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September 28, 2011

Color Coding with Katie Murken’s Continua

About the Author
Kira Grennan

See the exhibition here

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Continua, a new installation by Katie Murken at Gallery 2J, displays the artist’s enormous sensitivity to and love for color. Twenty-four columns made of colorful stacks of phone books form a life-size color wheel. Through Continua, Katie Murken reaffirms color as a vital, autonomous field, ripe with possibility.
The octagonal wall structure that Katie Murken has built as the backbone for her installation gently envelops viewers in a self-contained space. Here we not only can see color in its raw, distilled columnar form, but also seem to be able to feel and hear it. The intervals of twenty-four columns around the white gallery wall seem musical, like a horizontally moving scale lining the room. The variation of color within each spectrum, determined partly by chance and partly by probability, moves up and down the columns like chord progressions.
Talking through it, Katie explained that each column is based on a ‘chord’ made up of two complementary colors and one additional color. She rolls a pair of dice to determine the other twenty-four colors per column, each number rolled determining the degree shift of the next color from the previous one. Turning around the full perimeter of the columns, we witness yellow turn into green into teals, blues, and plums. On the opposite wall, burgundy turns into browns, brick reds, salmons, oranges. As our eyes drink in this rich, chromatic variety, we become aware of nuances within individual columns. Certain layers are striated, some seem more densely packed with die, others more warped and wrinkled. This variation deepens the sensual impact of the piece, making it feel emphatically handmade. It renews a sense of the organic nature of color in the midst of a world that deals more and more with neat digital swatches of color viewed on a computer screen.
The use of phonebooks as the raw material for Continua is also worth noting. Often overlooked or seen as irrelevant or inconsequential, these books are vestiges of an analog society in which every house and business could be referenced in a single, widely distributed text. The books are closed, the names and words and numbers sealed away within the columns of color. This highlights the place of color as an elemental, all encompassing part of the visible material world.
The back of the project space houses a series of prints that documents the process of choosing the colors for each column of Continua. Murken’s process is impeccably systematic and methodical, like the prints themselves, which map out probability charts, color diagrams, and excel spreadsheets of die quantity and location. It was a striking transition to go from the explosion of visceral, sensual color in the front of the gallery to the back area with its methodical probability, calculation, and charts. For me, the net result was that the concept of ‘spectrum’ became more physical than ever before when I stood in the middle of the columns. From this vantage point of pure, sensual experience, I understood more about color and its raw potential than from reading texts about color theory or the physics of electromagnetic spectra. In a way, Continua is a wonderful show about the act of making art; it strips away all of the specific ways in which we use color as painters, sculptors, video artists etc., allowing us to reflect on its inherent potential.
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