simeon nelson: material world

Sherman Galleries Goodhope, Sydney
14 February - 9 March, 2002

"If we fashion a thing, it is produced by nature and if nature produces a thing, it is fashioned by us."
Aristotle, Physics 2.8

Using visual material gathered from various sources, such as magazine cuttings, photographs and found objects, Simeon Nelson conflates the object status of various forms and pictorial surfaces, into two-dimensional patterns resembling the type of cross-sectional studies often associated with scientific research. Walking into the Material World created by Nelson in his recent exhibition of digital lightjet prints was an experience in rapid eye movement, drawing the viewer into the micro details of his constructed world. Reminding me of the sentiment of various Romantic painters such as the nineteenth century British artist John Martin (cataclysmic landscapes offering visual accounts of the reconciliation between Creationism with the developing study known as Paleontology), Nelson's acrylic mounted prints act as two-dimensional portals in which we glimpse the layered photographic intricacies of the contemporary world. This is a world in which patterns and repetition proliferate, where attempts to systematize and order prove ultimately futile and the security of the viewing experience proffered is purely, wonderfully, illusionary.

The deftly flattened layering Nelson achieves in each of these works takes the experience of their constitute elements to another level, that of scientific-styled investigation. And beyond science, these works act also as up-scale embroidery samplers with their characteristic sharpness of pattern, acute symmetry, and the pervading sense of their continuation outside the boundaries of the print. They might be details of greater, more elaborate studies that suggest the existence of grander narratives of order.

John Martin used the visual language of figuration with linear narrative to make sense of the then new science of paleontology, with its fossil discoveries, and the conflicting Creationist accounts of existence. He painted the evidence of those fossil discoveries directly into established biblical scenes, depicting for example events such as the flooding of the earth in large works like The Deluge (1834). Nelson uses the contemporary visual language of formalism with appropriated iconography to reconcile seemingly conflicting knowledge structures—nature with industry, anatomical cross-sections with circuit boards and the like to make contemporary part-narratives of the world that identify no creator, only creations. One might describe Nelson's negotiation of contemporary understandings of knowledge in these images as a Romantic intervention into the complex relationship between nature and culture.

Indeed the pictorial presentation of knowledge structures and systems for understanding our existence, has preoccupied many cultures. Nelson, borrowing from Aristotle in his catalogue text, says that it is better to dispense with the linear explication of existence in the face of an endless to and fro of alterable events and occurrences: it is these that provide insight into the non-static situation of our actuality and allow for the necessary meshing of our different yet similar patterns of existence. The familiarity of the Romantic sentiment and the folk traditions implicit in the link with Embroidery samplers, are not the only iconic references invoked by Nelson in these works. There are Escher-like labyrinths, works that play on the iconography of the cliched magic eye, and refer to the ways in which indigenous cultures use pictorial layering and symbols to preserve sacred narratives: the special knowledge is present in such work, but our ability to decipher its greater significance is dependent upon our level of cultural investment. These ephemeral studies Nelson creates by layering visual material he collects from books, nature, from the internet and so forth, become personal and public tableaux of the seeming connectedness of all materials. In combining such diverse source material Simeon Nelson's flat impenetrable portals invite the gaze and our collective unconscious into fleeting contact with contemporary motifs.

Simeon Nelson, Panspermia (...only came out to watch the nighfall in the rain), 2002. Digital lightjet print on photographic paper mounted on 4.5mm acrylic sheet, 110 x 110cm. Edition of 5. Courtesy the artist and Sherman Galleries, Sydney. 

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