and the representations of the world that help make it up? Ecologist Grinnan’s recycling of materials and media demonstrates the cyclical aspect of seeing and of making.

Part of the magic of Grinnan’s work is that the seriousness of her investigations still permits a rambunctious deployment of color, parlayed into the ur-forms of privacy associated with childhood: forts, tree houses, makeshift teepees, all fantasy structures of independence and individualization. In a bluntly manipulated digital photograph (which ends up working as an encapsulation of Grinnan’s concerns), rolls of blue carpeting and brown carpet padding become the canopy of a tree, which, along with the landscape it inhabits, have been made out of half an image mirrored and then doubled—think Photoshopped Gordon Matta-Clark meets Dan Graham arborescence.

Grinnan’s most daring works elude brief analysis, even description. Level Ground and Heavy Sky, a dual-projection DVD, complicates natural and artificial spatial folding and mirroring by juxtaposing the “space” of 3-D animation with the “space” of filmed jungle. Both are placed within the actual space of Midnight at Noon, a festive day-of-the-dead backyard with a sound track of chimes and bells and Dr. Who–like synth noises. Like some fabulous new strain of kudzu, the jungly Dreamcatcher almost overwhelms everything else with its hanging garden of photographic ferns, peacock-feather butterflies, and papier-mâché branchings, all bounding up from corduroy dirt, as clear glass tubes drop from the ceiling: stalactite rain amid a cutout photo forest.

The spirit-muse of Hubcap Woman, a George Segal–ish white dream figure constructed of a material called “Friendly Plastic,” ghosting up from a lifted sewer cover, her cape or wings bearing the mark of their hubcap mold, her single elongated arm snaking into a hubcap pinwheel, would seem to posit a human scale for all of Grinnan’s work. But by allowing the artist’s logic to reign (suggested by her attention to the folds of memory and dream space and the slant, uncorrected strangeness of actual perception), a viewer could just as easily be tiny inside her powerful terrarium world.

Bruce Hainley