Go Deeper

Jordan Griska Builds Things

Posted August 12th, 2009

At the fairly desolate corner of 41st Street and Haverford Avenue in West Philly is an enormous brick building known as the Philadelphia Tracking Company, where back in the day, like the late-19th-century day, trolleys were built. Now, the structure is basically just four big walls and a pitched roof. Inside, Jordan Griska ( is building things.

“Angle grinder is the number one tool,” explains Jordan. “Cut, grind shape, drill press—it’s the go-to workhorse of metalworking.”

Jordan shares one half of the floor space with six other artists who work in metal and other hardy materials. They all have a decidedly reclaim-and-reuse aesthetic, with a lot of their raw material coming from the trash transfer station in the Northeast and eBay. The artists also want to spruce up the space by creating mini-environments for themselves, so Jordan has plans this fall to build a small skyscraper of glass and steel, which will serve as his office as well as an art piece. It will be about 12 feet by 10 feet and rise some thirty feet to the building’s rafters. Jordan likes to build big. And he likes being able to put himself, and others, in the middle of his art.

On September 12, starting at 5pm, Jordan will present Icarus at the Philly Fringe. The work is a strange and wondrous contraption that involves a metal frame that curves like the hull of a boat, to which Jordan attaches, an airplane propeller, a tractor seat, a fly wheel from an elevator, a bike chain, himself, and a parachute of reflective Mylar. With his feet tucked into bicycle clips, Jordan sits on the tractor seat which slides along a metal bar, functioning like a rowing machine. He pulls on a chain that turns the wheel which spins the propeller which produces the wind which blows back at Jordan which inflates the silver parachute.

The visual spectacle is arresting, and during its first iteration, which Jordan presented in 2007 at the Philadelphia Academy of Fine Arts, it proved to be quite dangerous, too. Then called Sisyphus (“Seemed a good metaphor for the creative process,” he says), Jordan successfully (see video below) completed one demonstration, but when he tried repeating the spectacle, the chain snapped, and he was propelled backwards off the contraption. The next thing he knew he was in the intensive care unit with a fractured skull and two broken vertebrae. He stayed in the I.C.U. for five days. With Icarus—Jordan seems to have an affinity for fate-tempting names—he has made some improvements to the original model.

Jordan, who is 25 and lives in Center City, grew up in Narberth. “My family is not artistic. My mom and dad are doctors and my brother’s a doctor,” Jordan explains. Growing up, Jordan was always building things. “I started out with forts in the woods in back of the house, then skateboard ramps.” In high school he developed more as an artist, and became interested in the processes involved in the discovery of new materials as an approach to creating art. He started college at George Washington, found that was insufficient and ended up the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, where he had gone one summer to learn how to weld.

“I never thought I would get into performance,” Jordan explains about his decision to put himself within Sisyphus. “It got me thinking about performance as a venue.”

His next major project after a long recovery from his art injuries was ad-infinitum. He was attracted to the elbow joint from the kind of tube slide you’ll find in a McDonald’s playground, seeing its potential for creating a unique structure by fitting together a whole bunch of them. So he made a molding, fabricated some out of fiberglass, and created a 10-foot twisting tubular sculpture. Then he attached 8,000 LEDs which he connected with painted circuits of silver based ink. The lights are on the outside and the inside of ad-infinitum because the audience is invited to crawl around inside the sculpture, creating three separate interactions with the artwork: seeing it from the outside, experiencing it from the interior and becoming an active participant in the work, and the view from the outside with shadows of people crawling around inside.

“Ideas come in all different ways.” says Jordan, looking over Icarus. “One night I had this idea, did drawings and developed it, then found parts afterwards.” Asked if one of the additions to his performance at the Fringe might be a helmet, Jordan replies, “Yeah, I’m thinking about it. My mom will probably kill me if I don’t.”

–Josh McIlvain

Photos of Sisyphus and ad-infinitum courtesy of the artist. Photo of workshop by Josh McIlvain and Mara Miller.