The Ephemeral Risk:
Enigma and Corporeality in the Work of Peter Gronquist
Peter Gronquist parlays atmospheric refrains—wind, incandescence, water, stillness—into installations and objects of solemn grace and ethereal allure. His sensitivity to the natural world, and human interaction with it, transposes the exquisite melancholy of Casper David Friedrich onto the twenty-first century’s technological landscape, Yet he presents his ideas through the structural simplicity of 1960s aesthetics, in what could be considered a form of Romantic Minimalism. The result is an oeuvre of orchestral magnificence.
Gronquist’s sculptural palette includes radiant monoliths in the sumptuous colors of twilight—pinks, blues and oranges—set amongst the wild outdoors. They suggest cosmological gateways, or portals to other regions of the multiverse, and act as transitional instances across the fabric of space-time. Gronquist fuses his elemental intuition to environmental beauty, creating a rare contemplative frisson for the viewer. The essence of the work changes depending on whether one views it in its physical manifestation, or at a distance, in recorded film or photographic image. This difference in how one encounters the work lends it a mythic sensibility, in the vein of Walter De Maria’s Lightning Field, or Andy Goldsworthy’s evanescent motifs. It did—and may again exist. The image, the memory, the idea, the reality, are indistinguishable.
In One Day (2019) a glowing, rose menhir located in a wooded clearing, thrums with energy. With the acquiescence of day to night the technicolor battery of crackling photons is transmitted beyond the rectilinear structure and out into the darkness. The glimmering slab is hypnotic, its sharp edges incongruous to the forest’s twisting forms, yet its warm light recalls aspects of the woods—ignis fatuus, bioluminescent creatures, gaseous mists, and moonlight on the darkling firs. Gronquist venerates the firmament by distilling its brilliance into a singularity. The piece is otherwise experienced in its recorded time-lapse guise. Filmed over a twenty-four hour period, the block’s pinkish hue shimmers as the camera adjusts to the correct aperture for each photograph. It is a mechanical ghost, triggering the recollection of something that has vanished.
There is an unsettling note of inter-dimensional arrival, or departure, and of metaphysical change, in Gronquist’s art. It is particularly prescient in Light Totem (2019). Framed by brooding peaks, hovering above an inky, vitreous lake, a piercing sliver of frozen, violet lightning is the night’s waiting sentinel. It shouldn’t be there, but in league with its surroundings it emits a stark beauty, and quiet foreboding for unearthly visitors—the science-fictional imaginings of our limitless curiosity.
Gronquist’s empathy for the rhythm of the cosmos, the ebb and flow of meteorological conditions, is central to his practice. In the paradoxically titled A Visible History of the Invisible (2018) Gronquist takes a simple premise—the passage of the wind—and reveals its character in momentary visual poetry. An expanse of shivering, silver spandex, held aloft between rock formations, morphs continually—the rippling sail of a sixteenth century galleon ploughing forward; the torn descent of a doomed zeppelin; an aerial dogfight of shifting riptides; a memorial banner; even the domesticity of billowing laundry, writ-large.
The work’s mesmerizing elegance belies its associations with the breadth of human industry—from the grand, and towering, to the disastrous, sepulchral, or quotidian. A Visible History of the Invisible, is one gesture that embodies legions. The wind moving around it, invokes our own fleeting perceptions of our lifetimes. What we retain, that informs our selfhood, is only fragmentary—we remember only transitory instances of experience, circumstance or witness; inadequate pieces of larger discourses. Gronquist funnels the wind past us as pneumatic phantasm. It is a metaphorical agent for the cultural dark matter from which our conscious selves are formed.
Elsewhere, Gronquist intervenes upon the systems, logic and structures of physical science. Shatter (2017) comprises a twenty-five square foot panel of glass in the form of an infinity mirror. The color deepens inward, from white, to turquoise to pitch black, as it follows an ever-decreasing quadrilateral design that falls away toward the center. It recalls pristine oceanic gyres, or the abject terror of an abyss. However, the integrity of the concentric squares is compromised by a cratered web radiating out in splintered shards, caused by a blunt impact on the upper right segment of the plane. The glass has not given way, but it has fractured, so that the geometric grid has buckled. The torqued, corrupted lines create fascinating new architectures, like cracks repeating beneath the surface of thick, transparent ice. Angles are pulled from their ninety degree origins, and sharpened into arrows; the broken spiral orbs at the point of impact shudder outward. These effects ripple across the entire surface, unleashing chaos onto the properties of universal order.
This intention is increased exponentially, in Immortals 7, and Immortals 12, which are created by explosive violence, exceeding temperatures twice as hot as the surface of the planet Mercury. In each sculpture, a ceramic vase is partially submerged in a column of cold water. Molten aluminum is poured into the vessel, which ruptures it, allowing the water and the aluminum to collide. The vaporized water bubbles blast away the cooling aluminum in spectacular pyroclastic events that last barely two seconds. The result is an extraordinary ectoplasmic composition—an instant of chemical destruction, and rebirth captured within new forms of exotic matter.
The allure of Gronquist’s art lies in its alchemical combination of factors, that are at the heart of human endeavor. He blends our marvel at the incomprehensible pulse of creation; the mythical and ritualistic ideologies that we have formed in response to it; and the emotivity we feel for our place within it. In contemplation of these concerns the artist reaches for the outer edges of knowledge, where certainty, mathematics, and scholarship yield to fantasy, conjecture and fear. At such junctures, we tend to fall back on magic, until science can access sublime astronomical realties beyond human comprehension. It is there, at the crucibles of eternity, on the event horizon between terrestrial understanding and longing for the unknown, that Peter Gronquist’s work resides.
- Darren Jones