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Gagosian Quarterly

February 19, 2019

Katharina Grosse:Mumbling Mud

For a recent exhibition at K11 in Shanghai, Katharina Grosse created an immersive labyrinth that leads viewers through five distinct zones. We take a visual tour through Mumbling Mud and the installation process behind it as the artist discusses the effects of the work’s merging of built and painted space.

Installation view, Katharina Grosse: Mumbling Mud, chi K11 art museum, Shanghai, October 11, 2018–February 24, 2019

Installation view, Katharina Grosse: Mumbling Mud, chi K11 art museum, Shanghai, October 11, 2018–February 24, 2019

Katharina Grosse

Katharina Grosse is a German artist who lives and works in Berlin. Embracing the events and incidents that arise as she paints, Grosse opens up surfaces and spaces to the countless perceptual possibilities of the medium. While she is widely known for her temporary and permanent in situ work, which she paints directly onto architecture, interiors, and landscapes, her approach begins in the studio.

Some of the work in this exhibition is related to the space of the gallery. What inspired you when you saw the space of chi K11 art museum?

 Katharina Grosse Chi K11 art museum is a very interesting place. The museum is located in a shopping mall, where you can shop, eat, meet friends, or participate in workshops. It will connect my work to the consumer code, its economy and affordance. Very young people go there, and some might only pop into the show by chance and get surprised.

The museum has a very low ceiling and only artificial light. It feels almost like a laboratory. It creates an emphasis on horizontality, and I wanted to let this horizontal movement play the main role in this exhibition. It inspired the idea to connect five different zones to form a walk, or rather a hike. You take your body from experience to experience, from chapter to chapter.

Katharina Grosse: Mumbling Mud

Katharina Grosse: Mumbling Mud

You have combined a large number of field materials to complete the work in this exhibition. What kind of imagination do the local materials of Shanghai bring to your work?

KG The first painted field, “Underground,” consists of building materials from a lot of different sources with all sorts of references. Some can be found everywhere, such as the aluminum sheets, the ventilation tubes, the grids, the nets, or the Perspex. Others are from right here—the sandbags, the rice bags, or the bamboo. And yet again there are the large tube structures, like a magnified imitation of grids, which were invented by Arne Schreiber, the head of production for “Underground,” in order to introduce another scale into the structure.

My site-related works propose the coexistence of juxtaposed systems. They fuse the experience of the local and the anonymous. To use bamboo or rice bags in the installation pulls the visual knowledge from the everyday of the streets into the artificiality of the installed show. When I see even a small piece of bamboo, I immediately think of these breathtakingly large scaffoldings for high rises, I think of swaying bamboo forests and of bones, knuckles, the fibers, when it breaks. I think of Ang Lee.

Katharina Grosse: Mumbling Mud

Katharina Grosse: Mumbling Mud

Graffiti is about making a claim and marking a border. Quite on the contrary, I am painting over the border . . . In border areas, we experience mutually exclusive things in an instant, as a paradox.

Katharina Grosse

Installation of Katharina Grosse: Mumbling Mud, chi K11 art museum, Shanghai

You create a world in the space. Why did you choose to break through the visual effect of the original space and create a new world in it? What inspires you? What kind of world do you want to create?

KG Built space and painted space stand for spatial concepts that normally exclude one another. Here they occur at the same time. On one hand, the site with its physical and material characteristics is transformed. It is turned into a pictorial event, into something completely unexpected. On the other hand, the painting gains an illogical tactility and resists arriving at a homogeneous image. There is no one right point of view or angle from which a final or absolute judgment can be made. Thinking and decision making become nonlinear and multidimensional. Hierarchies turn into ever-changing, nonstatic interdependencies. This challenges our idea of harmony and progress.

Katharina Grosse: Mumbling Mud

The exhibition is titled Mumbling Mud. What is the meaning of mud?

KG The title is inspired by a Cantonese expression that literally translates as “ghost eating mud.” It refers to someone mumbling and the state of being audible and inaudible at the same time. Where does the mud go when a ghost, as immaterial a being as could be, swallows it? For me it marks the transition from imagination to realization, the very moment when things just come into being, yet unnamed and indescribable, open to becoming anything.

It is a simple but powerful experience that constant change is natural. Embracing uncertainty in such a way could influence how we look at gender, race, society, or politics.

There is no one right point of view or angle from which a final or absolute judgment can be made. Thinking and decision making become nonlinear and multidimensional.

Katharina Grosse
Katharina Grosse: Mumbling Mud

Katharina Grosse: Mumbling Mud

For your creative technique/approach, you use spray painting, which is often used in street graffiti. Is there any intention?

KG The airless spray machine allows me to paint very fast and enlarges my reach immensely. Also, I not only paint the rugged sculptural surfaces, but I also paint the space—i.e., the air—above.

Graffiti is about making a claim and marking a border. Quite on the contrary, I am painting over the border—i.e., expanding the area rather than closing it off. I feel border districts to be zones of extremely dramatic theatricality, because that is where highly diverse interests overlap, intertwine, and are compelled within a narrow space to engage in competition, to exist in simultaneity. In border areas, we experience mutually exclusive things in an instant, as a paradox.

Katharina Grosse: Mumbling Mud

Katharina Grosse: Mumbling Mud

For the color treatment, why did you choose a large number of colors with high saturation?

KG They are artificial colors without any clear reference to either site or object. They can appear anywhere, independently, without generating fixed meanings or serving specific functions. Multiple layers of colors appear at once, as cluster, as an experience of intertwined energy.

What are your future exhibition plans?

KG After so many very large exhibitions and public commissions within the last one and a half years, I plan on concentrating on my studio practice in 2019. There might be one large outdoor project in Denmark on three gas silos in the summer. I will keep you posted.

Katharina Grosse: Mumbling Mud, chi K11 art museum, Shanghai, November 10, 2018–February 24, 2019; chi K11 art museum, Guangzhou, March 31–June 30, 2019

Artwork © Katharina Grosse and VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn, 2019; photos: JJYPHOTO, courtesy K11 Art Foundation and Galerie nächst St. Stephan, Vienna; video: courtesy chi K11 art museum; interview reprinted with kind permission of artron.net

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