Colour blast

Wallpaper - - December - ‘Katha­rina Grosse: Mum­bling Mud’ is at the Chi K11 Art Mu­seum, Shang­hai, 10 Novem­ber 2018–24 Fe­bru­ary 2019, k11art­foun­da­tion.org; kathari­na­grosse.com

Katha­rina Grosse spray-guns Shang­hai

Asa child, Katha­rina Grosse had a recurring dream that in­volved a dark, ma­chine­like form that could eat any­thing and ev­ery­thing. While fall­ing asleep, she could will her­self to have that dream, and she would. ‘I was in-be­tween lov­ing it and be­ing afraid of it,’ the Ger­man artist re­mem­bers. ‘It was a feel­ing of lov­ing to be shocked.’ Al­though she didn’t re­alise it at the time, the lu­cid­ity of this dream con­flated the real world with her imag­i­na­tion – some­thing she now con­tin­ues to ex­plore within her prac­tice nearly five decades later.

‘I al­ways thought there was a close re­la­tion­ship be­tween the [con­scious and sub­con­scious] vi­sions I had,’ she says. ‘That’s why I find paint­ing so in­ter­est­ing: of ev­ery­thing I know, it’s the clos­est to imag­i­na­tion.’ At her three-storey stu­dio in Ber­lin, she speaks an­i­mat­edly, draw­ing quick con­nec­tions be­tween her child­hood be­hav­iours and cur­rent thought pro­cesses. ‘Think­ing about go­ing swim­ming while peel­ing a potato shows a great cor­re­la­tion be­tween visu­al­i­sa­tion and re­al­i­sa­tion. They’re very much on the same level.’

Grosse, who was born in Freiburg im Breis­gau and has lived in Ber­lin for 18 years, has been pre­par­ing for an ex­hi­bi­tion at Shang­hai’s Chi K11 Art Mu­seum. Ti­tled ‘Mum­bling Mud’, it will com­prise five large-scale, site­spe­cific in­stal­la­tions across 1,500 sq m. The takeover of such a huge space is typ­i­cal of her shows, for which she al­most al­ways cre­ates paint­ings in situ. Us­ing a spray gun rather than a paint­brush al­lows her to cre­ate ab­stract works across var­ied sur­faces. She cov­ers mounds of soil, rock, con­crete and grass, as well as heaps of draped and knot­ted fab­ric, can­vases and carved Sty­ro­foam, with im­promptu colour fields; the fin­ished works are of­ten im­mer­sive, in­cor­po­rat­ing the built en­vi­ron­ment and even nat­u­ral el­e­ments. Whether in solo shows at Syd­ney’s Car­riage­works and the Gagosian in New York and Lon­don, or

through vast paint­ings cre­ated on the beach in Fort Tilden, New York, and the coast of Aarhus, Den­mark, Grosse’s work has res­onated. Its re­la­tion­ship to the au­di­ence hinges on the ab­sence of nar­ra­tive struc­ture. Rather, Grosse gives vis­ual form to her per­cep­tion of the world and leaves the re­sult­ing works open to in­ter­pre­ta­tion. ‘I don’t see a bowl on a ta­ble in an iso­lated way; I al­ways see a mesh, a clus­ter. I see a con­di­tion rather than ob­jects,’ she ex­plains. Her paint­ings draw at­ten­tion not only to the ob­ject at hand but also to the given sur­round­ings.

It was af­ter see­ing Grosse’s land­scape of mul­ti­coloured rub­ble and fab­ric for the 2015 Venice Bi­en­nale that Adrian Cheng, founder of the Chi K11 Art Mu­seum and the broader K11 Art Foun­da­tion, had the idea of bring­ing her work to China – ‘to of­fer di­rect ex­pe­ri­ence of her dis­tinc­tive style, and a glimpse into the di­verse forms of con­tem­po­rary art’, he ex­plains.

In Shang­hai, Grosse has en­listed a Chi­nese col­lab­o­ra­tor, a de­signer for a lo­cal de­parte­ment store, to cre­ate the fifth and fi­nal zone of ‘Mum­bling Mud’, ti­tled Show­room. The co-creative has fur­nished the space like the liv­ing room of a well-to-do house­hold in mod­ern China: a large can­vas stretches across one wall, a crowded book­shelf across an­other; de­signer so­fas, chairs and tables form a seat­ing ar­range­ment. Look­ing at a scale model, Grosse ex­plains she will en­ter this staged room and cover it in colour so that vis­i­tors are able to see it anew. It will no longer be a pris­tine, as­pi­ra­tional space, but rather an imag­ined room, prompt­ing vis­i­tors to re­think art’s place in daily life.

