Brittany Nelson: The Science Series

Jun 15, 2013 / by Stephanie Buhmann / David Klein Gallery

However, drawing is hardly on Nelson’s mind. While her training at Cranbrook has equipped her with a solid background in inter- disciplinary photography, she does not think about nor aim to reference drawing when creating her work. In fact, she is determined to let it remain rooted in the materiality of the photographic medium. Instead of using a camera and film, she extracts her compelling images from the reactive relationships of the materials involved. What fascinates her is the separation of the photo process from the representational image. To Nelson this marks the moment when we are no longer looking through the material to assess the image, but are in fact examining the surface and material characteristics. This motivation reveals curiosity but also entails a particular sense of humor: Nelson not only dismisses but mocks the traditional preciousness inherent in her materials. It is her uninhibited approach to experimentation and freely mixing up her ingredients that provides the ultimate push to her genre’s usual confines.
The process involved in Science reflects her interest in creating work that requires the destruction of analog materials. It embraces a chemical combination that reacts violently with the silver in the photo paper. The outcome is staggering. The paper suddenly blisters, the gelatin layer becomes detached and chemicals begin to crystallize. It is a rather rebellious technique considering that this process damages the intended functionality of the paper and its most costly component, silver. Measuring only 8 x 10 inches, these chemically impermanent and textured sheets are visually mesmerizing. They might be toxic but their dimensionality, color and line make for vivid and highly seductive compositions. But Nelson does not stop at this point. She then scans these works to offer yet another form of trans- formation. To her, the scanner is a crucial tool to fixate the visual vocabulary at its optimum state. It also is a catalyst of sorts. By embodying the digital era, it aids in moving the work away from the traditional and somewhat nostalgic dark room reference and brings it into a distinctly contemporary context. The scanned files are printed large to create compositions that are permanent and are able to capture every minute detail of the originals. Here, texture no longer exists in reality but has become a stunning optical illusion. At this stage, Nelson’s work has found its ultimate abstraction, a state achieved through a chain of chemical and digital reactions.
Nelson is focused on working within a very constrained set of variables. Until these
are fully exhausted, she finds much variety, pertaining to both form and color. It is especially the latter that speaks to us emotionally. This is partially due to the fact that, although determined by the chemical reactions involved, the palette of each work alludes to something rather natural. While any association remains abstract, Nelson does admit that nature marks an important source of inspiration. She heralds from Montana and has spent significant time in Yellowstone National Park, for example. There she has particularly noted a unique palette defined by the park’s geysers and volcanic activity. In addition, Nelson has a keen interest in space and astronomy, collects minerals (which she keeps close on her desk) and owns a variety of aquariums. No inspiration is literal or illustrative, but it is the interplay of artificial and natural phenomena that finds its reflection in Nelson’s work. It is the naturally occur- ring things that look incredibly unnatural that spark her curiosity and they certainly provide her exploration of the photographic medium with a strong sense of depth.