Flirting With the Uncontrollable: Peter Gronquist at Winston Wächter Fine Art in Seattle

Peter Gronquist, RABBIT, 2022. Installation view, Winston Wächter Fine Art, Seattle, WA.

All we ever know of an artist is what they choose to show us. The ones most successful at shapeshifting are those who are insatiable, searching, and restless. They’re pushing to seek the edges, the boundaries; even if only in the most subtle ways. Peter Gronquist’s new body of work for his solo exhibition RABBIT, at Winston Wächter Fine Art in Seattle, is not a subtle shift. It’s a tectonic one.

In the past few years, Peter Gronquist has been experimenting, resulting in works that are a little rougher, more hewn; uncontrollable. This shift didn’t happen overnight. It begins with the wind, and the ripple, of his 2018 work, A Visual History Of the Invisible. This work was a feat of engineering, navigating the high winds of the Columbia River Gorge where the installation of a 50 x 50 foot, 200 pound silver spandex sheet was suspended on steel cable. This was strung across a passage between two jutting rock formations where the wind caught it, shaping the fabric to give it form. Later, this work inspired a sculpture series, titled “Wind Memory” made from fabric, resin, wind, and silver nitrate. This series involved suspending fabric in a state of movement, and gilding it in silver to become some sort of mercurial being. Other works by the artist such as the “Immortals” series feature a strange fluid suspended in motion, seeping through the fissures and breaks of various objects. Are they broken apart by the force of this material? Or is it their breakage that reveals them? Most recently, Gronquist has been experimenting with sine waves, pools of water, and stones. To say he is flirting with the uncontrollable shouldn’t suggest he isn’t calculating. This kind of work takes an ability to account for the unaccountable, the unpredictability of the contributing elements beyond one’s control—whether wind, fabric, metal, stone, or sound. 

Peter Gronquist, RABBIT, 2022. Installation view, Winston Wächter Fine Art, Seattle, WA.

In RABBIT, we’re confronted with the tension of all these past and recent explorations. Immediately upon walking into the gallery, we face a mysterious altar. River stones form a circular border on the floor containing a shallow pool of black, oily water, in which various bits of dust, bubbles, and sparkling reflections give the illusion of looking into the night sky. The body of water is divided by an existing gallery wall that has been painted charcoal black on both sides, and covered with an immense silver spandex banner on one side, while on the other a singular undulating chrome form slowly spins. Periodically, the relative stillness and tranquility of the stones, the pool, and its reflections are interrupted by an ominous, pulsing bass tone—like some great electronic bell. The sound resonates through the space, vibrating in your sternum, and creating electric zig-zagging ripples across the surface of the water. This burst of overstimulation piercing the calm creates a sense of captivating unease and tension. Transfixed, I find I can’t move away from this dark and ominous pool, floating silvery forms, and its border of stones. This altar is a portal, a space between worlds. But over time, something else happens. The noise becomes less disconcerting, timely and predictable, a fixture in the geography. Metaphors abound. Is this environmental, like thunder rolling across the hills? Or is this an imposition upon the land from something more systemic? I’m not certain I can determine whether this acclimation is a good or a sinister thing.

Peter Gronquist, Burn 1, 2022. Velvet and fire on wood and plexiglass frame and acrylic paint on walnut frame. 84.5 x 60.5 x 2.75 inches.
Peter Gronquist, Felted 2, 2022. Felted wool on stretched wool, 72 x 48 x 4.5 inches.
Peter Gronquist, Felted 2, 2022 (detail). Felted wool on stretched wool, 72 x 48 x 4.5 inches.

Across each gallery wall, Gronquist’s familiar acrylic and plexiglass format appears, but this time covered in materials like shimmering velvet or brightly chromatic knotted and burled felting wool and thread. The velvet shapes are pulled across the acrylic in irregular forms, like stretched hide or an unfinished tapestry. The edges of the fabric are burnt, sometimes entire patches missing; the material singed having passed through fire. Their bloating bodies threaten to burst from their armatures; bulging figures protruding beyond the frame, revealing emissions in aluminum leaking and floating out as if in anti-gravity space. These are not the manufactured fabrications of Gronquist’s past works. They are corporeal, vulnerable, beings. 

I disagree with art world tendencies to allude to nature in ways that perpetuate colonial and capitalist severance from something that we are. Therefore what I believe Gronquist seeks to identify is not the supposed gap between us and nature—nature is inherently us; but explicitly the inescapable connection between us and forces greater than ourselves and the effect we have on each other. We are the slowly spinning figure suspended above the universal pool; we are the torn and singed hide; we are the pulsing sound. In RABBIT, he shows us how what shapes the earth, also shapes us; and the great vulnerability required of us in being, and becoming, amidst great change.

Peter Gronquist: RABBIT
Winston Wächter Fine Art, Seattle, WA
May 25–July 13


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Author: Sharon Arnold

Sharon Arnold (they/her/theirs) is a queer nonbinary essayist, curator, and educator who weaves social philosophy and cultural theory into essays on art, artists, enchantment, and culture.