Permeable (Broken Clover), 2017. Cast FGR 95. 5 x 10 feet.
SHANTI GRUMBINE transforms everyday objects including broken castoffs found on the side of the road and the New York Times, which is both revered and thrown away daily. Through the slow, repetitive actions of cutting, gluing, screen-printing and casting, she leaves the impression of her hand to be the lens through which the viewer can reconsider systems of value and knowledge dissemination. Shanti earned her BFA in 2000 at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago and her MFA in 2005 at Penn Design, University of Pennsylvania (Philadelphia). She has attended numerous artist residencies, including those at the Saltonstall Foundation (Ithaca, New York), Bemis Center for Contemporary Art (Omaha, Nebraska) and Vermont Studio Center (Johnson, Vermont) with a full fellowship. Most recently she was a 2016-2017 RAIR Fellow in Roswell, New Mexico. In 2017, she presented two solo exhibitions: Zeroing at Smack Mellon (Brooklyn) and pilgrim, approaching wordlessness at Roswell Museum and Art Center in New Mexico. Her work will be included in Summer Reading, an upcoming group show at The Woskob Family Gallery at Penn State. Shanti lives and works in Brooklyn, New York.
OtherPeoplesPixels: You’ve worked with The New York Times as material for years. Where did you start and how has the work changed over the years?
Shanti Grumbine: I started using the New York Times newspaper as source material in 2011. In 2009, I was diagnosed with late stage neurological Lyme Disease and I spent much of the following two years in bed, isolated and not capable of continuing the sculpture practice I’d finally found my footing in. My world slowed down, and due to cognitive difficulties, so did my reading. I wasn’t able to hold onto information, my word recall was impaired, and my focus was shot. My experience of reading had shifted into something so slow and non-linear that it no longer resembled reading. I wondered how to recreate this experience visually. At the same time I was really trying to get out of my own head and connect with the world at large. Newspapers create a simplified/organized microcosm of the world. Computer screens hurt my eyes, so I had to stick with reading the paper version. I wondered what it would be like if each word disappeared after being read. Would I, the reader, hold onto the words more dearly out of desperation? Would my comprehension increase? Would the authors approach to narrative or information sharing shift? Would language become more meaningful? At first I wanted to create a stop motion animation of a newspaper article disappearing word by word. But the pain I dealt with in my joints made the action of erasure difficult. So I started to excise each line with an X-Acto knife. Because what we read inevitably affects what we see, I started to cut away at the images as well. What started as a personal gesture grew into a much larger exploration of censorship, marketing and the historical precedents for western journalism.
Surplus, 2017. De-acidified New York Times newspaper, matte medium, UV spray coat, newspaper stick, spray paint.
OPP: Transformation is important in your work. And there are many different kinds of transformation—redaction of text, material and scale shifts, recreating two-dimensional images as three-dimensional objects. Is transformation content or process?
SG: I think it’s both, a process that leads to content. I believe strongly in the way that the body can think—I discover the world around me with my hands. My mind is curious, and my hands investigate. It’s no different from when I was a kid taking things apart to see what they were made of. So to redact text is also a way of trying to understand how the page functions. Through that type of removal, the margins become more visible and so does the structure of the page. This redaction of the newspaper page led me to a project called Score, where I translated redacted newspaper pages into a musical score. When I redacted the individual lines of text, the words and shapes of the pull quotes became more prevalent. When I screen-printed the redacted page – I saw the pull quotes as medieval square notes asking to be translated into a melody. By turning the pages into a score and performing them, I was able to experience the flow of information more clearly from when a story breaks to when it disappears from the public eye. I could hear how journalism functioned. This type of transformation is a very slow, very elemental way of knowing that isn’t appreciated in today’s digital, fast paced information age. By allowing for slow repetitive processes, I tapped into the systems of western information dissemination that preceded journalism including illuminated holy books and oral traditions of information dissemination such as Gregorian chant.
In my newer project, I focus on the act of walking and the collection and recreation of broken things. When I am drawn to a random object on the side of the road, I have a choice. The moment of finding can remain my own personal discovery, a fleeting momentary but unconscious encounter, or through its recreation and enlargement, it can become something permanent, and more monumentally visible. Through the transformative act of recreation, I commit to a bent piece of metal, privileging the margins of culture and the throw away.
Melt, 2015. screen print. 22 x 30 inches.
OPP: In Zeroing (2017), your solo show at Smack Mellon, what’s the relationship between the fashion accessories rendered in print and sculpture—watches, jewelry and shoes—and the news images that point to serious problems in our world—guns, melting glaciers and refugees seeking asylum?
SG: In Zeroing, I wanted to focus on the ways we establish and maintain value through advertising and how those techniques affect our ability to seek, communicate and understand “truth.” I’m interested in the black and white advertisements for luxury items that congregate in the margins of news journals providing a peripheral narrative. Even in The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, Mrs. Maisel, an upper class 1960s house-wife turned comedienne has the epiphany that the shoe ads are strategically placed to distract women from the content of the articles. The New York Times is a truth seeking institution and it’s also a commercial product, funded by advertisers and aimed toward a specific class, which is made more obvious by its advertisements. The pieces of jewelry, watches and vases are intended to be passed down from generation to generation, reinforcing the relationship between profit, media and legacy.
