German-born and Paris-based sculptor Katinka Bock is exhibiting her first solo show in the states. Occupying the Henry’s North Galleries, Katinka Bock: A and I will be open through May 4 and it’s not to be missed. Bock’s sculptures marry industrial with organic: steel beams paired with salvaged wood, clay sandwiched by glass, crafted sculptures laid in mounds of dirt. Many of these items, worn or broken by time and the elements, develop a new series of patterns over their lifespan. Naturally occurring patterns remain intact, such as the etching of wood grain, the surface of fired clay, the rust on a beam that was bathed in seawater. The impression of objects being stripped of their functional identity by force—whether human or elemental.
The show comprises twenty recent and new pieces in steel, wood, stone, clay and salvaged items, including several works that were commissioned by the Henry and locally inspired, reflecting their Northwestern provenance—a salvaged boat mast, a room full of mounds of dirt from the Denny Regrade, which leveled one of Seattle’s seven hills to clear a path for transportation—always a play and a balance between what is naturally occurring and what is man-made, historical and current.
Bock is intrigued by architecture and symmetry. One can see from three points into the aforementioned room full of dirt mounds (titled “Eva”), but you are not allowed to cross it. The artist enjoyed creating an obstacle one must circumnavigate, an impediment to traversing the gallery as one might like, just as the hill once impeded an easy flow of transportation (mostly horse-drawn, at the time) desired, envisioned and ultimately excavated by city-planners long ago.
Bock’s other pieces continue the conversation between natural objects and how they are shaped by humans. In many cases, she documents the result, and then erases all human signature, or abstracts it from any literal understanding. She also explores the de-personification of objects, rendering them incapable of their designated purpose and displayed with no other function but to be seen. “Patron” is a 105-foot-long graphite rubbing on cotton hanging from the ceiling of the Henry. The rubbing is of one of the original contention walls in Rome and has all the natural scarring of time, fissures and dimples—along with the chilling pock marks of bullets.
In contrast, her ground piece “Le Grand Chocolat” features a series of fired clay tiles. Laid out in rough patchwork, these black squares can be seen as another kind of rubbing; they document the natural movement within the main corridor of a school in France.
To make this piece, Bock laid clay underneath red carpeting, then left it for five days. Students and teachers proceeded to use the corridor as usual, the clay imprinting the natural path and wear of these feet. Documented upon the clay is the history of their movement. After removing the signature of any individual footprints, Katinka fired the blocks, casting the story of the corridor, and the pattern of the space.
All of her pieces develop a natural beauty from their stark shapes, strong lines and hard textures. There is in them a fascinating sense of precision and of brute nature made tame, and although she has worked to erase the signatures of specific impressions upon the materials, there remains the composite narrative of each object’s personal history.
Photos by Lindsey Rae Gjording