Katharina Grosse: Mumbling Mud looks at new frontiers in painting through a Chinese lens, and is on view at K11 in Shanghai through February 24, 2019.

“Be careful,” warned German artist Katharina Grosse as she guided a group over the bumpy pathway surrounded by mounds of dirt, rubble, large tubes, and wood crates at K11, the site of her first solo exhibition in mainland China. The location of the show—the basement level art space of a luxury shopping mall in Shanghai—is just as important as the work itself as it contextualizes several of its parts.

Grosse worked with curators Venus Lau and Ulrich Loock on the exhibition Mumbling Mud—loosely translated from a Cantonese term that means to try something out—on view at K11 through February 24, 2019. The exhibition at K11coincided with a presentation of a mammoth, large-scale painting at the Shanghai art fair Art021.

Split into five parts, Grosse started out with the first environment, Underground, by culling materials from mainland China—dirt that absorbed paint, but didn’t attract bugs or plant growth; large tubes that can be cut up; assorted twigs and rocks; wood crates; and more. She arrived in Shanghai two weeks before the opening, armed with her spray guns in hand, ready to cover the surfaces with an explosion of color. “It has to be translated into what is available here,” said Grosse. “There was a constant Skype communication going on for the last half year to really find the right material to make sure they are here, so we can, in a short amount of time, build it and make it happen.”

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Grosse very much wanted it to be an experience of the senses, from the uneven ground, to the vibrant hues that covered the installation. “I’m very interested in the type of painting that connects to your body senses, to your body intelligence, because we have so much imagery on the surfaces of our phones and screens, and they’re all homogenous,” explained Grosse. “They all have one layer only, and I try to add to this world imagery of something that totally connects with our ability to see multidimensional factors and data in a sense.”

Installation view of Katharina Grosse, Mumbling Mud, at chi K11 art museum, Shanghai, 2018. Photographed by JJYPHOTO. Courtesy of K11 Art Foundation and Galerie Nächst St. Stephan, Vienna © Kath.

Next we arrived at Ghost, a stark white, iceberg-like structure made of, according to Grosse, “a combination of Styrofoam, and time and imagination.” Her team used hot wire to create the razor-smooth jagged edges in the sculpture, which had to be installed in parts, and carried throughout Shanghai’s subway system, and down the escalator at K11 due to its scale. “The ghost was kind of a hinge on what our discussions were evolving and pivoting because there is a rich ghost culture in China,” said Grosse.

The artist discussed the transitions between each section of the exhibition. “It can turn and twist, so it comes from something very saturated and unruly in terms of its order, not too easy to grasp, to something that looks like a mathematical complex thing that has no painting on it that travels inside the space, and also connects with the walls and the pillars, and the columns of the space, so I really try to use the space, what is given, and turn it around to my advantage,” she said.

After, we see Silk Studio, which is basically photographs of Grosse’s Berlin workspaces printed onto an enormous piece of silk. “That’s the only thing we made in Germany and brought here in a suitcase,” she mused.

From there, we venture towards another area and climb into the slit that serves as the entrance for Stomach, an enclosed section of the exhibition that is basically one giant piece of cloth hung from the ceiling and walls, covered in an explosion of color from Grosse. “I really understand the painted surface on the cloth or fabric as a membrane,” she said as the group pondered over the origin of the splashes and streaks of colors.

Installation view of Katharina Grosse, Mumbling Mud, at chi K11 art museum, Shanghai, 2018. Photographed by JJYPHOTO. Courtesy of K11 Art Foundation and Galerie Nächst St. Stephan, Vienna © Kath.

For the exhibition’s finale, Grosse brings you back to reality, in the form of a middle class, contemporary Chinese living room—painted over in grey and white, with streaks of color interspersed throughout. “You can look back from where you came, so it looks different from what you remember,” instructed the artist as she pointed towards the entrance of the exhibition.

“Everything is an image,” said Grosse. “Everything is imagination, and for me, reality and image is all the same. They’re so intermeshed that I think it can change and happen and be rethought all the time, now, and in every minute.”