Interview with Shanti Grumbine

June 7th 2016 | 14th Street Y | By Ryan Turley

I met Shanti Grumbine while participating with her in the Artists in the Marketplace Program at the Bronx Museum in 2014.  Upon researching the other Fellows of the program I was immediately drawn to her work in particular.  The work that I was viewing was a series of wall pieces made from pages of The New York Times that Shanti would delicately, precisely and skilfully cut pieces from in order to create, dare I say it, “beautiful” images.  Yes I said it… They are quite beautiful.

A Lost Mother Tongue, 2015, De-acidified New York Times newspaper, jade glue, matte medium, UV spray, nails, magnets

In line with this theme of beauty it happened coincidently that Shanti has a show up currently at the 14th Street Y.  We met there to speak about her work.

Shanti Grumbine in front of her installation at the 14th Street Y

The show is a result of her residency with LABA, A Laboratory for Jewish Culture at the 14th Street Y.  The residency and exhibition revolve around the study of “Beauty” and how we relate, interpret and communicate with this broad theme. 

The exhibition is titled “The Last Color: A Reliquary” and will be up for the whole summer of 2016.  

Asemic Prayer #1, New York Times plastic sleeves, nails

Shanti and I spoke about her relation with artistic craft, creating accessibility for the viewer and the importance of not making work in a bubble, but for your audience.  How when we view work that seems inaccessible and at times almost an incomprehensible exercise in making the viewer “guess what is going on here” it can often fail and alienate it and the viewer from one another. 

This is an interesting conundrum as often we are taught in Art School that “Beauty” is a bad word.  This word is reserved for more commercial pursuits…fashion, design and the like.  We as “Fine Artists” must think or respond with our visual language on a “deeper” or more abstract level. 

I think that there are arguments in both directions but Shanti has elegantly bridged this divide with her work.  The pieces are accessible, beautiful, and inspiring while at the same time they are intelligent, ambiguous and have a depth that leave the viewer with interest and hopefully questions.  This in my opinion is a very healthy recipe for a successful work. 

Asemic Prayer #2, Tuning Fork, Detail, 2016, New York Times plastic sleeves, nails

Shanti describes her relationship with craft and beauty and the work at LABA in an interview here.

“When craft is evident, it becomes an invitation for the viewer to care as well. Its not that I’m against quick gestures, conceptual works, or deskilling in general; I work with throwaway materials, I am making up my own techniques, I enjoy philosophy and theory. I guess what I’m getting at is that to me, beauty is tied to democracy and accessibility. I want to make work that most people could walk up to and understand regardless of class or education. When people feel welcomed in, they are more likely to be honest, vulnerable, and curious, they are more likely to go deep, they are more likely to learn and they are more likely to share their own wisdom. I feel that this is a time for generosity and inclusion and beauty embodies these traits. After several recent studio visits, I’ve been thinking about beauty as a choice that we make, beauty used as a verb — an act of “beautying” — rather than as something we are either born with or not born with. A lot of what happens when you read through ancient texts is a re-examining of what a word means. I think that different words need to be re-examined at different times and right now, “beauty” is one of them!”

The current work on view at the 14th Street Y departs from using the New York Times Newspaper as her medium and instead uses the iconic blue plastic wrapping that the newspaper is delivered in as her tool for communication.  She handles these plastic wrappings skilfully, weaving a geometric pattern that becomes a visual language left to the viewer to interpret. 

There are smaller paintings/drawings that accompany the larger installations that act as keys and possibly clues as to how she puts together the larger installation pieces.  It is with these keys and mapping drawings/paintings that the viewer can find their own way of deciphering or accessing the installations.  There is not necessarily something to “figure out” but more of a way to gain access and inhabit the weavings with pattern recognition from these keys.  

Fold Key #1, 2016, ink on watercolor paper

Shanti definitely welcomes us in as viewers with this new body of work and I highly recommend you experience her visual language, which is not only beautiful but also really smart.

Shanti is a well-seasoned veteran of the residency circuit having participated in many prestigious fellowship programs including, Vermont Studio Center, Millay Colony, Ucross, Yaddo, Wave Hill Winter Workspace Residency, Lower East Side Printshop Keyholder Residency, A.I.R Gallery Fellowship, 2014 Ota Artist in Residence, Tokyo, Japan, Artist in the Marketplace (AIM), Women’s Studio Workshop and the Bemis Center for Contemporary Art.

She will be at Saltonstall Residency this summer and then a yearlong residency at Roswell Artist in Residence Program 2016-2017. 

Keep your eyes on Shanti here!