It took a great amount of restraint to view Peter Nelson's exhibition in its entirety without my eyes darting straight for the sculpture, as though it were a colossal cake and I was a sweet-toothed kid. Lining the walls of the gallery are the savory staples before dessert. A plethora of meticulous illustration, torn pages from a number of sketch books, all seemingly meditations upon the summit of this body of work. The imposing sculpture that both captures the eye and repulses it in equal measure: A reaction that felt at odds with the parentheses of this exhibition: The first time I felt at home.
The illustrations struck me as architectural diagrams at first, fine pointed pens tracing straight lines again and again. But upon closer inspection they revealed themselves to have glimpses of organic twists, curves and imperfection, these minor hesitations of the pen across paper spoke of an architect wary of its own ability. Grand designs, more likely to be a scraggly cliff face. But then, looking even closer, the cliff reveals a construction site, a glimpse of a crane or two. Uncertain as to whether some drawings were of the limestone cliffs the catalogue mentions or office blocks from a near future, I turn my attention to the looming crystal palace structure illuminated with a cold sterile lighting, peering down on the viewer both like a catacomb from some science fiction future or the office blocks of George street.
While a spectacle bound to catch the eye, Nelson's structure is uninviting; no amount of meditation on its emptiness will find you projecting yourself into its artificial rooms. Yet Nelson insists there is an implication of home in this body of work. Peering throughMountain Drawing's transparent cubes, you find yourself asking from whence is Nelson's affinity with such chilling artifice?
Back to the main course, and you will find the occasional branch sketched into the limestone peaks Nelson spent 2009 creating studies of. These gnarled branches are tethered to the bottom of the page as would a bonsai be. It is here one can infer what Nelson means by 'home'.
Utsubo Monogatari or The tale of the hollow tree is Japan's oldest work of fiction. This ancient work dating from the 10th century tells of a family who seek shelter in a hollow cedar. The tale professes that nature can be a crude and ugly thing when not maintained by human hands, an idea also observable in the rise of the art of bonsai at the time.
Nelson's studies attest to a desire to take nature and make it human. To see the gnarled and twisted growth from the ground and prune it so that it is pleasingly tame to our human eye. Hence limestone cliffs strike us as the scrawlings of an architect. Hence Nelson's imposing sculpture is both a crystal palace and crystalline growth. Hence Nelson's injection of humanity makes the wild tame. Like a gardener tending to his roses, Nelson sees the cliffs and makes them his.
Peter Nelson Mountain Drawing (the first time I felt at home)
9-19 February 2011
SEE Previous Peter Nelson Article on Das 500