ALL PHOTOS: Courtesy of the artist

Images from Continua
Katie Murken’s Continua
Posted: 9/11/11

Katie Murken’s solo exhibition, Continua, is undeniably honest and heartbreakingly beautiful. Its concept is imbedded deeply within the materials of its own making, brilliantly reflecting materiality on a personal, human scale while also reaching out into a larger idea of history. Murken’s colorful pillars are a poignant representation of a collective memory. 

Entering the rented space on the second floor of 319 N. 11th Street, I am surrounded by 10-foot-tall white walls constructed to form a hexagonal shape.  The structure has no roof and is lit with long fluorescent tube lights on the ceiling that follow the shape of the hexagonal space.  Directly across from the entrance is a small doorway that leads into a back room where silkscreens hang on the walls; these prints inform the process of the installation of 24 columns of stacked hand-dyed phone books lining the walls inside the hexagon.

Installation began with Murken’s construction of her own color wheel.  She can make approximately 600 colors with her wheel and her dye.  Coincidentally, the human eye can perceive close to 600 colors.  However, our eyes physically cannot distinguish between all of the colors that Murken can create.   She invented a dice game to determine how she will use her colors to dye the phone books and stack them to make the pillars.  “Each column is assigned a triad of colors, one complementary pair and a third color equidistant between them,” Murken says.  “The triad is used to create a progression of 24 colors and this becomes the game board from which I selects colors for the column.”  To select the colors, she rolls a pair of dice to move the selection up and down the color spectrum.  The rules to her game have been configured to favor slow change; it is a controlled randomness.  For the most part, she can anticipate the color shifts in the dye of the phone books, but in some cases, large jumps occur.  Pointing to a chart that she has created with the results of her dice game, she tells me that shifts like that are the anomalies that she was unable to predict.

Murken says she is using the color spectrum to appeal directly to the senses and that she is attempting to return to something essential.

It is like cutting off all your hair.  The root is still there.

Murken describes phone books as nothing more than physical lists of names that take up space: her first instinct was to use them because they were so easy to procure.  But the ink makes up letters, and the letters make up names, and the names make up columns, and the columns make up pages, and the pages make up books, and the books then make Murken’s columns.  And using the word “analog,” she relates the phone book to her use of color.  Mentioning David Bachelor’s Chromophobia, she states that now people are made to understand color with swatches configured by a computer.   She tells me that artists are still trained in analog color.  Artists are still taught basic color theory principles and then trained to mix color.

Murken’s work brings to mind ancient ruins in which stone columns have been meticulously reconstructed.  When these columns are reconstructed with very tiny pieces of stone, I like to imagine the one person who pieced it all together so that we could see how the thing once stood.  But as I am leaving Murken’s installation, I am also reminded that the process of making art is always referencing a present state.  Even if we refer to the past, that image of the past carries the glaze of our present time, for it is the past as it is imagined now.  Aptly titled, Continua calls upon the idea of infinity by engaging the viewer in a present moment.  Interestingly enough though, this is executed by focusing our sight towards a vibrant symbol of time as layers.  We can look backward, but how do we define our current layer, our current color, or our current die roll?

The installation acts as a map to infinity: in these visual aids Murken metaphorically plays God, reassembles ancient ruins, and cuts her hair off to see the follicles.  Enacting enormous scale shifts, she mimics our understanding of time and how we negotiate our perception with the past and the present.  Murken’s installation makes me believe that I am experiencing infinity simply by imagining what layer or what color comes next as my eyes move up a column.  I observed individuals in attendance at the opening reception in a similar state, standing in conversational groups but with their eyes transfixed to the columns.  To be fair, it is difficult to carry out a conversation when observing the weight of the simplicity of chance, a concept so essential to the idea of our collective memory: it smartly dances as light with the cones in our retinas.

319 N. 11th Street, 2nd Floor
Philadelphia, PA 19107
On view through October 7th, 2011
Open gallery hours Saturdays, 12-6pm. And by appointment.
Closing Reception October 7th, 4-9pm.


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