Review: For Katie Grinnan, a journey across land and inside the mind

Installation view of “Electric Data Wave Serenade” by Katie Grinnan, 2017-18, at Commonwealth and Council in Los Angeles.
(Katie Grinnan and Commonwealth and Council)

Women’s bodies and nature have long been linked in art. In a brilliant two-gallery exhibition at Commonwealth and Council, Katie Grinnan suggests it’s high time we start thinking of nature in terms of women’s minds.

That shift in perspective has all sorts of consequences. First and foremost: It treats women as minds that matter. Second, it treats nature as a complex intelligence — an expansive, all-encompassing, cosmic body that is an intellectual powerhouse and a force to be reckoned with.

It also brings minds and bodies back together, replacing such us/them oppositions as thought/feeling, science/art and male/female with a more fluid back-and-forth among all parts of a potentially infinite whole. The L.A. artist’s exhibition inspires us to understand the interconnectedness of all things — and our place in them.

Like Henry David Thoreau, Grinnan starts with the self. She embraces modern technology, experiments with yoga and embarks on road trips to Death Valley, where a small crew videotaped her hike through a sunbaked landscape of undulating hills and blinding skies.

The first gallery of the exhibition “Electric Data Wave Serenade” includes a three-channel video (each component projected on its own wall) and six sculptures (five on the floor, one wall-mounted). Together, they form a most ambitious installation, the various works coming together — slowly and poetically — to make time and space collapse and expand, sensuously and insightfully.

Katie Grinnan
“Psychic Tectonic Glitch Body” by Katie Grinnan, 2018, Aggregate of Friendly Plastic and earth from Death Valley, 24 inches by 40 inches by 21 inches. Katie Grinnan and Commonwealth and Council

Two of Grinnan’s sculptures consist of dozens of casts she made from her body in improvised yoga poses. Made of dirt and plastic, each shell-like shape records a single moment in time. Laid atop and alongside one another, the clusters have the presence of stop-action animations, sculptural renditions of 2-D illusions of movement through time and space, now frozen — or petrified — in a single instant.

The three-channel video functions similarly, but in reverse. Little by little, you piece together a down-to-earth story about the origins of art and the complexities of consciousness. The yearning for meaning and the beauty of nothingness also figure into Grinnan’s installation, in which she turns herself inside out and, in the process, gives us a glimpse of nirvana.

Katie Grinnan
Installation view of “Electric Data Wave Serenade” by Katie Grinnan at Commonwealth and Council. Katie Grinnan and Commonwealth and Council

The second gallery pushes the all-is-one inside-outness to a hallucinatory crescendo. Five wall-mounted sculptures and a freestanding triptych are 3-D depictions of five seconds of the electrical activity recorded in Grinnan’s brain as she was dreaming. Mountains and valleys and crystal-filled caverns chart an abstract landscape that is miles away from anything imagined by the Surrealists.

A video version of those same five seconds is projected onto an accurately scaled re-creation of a rock face near Zabriskie Point. To watch and listen to the evidence of Grinnan’s journeys inside and outside her head is to see that beauty is anything but skin deep — and that intelligence is not limited to rational analysis.

Commonwealth and Council, 3006 W. 7th St., No. 220, L.A. Through June 23; closed Sundays-Tuesdays. (213) 703-9077,

Katie Grinnan
Detail of "5 Seconds of Dreaming (aggregate)” by Katie Grinnan, 2017-18. Cast aggregate molded from a 3-D printed landscape derived from five seconds of EEG data made of resin and sawdust, sand, enamel paint, welded steel and spray paint, 60 inches by 96 inches by 96 inches. Katie Grinnan and Commonwealth and Council

See all of our latest arts news and reviews at