Throughout the show I created relationships between the news images and the luxury items in the advertisements. For instance, in front of a screen print of a melting iceberg in Antarctica, I placed a Baccarat crystal vase as if to ask, “Which crystalline structure will last longer?” And I paired a Chanel pump with an image of women and children escaping from Syria in Turkey, pointing out the blatant irony of functionality as well as gesturing toward the mythic quality of alienation and longing in Dorothy’s ruby slippers and Cinderella’s glass slippers. I was interested in desire in general, how it functions and what types of insidious forces shape that personal landscape of longing. I wanted to understand these luxury items at a more formal level. By enlarging, inverting the values and screen-printing them to look like X-Rays or ghosts, I was able to uncouple them from branding. By recreating them by hand as white objects and presenting them in a non-profit gallery space, I shifted their materiality, context and value.
Asemic Prayer #2, 2015. New York Time plastic delivery wrapping
OPP: You call Brooklyn home, but you spent 2017 in Roswell, New Mexico as a RAIR Fellow. What was surprising, difficult or thrilling about New Mexico? How did the environment affect your work?
SG: I’ve loved New Mexico since I first went hiking and camping there in my 20s. I love the vast, dry expanse of high plains and desert that surrounds Roswell. When the land is endless and quiet, your mind attunes to that. Roswell is equidistant from the Southern parts like Carlsbad and White Sands and northern towns like Santa Fe, Taos, Abiquiu and Ojo Caliente, so I got to explore many different aspects of the New Mexican landscape and culture. But mainly I was in Roswell, working, reading, writing and learning my own internal rhythms. In Roswell, there was time for everything. Time for stretches of disciplined studio time, time for feeling totally lost, time to be supported by friends, time to start over and lots of time to see things through.
Since I was diagnosed with Lyme, my main source of exercise, well-being and pain management has been walking. Every residency I do, I establish my 2-3 mile daily walk. It’s my top priority, and everything else—food, studio, socializing—organizes itself around that. In Roswell, I started to think and read more about pilgrimage and the history of walking. Though I spent my first four months focusing on Zeroing and some other group shows in New York, my next project was forming itself in my daily walks and reflexive collection of detritus from the side of the road. That winter, I found out about an annual holy pilgrimage to El Santuario de Chimayo, a small adobe Church in Chimayo, that occurs on Good Friday and was grateful to incorporate that experience into my research. Rebecca Solnit described pilgrimage in her book Wanderlust as a “liminal state – a state of being between one’s past and future identities and thus outside the established order, in a state of possibility.” Despite moments of hopelessness, this is often how I felt when I first got sick, and it is also how I felt in Roswell. Witnessing that pilgrimage affected the content and format of my work for the rest of the residency.
Liminal, 2017. Gel pen on black paper. 20 x 28 inches.
OPP: Tell us about your most recent solo show at the Roswell Museum and Art Center, pilgrim approaching wordlessness (2017).
SG: pilgrim, approaching wordlessness was comprised of two distinct but related parts dealing with aspects of liminality. One part consisted of drawings and wall sculptures based on the ubiquitous and overlooked decorative architectural features such as breeze blocks that can be found in almost any rural or urban community regardless of class. With Trump commissioning border wall prototypes, I couldn’t help but start thinking about borders and boundaries, who and what we let in, how and why and who gets to decide. I started thinking about permeability and rigidity, the power of empire and the incredible risks people take to create sanctuaries. And the visible role that architecture plays in creating these various value systems. These layered thoughts are bound up in my material explorations of breeze block patterns, an affordable and aesthetically pleasing decorative concrete block, originally designed to keep out the sun and let in the breeze. The other part of the show consisted of drawings and sculptures based on the broken, rusted things I found on the side of the road. A collection turned collective as friends and neighbors began dropping off bits and pieces of broken things found from their own walks.
C, 2017. Foam core, fiberglass veil, FGR 95, taxidermy clay, iron B metal coating, patina, found object.
OPP: In what way are those objects “souvenirs [that] point forward toward something still becoming?”
SG: While I was working toward this show, I re-read parts of Susan Stewart's book, On Longing where she talks about the souvenir. I was trying to understand what these broken rusted objects were to me, why I felt drawn to picking them up and why I wanted to trace them as drawings and remake them as larger sculptures. Souvenirs are a reminder of something. They are “by definition always incomplete” because they are a trace of the original event and are therefore inherently nostalgic. The objects that I find are similarly incomplete, and hold a trace of what they used to be. But they aren’t a part of a whole, the way a bit of hair or cloth reminds us of the person or dress. And they are not the replica of anything such as the Eiffel Tower, nor do they feel nostalgic, not even for the particular walk or place in which I found them or the person who gave them to me. In their rusted brokenness, there is the sense of something new, something caught in the act of becoming. They become signifiers of transition, idols of possibility. According to Bill Brown, an object becomes a thing when it breaks, no longer neatly fitting into a category of functionality. We only see the window when it becomes dirty. In my act of collection, I came to understand my own objectness and as a result my own transformation into thingness. When the body is sick or broken, it no longer disappears into its functionality. We are all at one time or another, a thing among things, a liminal vessel straddling where we were and what we will become.
Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006 Stacia was a 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include shows at Siena Heights University (Michigan 2013), Heaven Gallery (Chicago 2014), the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (Chicago 2014), The Stolbun Collection (Chicago 2017) and Indianapolis Art Center (Indiana 2017). In March 2018, her solo installation Where Do We Go From Here? will open at Robert F. DeCaprio Art Gallery (Palos Hills, Illinois). In conjunction, the atrium will exhibit two-dimensional artwork by artists who were invited by Stacia to make new work also titled Where Do We Go From Here?