Art + Botany: Q&A with Photographer Lori Nix

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Art + Botany: Q&A with Photographer Lori Nix

February 17, 2012
01:47pm
Photo by: Lori Nix; Botanic Garden (2008)

Lori Nix is a "faux" landscape photographer. In other words, she builds her subject matter, rather than seeking it out. Her dioramas are precise snapshots in a longer story—surreal narratives with epic consequences. Varnished with a dash of humor and a touch of doom, her fantasticl landscapes arouse a perfect balance of curiosity and trepidation. Her built landscapes include remote pastures, suburban corners, and urban towers, and, quite often, her work depicts the quiet confrontations between these worlds. Where does nature and and the built environment begin?

In the shopping malls I experienced as a child there was always a tropical plant featured in the central space. Never mind that I was in the middle of Kansas. That juxtaposition always struck me as bizarre.

Born in Kansas, the New York-based artist is influenced by the Hudson River School of Painting, eighteenth century philosophers, and Abstract Expressionist painters. For inspiration, she reads science fiction novels, and daily newspapers. This is all perfect fodder for her series "The City," where she imagines a post-apocalyptic world in which human inhabitants have retreated, and nature has begun to creep in. Plants feature prominently in several of these landscapes, and we asked Lori about her materials, process, and inspiration.

Mall2010

Mall (2010), Lori Nix

Q. Tell us a little bit about what's happening in the new botanic landscape you've created for "The City."

In this series, I focus on the ruins of urban landscape, specifically choosing spaces that celebrated modern culture, knowledge, and innovation. Here the monuments of civilization and material culture are abandoned, in a state of decay and ruin, with natural elements such as plants, insects, and animals beginning to re-populate the spaces. The walls are deteriorating, the ceilings are falling in, the structures barely stand, yet Mother Nature is slowly taking them over. Botanic Garden, Mall, Library, and Museum of Art are from "The City," my current body of photographs.

In both Botanic Garden and Mall I was thinking about these carefully maintained interior spaces that contained plants. In the shopping malls I experienced as a child there was always a tropical plant featured in the central space. Never mind that I was in the middle of Kansas. That juxtaposition always struck me as bizarre.

Botanic Garden takes the idea of plants growing in a conservatory to the extreme. The plants are now wild and overgrown, even busting out of the space. Starting with the typical plants used in these types of spaces, I exaggerated their growth and how they spread over time, and in some cases added hybrids that may have developed. Imagining how these plants might flourish, I made some gigantic and had them overflow their architectural boundaries.

Museum of Art is a bit different in that insects, specifically honey bees, are the dominant feature. Through use of a combination of real bees (for those close-up) and a small grain called Teff (for those far-away), I tried to create the sense of a swarm taking up residence inside the museum. The plants add accents of color and visual texture.

MuseumArt2005.

Museum Art (2005), Lori Nix

Q. The miniature plants look so life-like! How did you build them? What materials did you use?

A. I build the landscapes out of simple materials such as foam, paper, paint, glue and found objects. Once I had collected a large variety of [possible plants to include], I loaded the images into Photoshop and isolated the individual leaves I wanted to use. I tried to think about the plants in terms of color, shape and texture that they would bring to the scene. I printed them out on a color printer, cut them out with scissors and put them back together with glue and wire. One of the great difficulties in trying to recreate plants and leaves is the connecting points. Real plants have a delicacy and smoothness that is almost impossible to simulate. The physical attachment of paper leaves to wire stems is often visually clunky, and so much of their creation is about minimizing or disguising these points. In addition to making plants out of paper, I used plastic and dried plants, as well as a few live plants I have around the apartment.

The tree in Library was fabricated from dried Manzanita branches, with additional dry treeform material from Germany, and added epoxy on the trunk to make it look like a birch tree.

Library2007

Library (2007), Lori Nix

Q. I love the idea of a city's plants reclaiming an uninhabited environment. How did you decide which would prevail?

I was guessing if the city planted these plants to withstand locals and tourists, then they must be pretty hardy and would survive the collapse of mankind.

A. Before I begin building a diorama, I do a lot of research. In addition to books and the internet, I look to my immediate surroundings for inspiration. On walks around New York City, I would snap pictures of leaves and plants found in sidewalk planters, such as Alocasias, Caladiums, Gynura aurantiaca, Syngonium podophyllum, and Coleus. I was guessing if the city planted these plants to withstand locals and tourists, then they must be pretty hardy and would survive the collapse of mankind. I also live around the corner from the Brooklyn Botanic Garden and take jaunts through the garden on a regular basis. There I photographed Calathea makoyana, Fatsia japonica, Musa acuminata and various species of ferns.

Anna Laurent is a writer and photographer. Her work explores how we look at plants, and how those plants behave.

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