Interview with Ellen Nielsen
Wednesday, April 27th, 2011 » See more posts from From the Curatorial Fellows, Interviews
Leah Oren, Curatorial Fellow, in conversation with Ellen Nielsen (MFA, Fiber & Material Studies)
LO: There are some interesting recurring materials in your works for the MFA exhibition. Can you tell me more about how you choose materials and how they relate to your conceptual ideas?
EN: I love anything that’s fake, cheap, and colorful. My work deals with kitsch, class, gender, and artifice, and my material choices reflect a preference for the degraded or disempowered. It’s not interesting to me to work with art supplies that have established cultural authority. I prefer to take things that are considered kind of tacky, like crushed velvet or acrylic yarn, and turn them into elaborately crafted spectacles. A friend of mine calls it “abject opulence.” My goal is to create work that challenges our aesthetic biases while ultimately remaining beautiful and seductive.
LO: During one of our studio visits, you— very tongue in cheek— likened modern minimalism to Facism. This made me smile; can you please elaborate?
EN: I may have been joking, but I’m serious about the connection. In Ornament and Crime, Adolf Loos links decoration with “criminals, degenerates and frivolous women.” I’m paraphrasing, but at one point he says something like, “Modern man does not ornament his body like the degenerate native. Modern Man is clean and pure.” This was written in Germany in 1914. It contributed to both the Bauhaus and Nazi aesthetics. I’m not saying minimal Modernism is essentially Fascist, but it does celebrate uniformity, repetition, and rationalism, which are major Fascist fixations. When you consider that the minimal aesthetic is now a symbol of corporate power, it kind of makes you want to cover everything with sequins and pompoms.
LO: I’d like to know more about the interventions you are proposing for Paisley. Do you see your work continuing to head in the direction of entering public spaces?
EN: Paisley is an eight-foot-tall ornament for a Modernist building. I chose the form because of its association with the radical politics of the 60s. I’d love to see it on the top of Crown Hall or some other austere, Modern masterpiece. It’s closely tied to a previous piece Pombomb, in which I attack the Aon Center with a giant pompom. At the moment, I don’t have any future public interventions planned, but I’m always trying to undermine stark rationality with decorative whimsy.
To see Nielsen’s Pombomb video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n5vp2YebfBQ
Interview conducted by curatorial fellow, Leah Oren.