nimbo II and Wallpaper (la escalera al cielo) installed at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, 2007, and the Contemporary Museum, Baltimore, 2008
1. A rain cloud.
2. A halo or aura around the head of a person depicted in a piece of art.
The nimbus series is a wide variety of works based on a text by the hypertext pioneer Michael Joyce called “Nimbus” (the full text is below). Grant’s “nimbus” works—which vary from kinetic wire sculptures to wallpaper, etchings to paintings—began with the display of her first nimbus sculptures at 16:1 Gallery and Machine Project in Los Angeles in 2004. Inspired by a short text written by the hypertext fiction pioneer Michael Joyce, the form in this series mimics nimbus clouds or whispers made out of silver wire filigree. The second iteration of the sculpture, which forms the center point of the Ochi Gallery show, “nimbus II,” was exhibited at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) Los Angeles in 2007 and the Contemporary Museum Baltimore in 2008 alongside Grant’s “Wallpaper (la escalera al cielo).”
In “nimbus II,” each word of Joyce’s text is woven in silver wire, with a bubble around the word suggesting that language is by nature viral. Sentences, as strands of filigree, are then assembled into a larger cloud form. A bright light projects the shadow of the sculpture on the wall or floor, depending on the installation. In the “whisper” works and “susurro II” (whisper in Spanish) Grant has taken the wire strands of language and run them through a printing press, embossing them into the delicate, metallic paper. “Wallpaper (la escalera al cielo)” is a different kind of printing process — as the interconnected strands of words are digitally scanned and printed onto a wallpaper with a pattern that doesn’t repeat, suggesting an infinite landscape of language.
Other works on paper and canvas are translations of Joyce’s “Nimbus” text into drawing, using pencil and erasure to mimic a web of language. Grant’s short film “MOTION” traces the evolution of the work from Joyce’s original hand-woven text into drawing, sculpture, and finally the kinetic movement of “nimbus II” at it spins and casts its shadow.
Grant’s neon sculpture, “¿dónde está la escalera al cielo?” is a phrase that was transmitted into various of the “nimbus” works from another collaboration with Joyce, the “Ladder Quartet.” Phrases from the poetry of Pablo Neruda and Wislawa Szymborska are also absorbed into many of the “nimbus” drawings and the wallpaper work—showing how by nature language both proliferates and is absorbed, is at once viral and parasitic.
Still from Motion, 2007
Nimbus by Michael Joyce, 2003
You want to see where she wants you to while she says what you see. You want to say what she sees but it’s all too easy breezy. The sky enfolds us like desire. Someone has just come into the room distracted by the lack of ceiling. We right ourselves and greet her with a casual salute. She winks and imperceptibly wiggles. Everyone seems to be ex waves or wrens or something and thus jaunty for their ages. It is all mystery and lemons the way the clouds are crowned. Red sails take warning. The swallow dips her wings in the gilt water at the seam where the sky is soldered. “Not soldiered, soldered,” she laughs, delighted at how the eye can fool you. “Not blood but silver,” she goes on. Softly lapsing breasts pillow grandchildren and ageless lovers she meets in the supermarket near the spectacular floorwax. Still her lost elasticity makes her sad. “It rhymes with titty,” she giggles in a naughty whisper. The ladies aspirate, delicate and susurrous. There is too much talk of things and few words enough for what we see. We are embarrassed by the persistence of eros and the constant rush of wind outside the window. Nothing happens. Singing children dance a perpetual slow circle upon Herr Altheim’s famous Hippocampus, their blue skirts like teacups or bellflowers. Campanulaceae campanile, her lips moisten, shooshah shosha we all fall now.
nimbus I, Alexandra Grant and Michael Joyce at Machine Project, 2004
About Alexandra Grant’s work “Nimbus — wire, shadow, motor, light — after Michael Joyce’s nimbus, 2004”
A text by Michael Joyce, 2004
Anyone who grew, as I did, in snow country can recall the shape of breath in air, perhaps even sense how the words secret themselves, crystalline passengers gazing out from inside these small, vagrant cumuli, drifting away like zeppelins, the taut viscous glint of tiffany glass soap bubbles suddenly popping, momentarily leaving a droplet suspended in air, dry and flat, then fast falling; this dissipation apparently prompted by nothing more than foreplay, the exquisite tension of coherence, no matter how much one suspects some fairytale stray breeze, twig poke, small bird, whirling seed, hot exhalation of soil, sea or far-away other. But to think that what one writes shapes itself likewise before you, the recurrence of one’s ordinary rhythms, the accustomed vowels and consonantal articulations themselves reticulated like lewd brambles clinging to one another in a dank swale (or, perhaps more decorously though no less fervid, the lofty, gloriously imbricated branches of the American Elm trees looming high above lovers on a shaded bench along the Poets’ Walk in Central Park on a warm April morning) is unimaginable.
That the mind– or what escapes it as breath written down and scored for another’s breathing– itself forms whorls, coves, and eddies like the paisley of fingerprints– each sentence as distinct from another, the procession of even commonplace marked like the bright network of silvery pores upon the skin of an infant– is a surprise.
It is a shift from all this, from thinking “I wrote this, do you see” to actually (the act of it, the handiwork) seeing the craft of it before you like a blooming, the words twisted, boustrophedonic elephants, circus creatures, their backward wire shapes sprawling along the only vaguely longitudinal coordinates of unseen magnetic fields, and yet seemingly fastened upon nothing, viz. how the bright and spiraling tentacles of spring Clematis grasp tenderly for support, a rickety framework within which God, wearing sandals, hangs out the elements of the world like a jewelry maker in a market stall his wire earrings.
Seeing Alexandra Grant’s work “Nimbus,” conceived “after” a text of mine, I felt a delight in my own language that I have not felt otherwise, her art giving the shape of breath and hand to the air and yet knowing that, were these words some other ones or one’s– other words or another man or woman’s– they would form themselves differently under her pricked fingers, wind the languorous knots of their wire orbits otherwise; knowing that in some sense it does not matter, will not, whether anyone has read them before this or ever will, the reading now quite something else, a making one’s way through the void, the silvery threads of spittle of Bombyx mori, the silk worm, weaving a cocoon like the Milky Way seen from beyond this galaxy. To be outside language and yet to see oneself woven in it is a pleasure like a dream.
We stood there, a half dozen of us on the sidewalk on a warm February night in Echo Park, Los Angeles, looking back in through the storefront gallery window, each of us wondering aloud at the fragile beauty of this spinning thing, how it painted the light like a dream does, the runes of it glinting in air and shadowing dark against the illuminated wall.