Jan Nel­son
Strange Days

31st August – 5th October 2013
Anna Schwartz Gallery

The exhi­bi­tion Strange Days’ grafts sym­bols of 1970s ide­al­ism onto the strate­gies of con­tem­po­rary Occu­py protests and local envi­ron­men­tal activists. Riff­ing on her ear­li­er bleached’ cast sculp­tur­al works, and her hyper-real­is­tic por­trait-based paint­ings, Nel­son’s new works con­tin­ue to vibrate with the ener­gy of the real, and oscil­late between the vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty and the defi­ance of the young. Charged with the cul­ture of youth across decades, some titles ref­er­ence music, Strange Days’ com­ing from the 1967 album by The Doors.

The three works that make up the exhi­bi­tion are each 1:1 cast repli­cas of objects from real life, specif­i­cal­ly from the artist’s own expe­ri­ence. Defi­ance ren­ders a water bar­ri­er, metic­u­lous­ly detailed in shape and sur­face but devoid of any colour oth­er than that of the cast. The object is lift­ed from the Occu­py Mel­bourne protest in Mel­bourne’s City Square in 2011, when on the 21st Octo­ber the protests peaked when the camp was bar­ri­cad­ed by police using water bar­ri­ers and cyclone fenc­ing. With­in the cir­cle of linked bar­ri­ers, one lone bar­ri­er sat aban­doned inside the camp. The soli­tary unit, use­less with­out its con­nec­tion to its fel­low bar­ri­ers, is a potent sym­bol of how pow­er is only achieved when indi­vid­u­als join togeth­er This image was gal­vanised for Nel­son as a sym­bol of defi­ance when a sin­gle graf­fi­tied tag appeared. In Strange Days’, this irrev­er­ent ges­ture is recon­struct­ed with artist Sirum 1, whose Ven­om tag is applied to Nel­son’s Defi­ance as a reit­er­a­tion of the act of reclamation.

The tag also con­sti­tutes a step between paint­ing and sculp­ture, an ongo­ing rela­tion­ship in the work of Jan Nel­son. Pho­tog­ra­phy is also part of her process and it is between these three pos­si­ble forms that Nel­son devel­ops, extends and re-forms ideas. Her paint­ed works are intense­ly rich in hyper-real­is­tic colour and detail but are paint­ed to be slick­ly sur­faced and flat; her sculp­tures take in every tiny pore of their objec­t’s sur­face but eschew any nat­u­ral­is­tic colour. In each mode, real objects are re-pre­sent­ed so that a new way of see­ing is possible.

Defi­ance and resis­tance per­me­ate Break On Through (To The Oth­er Side), an instal­la­tion of colour­less objects on a daz­zling yel­low base. Respond­ing to tree-sit­ting envi­ron­men­tal activists, par­tic­u­lar­ly Miran­da Gib­son (who lived in tree tops for over twelve months in her endeav­our to save the Tarkine forests) Nel­son has cast the remain­ing frag­ments of wood from log­ging coups along with tree-sit­ters’ neces­si­ties: ropes, packs and bedrolls amongst shards of tim­ber. These objects equiv­o­cate between appar­ent real­ness and fal­si­ty. They are clear­ly man­u­fac­tured, but they vibrate with opti­cal ener­gy; against the flare of the yel­low ground they appear to move. The paint­ed ground, like the space of the water bar­ri­er, demar­cates a zone where defi­ance has agency and poten­cy, beyond phys­i­cal vulnerability.

The ques­tion of the indi­vid­ual is per­son­i­fied in Strange Days, Nel­son’s intri­cate­ly paint­ed fig­ure. Here, she draws on the strate­gies of cos­tum­ing that ren­der her paint­ed por­traits so tense and chrono­log­i­cal­ly unset­tling: a young woman is clothed in signs of youth and protest that might be con­tem­po­rary, but could also be of her par­ents’ gen­er­a­tion. The sneak­ers and patch­es come from the coun­ter­cul­ture of the artist’s own youth, while oth­er of her props’ — the pierc­ings, a hood­ie — are more recent badges of dis­af­fec­tion. Here, as in Nel­son’s paint­ings, the ado­les­cent shuns our gaze, refus­ing eye con­tact but wear­ing her opin­ions, both received and self-gen­er­at­ed, on her sleeve.

This fig­ure, at once par­tic­u­lar and gener­ic, describes the process by which an indi­vid­ual voice is devel­oped. Through obses­sive­ly observed form or sat­u­rat­ed colour, Nel­son’s works bal­ance on points of emo­tion­al, tex­tur­al and chro­mat­ic inten­si­ty, oscil­lat­ing between fear and pow­er, com­pla­cen­cy and dissent.


Jan Nel­son

Strange Days, 2013
For­ton, high-den­si­ty foam, MDF, leather, oil paint, liquin, arti­fi­cial grass, arti­fi­cial plants
1957676 cm

Jan Nel­son

Break On Through (To The Oth­er Side), 2013
For­ton, high-den­si­ty foam, paint­ed MDF
90400245 cm

Jan Nel­son

Defi­ance, 2013
For­ton, paint
10222045 cm