Despite the expectation that artworks serve to implement a pragmatic social agenda, many artists still privilege the work of the imagination over the demand for function. In rejecting the requirement of such utility, they produce objects that do a different kind of work—an associative, poetic labor that spells nothing out but resonates in the mind, like a tuning fork, activating an unprogrammed response.
Daiga Grantina, a Latvian-born artist working in Paris, has produced a rare thing: a series of sculptural moments that together evoke certain structures of the natural world. Her strategically spaced, sequential pieces are effectively about their own materiality, enclosed and defined by how and from what they are fabricated. Draped, gathered, mounted on the wall, and suspended, these objects are sui generis—what they imply to the eye of the beholder is left to the beholder to resolve. Slung across the long, narrow, high-ceilinged Lobby Gallery of the New Museum, Grantina’s interrelated fabric-based objects create a wavering panorama. They animate and occupy the space in an oddly non-aggressive, inviting fashion, like the decorative elements inside an aquarium. In the hierarchies of perception, the materials, in combination with everything that’s been done to them, make the first hit.
The exhibition title, “What Eats Around Itself,” along with its literary and artistic sources, amplifies the lack of aggression and the sci-fi, biomorphic feel of the objects. Grantina is interested in the evolution of plants and, for this piece, drew inspiration from Tim Wheeler’s photographs of lichen. Lichen consist of a fungus living with an alga or cyanobacterium—the fungus feeding off of and protecting its partner organism. Grantina has arranged her suspended and wall-hung objects in a way that ties them into an implied cycle of growth and decline, mirroring lichen’s adaptive qualities. She was also inspired by Rilke’s comparison between roses and eyelids: “Like a rose, life unfolds with each blink.”
In a recorded statement made for the exhibition, Grantina states that she works almost entirely intuitively. Her relationship with her materials, what they are (cast silicon, paint, latex, various fabrics), and what she does to them (gathering, tying, draping, plasticizing, suspending) are her first considerations and her relational platform. She makes her objects for specific spaces, which in turn determine the final form and outcome, because the work is first and foremost site-specific in nature. Though she does make models, ultimately the work bridges intention, fabrication, shifted scale, and the challenges of architecture and light.
Grantina’s materials are strung along a spectrum of sensation constructed from very basic sets of oppositions: natural/synthetic, hard/soft, dark/light, opaque/transparent, hotly chromatic/indifferently colored. She uses color and light not so much as aspects of a particular surface but as characteristics of materiality. Color is used as a spatially differentiating element and point of exclamation. The work consumes the space and creates a cool, otherworldly, wholly artificial environment that oddly mirrors our own distance from the natural world.