Data Mining: Kristina Paabus Mapping the Game

Lauren Fulton


“The wise win before they fight by recognizing all the games that could be played, steering the strategic environment in their favor, and then fighting with confidence in their ultimate victory. By contrast, the ignorant just play the game that lies before them, their victory or defeat largely out of their control, a matter of luck and fortune.” –David McAdams 1

                                        Marching On, 2012 
                                            Foam and paint
                                        74" x 21.5" x 8.25"

Perhaps it was due to my background in the history of sculpture that, during my first encounter with Kristina Paabus’ work in 2013, I was naturally drawn to a few three-dimensional constructions. This was namely Marching On (2012), propped against the wall in her Chicago studio, unintended as the focus of our visit. Nevertheless, there stood this bright green creature with an anthropomorphic presence, donning a meticulous brick-like design. Although fashioned out of humble materials, its make-up remained a complete mystery to me. Since that time, I have become better acquainted with Paabus’ prints and drawings, but it was initially the artist’s sculptures – in large part, 3-D amalgamations of commonplace materials and printmaking processes – that I came to know from exhibitions around Chicago. Soon after, Reasonable Assumption (2013), a neon orange arch-shaped piece situated on the floor, entranced me at an opening. It remains one of my favorite works to this day.

a box for each of us, 2013
site-specific installation at The Sub-Mission, The Mission Projects, Chicago

These pieces and others present motifs derived from fragmented forms, usually arrived at through some multilayered printing technique. With a special penchant for mounds, Paabus may arrange piles of rocks into seemingly organized systems. Similar perceptions of structure and balance can be seen in architecture, city planning, and even language. a box for each of us (2013), revealed the artist’s interest in architectural schemes, bringing forth a more concrete example pervading one’s everyday life: NSA monitoring and internet privacy. Influenced by Jeremy Bentham’s Panopticon model and its use as a mechanism for surveillance, the installation was eerie, ascribable to its maker’s awareness (and possible replication?) yet undisclosed position on such control. Recent compositions – some of which are on view at Fernwey, and all of which were created during the roughly two years Paabus has been away from Chicago – expand on similar investigations with her incorporation of game theory.

In the gray area between illusion and reality, Paabus creates what I will call liminal mappings, abstractions studying relationships of causality. In these spatial explorations fractures, accumulations, and dualities complicate the logical grid that they interact with, whether in prints, sculptures, or installations. An ideal conclusion is usually embedded within the game model, with various strategies steering players in the interest of gaining control, or ultimately, victory. Her information heavy, multilayered approach to printmaking illuminates the fact that there are often no right or wrong means for arriving at that end point – in a game, or in life. To quote the artist, “these spaces of actuality, memory, imagination, and paradox describe the nuances of our experiences.”2 Elements of chance, luck, and superstition obfuscate any clear-cut path. 

Paabus’ coded language is revealed to the viewer often through humorous matter-of-fact titles.  Knowing the Rules, Eye on the Prize, and Something to Believe In are motivating and reflect a competitive nature, while others such as Born to Lose and Conjecture remind one of the mental obstacles and assumptions involved in games. However an outcome is arrived at, the artist welcomes the tension of the unexpected. Without any sort of cynicism, she acknowledges that this rarely occurs entirely by anticipated measures; rather, conclusions transpire by failures that result along the way. But a fluid reminder runs throughout Paabus’ oeuvre: it’s all about one’s outlook.


Outlook, 2015
Screen print and digital plotter drawing on paper
19" x 14"

1 David Adams elaborating on military commander Zhuge Liang’s ideas. Adams, Game-Changer: Game Theory and the Art of Transforming Strategic Situations (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2014), 13.

2 Kristina Paabus, “Artist Statement,” in Sabotage: New Work in Visual and Performance Art catalogue, n.p. From her 2013-14 Grant Wood Fellows exhibition, Levitt Gallery, The University of Iowa.