Visiting Artist Profiles

Katie Grinnan

By Lia Wilson May 3, 2012

The Visiting Artist Profile series, which highlights some of the artists, curators, and scholars who intersect with the Bay Area visual arts community through the various lecture programs produced by local institutions.

This article is part of the Visiting Artist Profile series, which highlights some of the artists, curators, and scholars that intersect with the Bay Area visual arts community through the various lecture programs produced by local institutions. Katie Grinnan will speak at 5:00 p.m. on Thursday, May 3, in the Fine Arts Building, San Francisco State University.


The disparity between visual perception and one’s physical experience is the catalytic site from which the work of Katie Grinnan springs forth. Grinnan’s practice is built upon linking photography and sculpture, constructing the potential for multiple types of space—social, psychological, imagined, visual, or physical—to exist simultaneously. The crux of her practice seems aimed at revealing the deceptive, malleable, and highly subjective nature of sight. Grinnan’s work allows an often playful oscillation between the second and third dimensions, underscoring the incongruity between what one sees and what is actually there. This is a powerful and essential reminder that visual perception will always be an individual translation of our physical world, a unique and fluid interpretation.

Living and working in Los Angeles, Grinnan has sustained an impressive exhibition pace since receiving her MFA from UCLA in 1999. She has had solo shows at the Whitney Museum at Altria, the MAK Center for Art and Architecture, ACME Gallery, and the Armory Center for the Arts, among others, and she was included in the 2004 Whitney Biennial.

A prime example of Grinnan’s utilization of photography in her sculptures is the project Rubble Division (2005–06). When one looks at its front, the work appears almost like an exploded work by Gordon Matta-Clark: a house unfolded with its doors, floor, and roof all unhinged from one another, rearranged and set to protrude at blunt diagonals. These multiple planes are all lined with crisp, large-scale inkjet photographs depicting views of an outdoor, sunlit space. A unifying framework of red windowpanes is mounted over these photographs, creating uncertainty about whether one is looking out or looking in. The imagery is both familiar and non-specific; the backs of buildings cast with the contrast of dusk and shadows provide an almost nostalgic and timeless sense of place. The back of Rubble Division explodes into a constellation of images and materials of demolished edifices. Twisted rebar, wood, bungee cords, and chunks of concrete are integrated with the photographic planes, enabling a frantic visual narrative of demolition, an optical stuttering of an architecture in ruins whose original form we cannot recall.


Mirage, 2011; Friendly plastic, enamel, and sand; 79 x 63 x 72 in. Courtesy of the Artist and Brennan & Griffin, New York.

Editor's Note: For further reading about Katie Grinnan, check out "In and Out of Context," a panel discussion Art Practical hosted in conjunction with the 2010 Art Los Angeles Contempory art fair that explored the influence of locality on the participating artists' work.


Rubble Division, 2005-06; ink jet prints on Sintra, foam rubber, galvanized steel, concrete, rebar, bungee chords; dimensions variable. Courtesy of the Artist and Acme Gallery, Los Angeles.

At one point, Grinnan took the sculpture on tour, securing it to a flatbed and taking it from the High Desert Test Sites in Joshua Tree, California, to the Socrates Sculpture Park in Long Island City, New York. This field trip has video documentation, which is sometimes screened in the gallery spaces Rubble Division has inhabited. Grinnan claims that photography has served her as a “way to make site portable.”1 Rubble Division is composed of this portable imagery, unfettered from its specific moment, location, and regular function as a record of fact. The superimposition of internal and external, polished and chaotic, warmly familiar and disturbingly uncanny, present and documented places in one sculpture destabilizes a singular visual strategy. A viewer can experience multiple logical systems existing together, layered on one another and complicating each other. The success of this work is its articulation of the often fractured and disjointed ways we see and remember events and places.

A later work of Grinnan’s, Mirage (2011), is equally preoccupied with superimposition. Made of plastic, enamel, and sand, the sculpture was formed from the casts of the artist’s body in different positions of her yoga routine. The final sculpture is a solid amalgam of all these movements together: every subsequent gesture is layered upon the previous one. Here the superimposition is of a temporal nature. The physical experience of the artist’s body in time is compressed into a single space; viewers encounter a passing of time in one instant. Mirage is both in motion and static, a singular body and many, ephemeral and permanent.

While it is distinct from the majority of Grinnan’s work because it contains no photographic imagery, Mirage strongly calls up the iconic nineteenth-century chronophotography of Étienne-Jules Marey. Marey’s works, the first images of bodies in motion, were highly influential to the early history of cinema. Like Marey, Grinnan maps a cycle of movement as a singular art object, but Mirage conveys the actual scale. This engages peripersonal space, the space within reach of any limb of an individual. Viewers are implicated on a physical, felt, experiential scale to which their bodies naturally relate, intuitively understanding their own boundaries, all while they encounter a sculpture depicting an occurrence that is impossible and beyond a visual logic.

This is the paradox that fuels Grinnan’s work: the misalignment of our physical, felt experience of the world with our visual interpretations of reality. Exploring this paradox unsettles a comfortable reliance upon photography and the visual as evidence of empirical fact, helping to enunciate the inevitable and always subjective distortions of sight and memory. Grinnan ambitiously takes up the responsibility of investigating these experiential distortions, permitting those phenomena that exist outside of language to utter themselves in the physical world.



The Visiting Artist Profile series is supported by the San Francisco branch of the Kadist Art Foundation. Kadist participates in the development of society through contemporary art by collecting and producing the work of artists and conducting various programs to promote their role as cultural agents. The foundation also supports the work of curators, academics, and magazines internationally through its residency program and by hosting public events on Wednesdays and a Saturday Reading Room at its space at 3295 20th Street in the Mission.



1. “Katie Grinnan,” CCF Fellowship for Visual Artists,, accessed April 30, 2012.

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