Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
Jordan Griska isn’t a man who likes to dwell on the past. His work is primarily concerned with modernism, with technology, with the future, in both subject matter and execution. With the installation Wreck, staged in the Pier Nine warehouse venue by Philadelphia Contemporary, he returned from his current residence in Brooklyn to his old stomping grounds.
Wreck was commissioned by a private collector and never intended for public display. Originally intended to be a one-to-two year project, the work ultimately consumed three years of Griska’s life—and all the while, he only ever saw the product as a three-dimensional model on a computer screen. Even when the product was assembled—requiring twelve thousand glass triangles, all precision ground in order to avoid seams on the surface of the sculpture—it remained wrapped in blue vinyl to protect it from the elements.
A team of six assisted Griska on the project. Among them were two who had worked with Griska previously: Lou, whose father was a crane operator, and Jeff, who met Griska working on a solo exhibition at Eastern State Penitentiary in 2011. Also involved in the installation was Tara Giangrande, a Swarthmore graduate of the class of 2016 who works at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
When you approach Wreck, the first thing you can distinguish is its shape. It is recognizably a Mercedes-Benz automobile, albeit one plated in mirrors. However, its body is mangled, distorted, as though in an accident. Griska examined photographs of fatal car crashes while designing the sculpture—a gruesome subject. The final piece, however, is quite serene. The human element has been removed: the only human form you can perceive in Wreck is your own, reflected in its surface. When asked by an interviewer what his intentions were, Griska said he wanted the piece to catch viewers off-guard, to draw them in by layers with the reappropriation of American icons of wealth and technology. The visual spectacle went unsaid.
Griska’s work seems to recognize that modernity is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, he appreciates technological spectacle and ingenuity; on the other, he recognizes the human and ecological consequences of unchecked progress. His website describes his work as engaging with “environmental and sociopolitical issues,” with the goal of inviting viewers to “imagine alternative futures.” With Crash, which is intended for an audience of one, he reduces that scale to the deeply personal: a single car, a single crash, a single life. It evokes the solemnity of approaching a tomb.
In the minutes leading up to the grand opening, as he waited for an audience to arrive, Griska sat down on a bench and popped open a beer. He reflected on the work, what he had hoped to accomplish, what emotions he hoped it would evoke in its viewers. His career had led him back to where he started; now, for three days, the city where his art first found a home would again play host to one of his creations. Still his thoughts seemed to remain focused on the future, the world’s and his own. Combining the mind of a futurist with the technical skill of a classically-trained artist: this is, and will likely remain, Griska’s trademark.
Featured image by George Menz’20.