Jude Griebel’s new work continues his examination of our ambiguous relationship with the material and natural worlds. The work in Arms, Eyes, Detritus is displayed on shelving that positions the collection as anthropological artifacts, revealing both the absurdity and anxiety of the 21st century.
Jude Griebel grew up in the open landscape of the Canadian prairies. It’s a place where it’s easy to imagine the natural world as dominant, a setting in which humans have mounted heroic struggles to tame and shape nature into a habitable environment. For all the blue sky and waves of grain, this is a manmade world with millions of acres of crops, including GMOs, sprayed for weeds, bugs and disease. The ruins of the family farm stud the landscape: barns that once housed animals and grain, fences, abandoned windmills that still turn in the summer heat, all replaced by industrial farming. In Barn Skull RR4 and Barn Skull RR5 (RR is a rural route in Canada) Griebel interprets rural ruin as biological remains, evoking human loss in the hollow stare of the barn.
By embodying environmental degradation and romanticized ruin in human forms, Griebel invites us into an awkward confrontation with our place in the landscape we inhabit and are creating. Thinning Glacier stumbles forward with the confusion and pathos of Frankenstein’s monster, its body melting and weeping, monstrous and pitiable. In Drag and Stretched Thin, emissions from jets and transport trucks create a stick figure of thick grey cloud; at the same time they stretch and drag their fragile faceless creature towards certain destruction. Griebel uses diorama techniques to create colossal figures in a miniaturized human world. At once imposing and ethereal, their shaky balance reflects the uncertainty of a society that has created a reality it both wants and fears.
As he removes the barriers between us, the detritus of our material world, and our anthropological past, grotesque figures evolve. In the series of Modern Grotesques, Griebel chooses unmistakable contemporary corporate icons: MacDonald’s, Evian, Coke, Starbucks, and the ubiquitous plastic straws and cutlery that nourish disposable culture. The grimacing heads, ruins from antiquity complete with lichen, recall Italian renaissance garden statuary from the Gardens of Bomarzo and the Giardino Giusti in Verona; these contemporary chimeras clash the past into the present with dispiriting results.
There is playfulness here that is at odds with the gravity of the theme. In Wreck, a toy-like sailboat skips along candy coloured waves towards a small island; beneath the waves a more sinister reality reaches towards the surface. Arms, Eyes, Detritus challenges us to understand where we find ourselves in this narrative, and to accept that the line is not as clear as we might hope.