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New installation of Continua by Katie Murken on view at Grounds for Sculpture
Katie Murken, Continua (2 columns closeup), 2011, pigment-dyed phone books, 24 columns, various dimensions. Courtesy of the artist.

HAMILTON, NJ.- The luxurious color and palpable texture of Katie Murken’s installation, Continua, has mathematical underpinnings infused with an element of chance. Her intent is to provide an experience of color that is instinctual and subjective, and the saturated color and softened texture of the paper stacked in rectangular columns does indeed have an immediate sensory appeal.

Murken is primarily a book artist and, for five years, she taught color theory at Tyler School of Art. Color theory is a logical organization of colors in relation to each other. There are three basic components of color theory: the color wheel, color harmony, and the effects of colors on one another. Murken is fascinated by the color wheel which she says, “...introduces a physical space in which the myriad interactions between colors can be observed, understood and manipulated.” She was further influenced by the color sphere created by Albert Munsell in the early 20th century, which demonstrated the enactment of color relationships in three-dimensional space. Previously, she has approached book art as a sequence of text and images that unfold over time as the layered pages are turned. Continua, however, explores sequencing in three-dimensional space rather than time by using the book form turned on its side for layering.

Murken chose telephone books as a plentiful material for layering and stacking. She noticed how people in her neighborhood would leave unwanted telephone books outside their front doors, so she gathered them up. As the work progressed and more books were needed, she discovered the regional Philadelphia warehouse full of surplus yellow books. She was invited to take them all at no cost.

The concept for Continua took two years to develop, but its actual production occurred from May to September, 2011. The phone books were stripped of their covers, and their identities. They were then broken into increments ranging from 95 to 950 pages in thickness. Murken hand-dyed the pages of each section using non-toxic, diluted liquid dyes in disposable aluminum roasting pans. She dipped the three outer edges of the book, one edge at a time, into the dye which was absorbed an inch or so into the paper. They were then hung from their spines on racks to dry.

Continua consists of 24 columns, each of which has approximately 60,000 sheets dyed with 24 colors. The fluidity of the color progressions within the columns results from the fact that each of the 24 colors consists of the three primaries – red, yellow, blue – combined in different proportions. To order the stacking of the colored pages, Murken devised a game, using a hand-made color wheel and a pair of dice. She started by assigning a unique triad of colors to each column, and mixing these three colors together to create a unique continuum of twenty-four colors. Then she rolled the dice, with each number corresponding to a movement on the color continuum, to create a sequence of undulating color for each column.

“I wanted to free color from its function as a representational device in order to emphasize the experience of color as instinctual and subjective … By giving color its own space in which to perform this exchange, I wish to suggest that there is still the possibility for an essential experience within contemporary art and that meaning can be constructed without a dependence on language-based forms.”

Murken designed the Loft Gallery’s rectangular wall configuration to accommodate a precise symmetrical arrangement of Continua’s columns, each of which is a somewhat uneven 8 feet high by 8 inches wide and 7 inches deep. On the exterior of the walls are displayed a series of prints that refer to her process in creating the work. They provide a distinct contrast between the exacting logic of the process and, on the interior, the experience of being enveloped by lushly, luminously colored paper, stacked in gently wavy layers against the white walls.

Katie Murken earned a BFA with Honors (2002) from Penn State University, PA, and an MFA (2005) from the University of The Arts, Philadelphia, PA in books arts and printmaking. From 2006–2011, she taught color theory at Tyler School of Art, Temple University, Philadelphia, PA. Murken’s art has been featured in a solo exhibition at William Paterson University, NJ and in group exhibitions at the Las Vegas Contemporary Art Center on Las Vegas, NV, the Center for Emerging Visual Artists, The Print Center, and Projects Gallery in Philadelphia, PA, The Soap Factory, Minneapolis, MN, Delaware Center for Contemporary Art, Wilmington, DE, Pittsburgh Center for the Arts, Pittsburgh, PA, among others. Recognition for her work has included purchase awards from Temple University Libraries and William Paterson University, a travel grant from Center for Emerging Visual Artists, and an Independence Foundation Fellowship in the Arts. Murken lives and works in Philadelphia.

“With Continua, I became interested in designing a sort of game that would allow me to choose colors from the spectrum according to a set of probabilities, thus eliminating the need for compositional logic and allowing colors to present themselves in endlessly variable relationships of quantity and quality.”

All artist quotes are excerpted from an interview of Katie Murken by Becky Hunter during the first exhibition of Continua in Philadelphia, and published in Whitehot magazine, November 2011 issue:

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