In con­trast, Un­der­ground, the first zone vis­i­tors ar­rive at, will com­prise dis­carded build­ing ma­te­ri­als such as card­board and crum­bling con­crete, as well as clay-sat­u­rated soil brought in from the out­skirts of Shang­hai, to cre­ate a scene that is at once postapoc­a­lyp­tic and pri­mor­dial. Grosse will then cover the space with swathes of colour­ful paint, es­tab­lish­ing a sense of co­her­ence within the chaos. ‘Paint­ing is one of the most in­de­pen­dent me­dia we have in re­la­tion to where it ap­pears, and there­fore, it can help us think about al­ter­na­tives,’ she says. ‘It can for­mu­late the idea that there is an al­ter­na­tive to what is now.’

Grosse first re­alised the power of paint­ing while study­ing at the Kun­stakademie Düs­sel­dorf in the 1980s, but it wasn’t un­til 1991 that she re­alised the power of a spray gun. While liv­ing in Mar­seille for six months, she was sur­rounded by a com­mu­nity of artists who played a game that in­volved mak­ing ‘car­toon-es­que work’ with an air­brush. Even­tu­ally it was her turn, so she put on a pro­tec­tive mask and took the minia­ture spray gun in hand. ‘I didn’t like it at all,’ she says, ‘but I re­alised how the paint sits on the sur­face, which is very dif­fer­ent from work­ing with a paint­brush. That stuck with me.’ Seven years later, she had the op­por­tu­nity to ex­hibit at the Kun­sthalle Bern in Switzer­land and in­cor­po­rated spray-paint­ing into her prac­tice for the first time, cov­er­ing the cor­ner of a room with shades of green.

Fast-for­ward two decades and not only are all of Grosse’s ex­hi­bi­tions cre­ated with sprayed paint, but it also cov­ers the in­te­rior of her stu­dio: white walls are pro­tected by trans­par­ent plas­tic sheets bear­ing bands of colour and sten­cilled out­lines of paint­ings past; the con­crete floor is a rain­bow of pig­ments. From the out­side, how­ever, the geo­met­ric build­ing, de­signed by lo­cal firm Au­gustin und Frank Ar­chitek­ten, ap­pears pris­tine: a board-formed con­crete cube with large floorto-ceil­ing win­dows on the ground floor. The con­trast be­tween in­te­rior and ex­te­rior re­flects Grosse’s work­ing process. Al­though she be­gins with a struc­tured plan, in­volv­ing scale mod­els of spa­ces and sew­ing pat­terns for the draped fab­ric in­stal­la­tions, there’s no way to pre­dict how the fin­ished work will look.

‘The im­me­di­acy of paint­ing, for me, is one of the most amaz­ing things. I have a lot of an­a­lyt­i­cal thoughts while I work, and I con­stantly re­assess my par­a­digms,’ Grosse says. ‘I find new as­pects of the work on site and then change my orig­i­nal in­ten­tions. Gen­er­ally, if a prob­lem oc­curs, it’s for the bet­ter; it’s in­for­ma­tion.’

This will also be true at K11: each zone’s de­sign may be clearly laid out in a model cov­ered with place­holder colours, but the ac­tual colour schemes and fin­ished ef­fect will be de­ter­mined on site, ac­cord­ing to Grosse’s emo­tional and crit­i­cal un­der­stand­ing of the spe­cific space at a spe­cific time. ‘I need to in­sert paint­ings into an ex­ist­ing sit­u­a­tion – to over­lap them, to cre­ate a para­dox. We are able to live with para­doxes. We don’t stream­line ev­ery­thing in one di­rec­tion,’ she says. ‘I want to show that it’s great to have dif­fer­ences, even clash­ing dif­fer­ences, yet still be able to live to­gether.’

‘I need to in­sert paint­ings into an ex­ist­ing sit­u­a­tion – to cre­ate a para­dox’

katha­rina grosse sur­rounded by works in progress at her ber­lin mitte stu­dio. de­signed by lo­cal firm au­gustin und frank ar­chitek­ten, its white walls are pro­tected by sheets of plas­tic that bear the tech­ni­colour traces of pre­vi­ous works

Top, a model of Grosse’s new show at shang­hai’s chi K11 art mu­seumabove, Grosse de­signed This is­sue’s lim­it­ededi­tion cover, avail­able To sub­scribers, see wall­pa­per.comshe also brings colour To our artist’s recipe This is­sue – see her squid ink pasta, page 186

left, grosse at work in her stu­dio. the artist usu­ally works on sev­eral paint­ings at the same time, of­ten us­ing sten­cils made of foil, foam or card­boardbe­low, an as­sort­ment of grosse’s in­dus­tri­al­strength acrylic spray paints. she can take months to add layer af­ter layer of solid hues to her art­works

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