08 December 2014
NEW YORK — Floor Grootenhuis (b. Nairobi, Kenya, 1974) inhabits the galleries of the National Academy School of Fine Arts following the completion of a Studio Art Intensive Program begun in September 2012 after a summer course. Her solo exhibition, PRESENT (IN) VISIBLE, is on view now through 02 January 2015.Grootenhuis is a sensitive participant within the space and uses a combination of humble materials within this survey of the last few years. She adds participatory elements to many of her pieces to encourage audience involvement. Many of her pieces accomplish this quite well. The strongest of her participatory installations, in side out side in, 2012-13, stitches the peels of citrus fruits together with butcher’s twine, forming solid, amorphous masses of skins or armor. The piece lends itself quite well to the immediate participation of others, as the continual work-in-progress grows off a chair before falling to the floor, or hangs from the ceiling, as in previous renditions. Here, the remnants of the morphing installation are now dried, shrunken and hard. They lay across a white wall in an abstract form like garland stretched long between occasional bunches. The piece works well as a changeable object and transforms within different spaces. Shadows mimic shapes on the wall as dangling pieces softly turn. This white wall is a welcome home for in side out side in and its new configuration. On the wall opposite to in side out side in rests preciousness?, 2012, another installation utilizing toilet paper rolls. The wall becomes slightly complicated with the addition of a radiator about two feet above the floor, and a shaded window bisecting the wall. The individual pieces appear to have been moistened then thrown like an old spit-ball, left to cling like glue to the wall. Though the overall conversation works in relation to the participatory and humble piece on the opposing wall, preciousness? seems a bit haphazard and slightly lacking in its ability to persuade the viewer. It might be the installation is too small, or it might simply be the material itself is lacking, as spread throughout the wall. Either way the moistened paper does not seem entirely resolved with the radiator and window, as if these were an afterthought or not considered.
Leading to both of these installations is untitled, 2013 (above), a striking paper bag with ink. The label states this bag is a “plate” and upon further investigation I discovered the piece was actually used as a plate to make other prints on paper. Without this knowledge, the object is strong and the materials resonate in the room, but knowing that Grootenhuis used this bag as a tool, a device to make other prints, elevates the object even further. Aside from the participatory elements, Grootenhuis reveals what she is after in this piece — the humble and simple used to create something more elevated, with the potential for viewer participation. Her statement comments:
I search for a unifying language that elucidates what it is to be human. In an age where electronic devices have become a replacement to intimacy and face-to-face connection, my commitment is to bring the natural, physical and everyday world back into the human experience. I invite people to reconsider their relationships to common objects. I look for that space where the unexpected can exist and new ways of seeing can evolve, inspire and surprise. It is important that my work has physicality and can be experienced and touched. In this way a direct memory is triggered, shifting the past to the present and vice versa.
untitled, 2013 is at the crux of this intention and has the power to initiate future decisions within a practice concerned with elements of humility and memory. Humble materials must be met with humble handling and here Grootenhuis has succeeded.
untitled, 2013, is situated in the gallery after invisible presence, 2013, another participatory installation that uses recycled paper bags. Grootenhuis plays with the recollected bags, morphing them into a twisting, turning cloud or ball that folds into itself. It is oddly kinetic in its soft, weighty stillness. According to her statement, “[Grootenhuis] invited consumers in New York to recycle their paper bags through [her]… [the] piece is an homage to the makers of paper bags.” This removed layer of participation seems to work for Grootenhuis as the piece hovers overhead. Rather than direct involvement, Grootenhuis has invited participation in the process and research of a finished piece. This distance, or degrees-of-separation in participation, allows Grootenhuis to control the overall impact of the piece which seems quite successful. It takes the spectacle out of participation, and encourages environmental change (recycling) — very welcome in an overly productive art world.
Perhaps the most visually remarkable display in the exhibit is valuables – memory, 2014, a series of 120 (of 144 total) lithographs hung neatly in 6X20 grid. The abstractions are lyrical and though the specifics of each may not catch your eye immediately, the images are striking. Upon further approach, the works reveal themselves to be miscellaneous contents in plastic travel-sized zip baggies. Again, Grootenhuis asked the public to contribute objects they deemed valuable but were not necessarily expensive. Grootenhuis has succeeded in transforming the ordinary into something entirely new with these prints. The ingenuity in the simplicity and almost mundane way in which the objects are captured in the baggie is remarkable. Over-curation or excessive placement would have amounted to an unwelcome fabrication, but these simply fall out of a suitcase and into our peripheral vision. They are silent homages and significant portraits. Grootenhuis’ restraint deserves applause. That said, an unnecessary addition to the exhibit, is valuables – objects, 2014, the actual physical objects that Grootenhuis collected. The high quality of the prints almost demands that these research materials be absent. The magic gets lost in translation from imaginative and subtle print to maudlin object. If there was a way for Grootenhuis to elevate these as she did the prints, perhaps to allow the viewer to become more voyeuristic, they may too be transformed and become a more exciting element. But arranged as-is, atop rows of counter-height tables, seems too obvious and takes aways from the strength and mystery of the overall project.
At entry we are greeted with, Impression, 2011, one of the two videos in the exhibit and a collaboration with Nina Hein. The piece depicts Grootenhuis dressed in a susceptible dress made of filled blue tubular balloons — the kind a balloon bender might use — as she wanders down the High Line of New York City with an umbrella in hand. The balloons hug Grootenhuis’ otherwise nude body (she has on a nude one-piece) tightly. She wanders self consciously through the natural elements, picking and smelling propped flowers as if she is the only person present. Passers-by, in true New York fashion, give her little or no notice. The aim of the performance is a little fuzzy. At first glance it appears to be performance for the sake of performance. If it is to shock or illicit a response, it should perhaps be performed in a more rural or secluded setting, though it then risks becoming more about the spectacle. If the piece aims to express day-dream or singularity of being, it may hover too much in its self-consciousness to be effective. It either needs to be more seamless and dancerly in approach or even more self-conscious and awkward to be effective. Though the piece will need more work if it is to fully function on its own, Grootenhuis appears to have offered us a working sketch of something to come, or an element of research, which functions quite well as an introduction to this exhibit.
There are other elements that all hold true to Grootenhuis’ research. The participatory underwear collections in both vulnerability 1, 2010 and vulnerability part 2, 2014, hold important ideas and reflect upon sexuality, gender, body and beauty, but have not been taken far enough. vulnerability 1, is transformed into a litho, which begins to unfold a mystery behind these collected objects, but the undergarments on their own no longer hold the magic they could as installed on top of each other in a column. As with valuables – objects they need to be transformed further. We may need to become more voyeuristic for the pieces to once again hum. vulnerability part 2 includes photographic elements shared on instagram, a noble effort to fit within a trend, but too passive for a lasting impact. Social media is illusive, but to be truly compelling artists must transform these tools in order to use them to ask more questions, rather than simply quell a seeming immediate need.
Though there are a few small missteps, overall, PRESENT (IN) VISIBLE is an impressive survey of Grootenhuis’ time at the National Academy. She is a strong researcher with a commendable vision. Her willingness to explore promises a future rigorous studio practice. As is true with many thesis exhibitions, PRESENT (IN) VISIBLE would have benefited from slightly more editing, but Grootenhuis deserves applause for her persistence. Vulnerability paired with a great sense of the world, especially under the omniscient eyes of academia and the industry, will serve her well throughout future years of practice. I look forward to seeing what she comes up with.