Hannah Nielson

Making a Way

Making A Way | Interruption
Artists: Jessica Dehen, Marley Foster, Hannah Nielsen, Alyssa Reiser Prince, Claire Whitehurst

Hannah Nielsen: On her work
Hannah Nielsen: How Coronavirus has affected her practice

Artist Statement
There is a tendency throughout the arts to refer to life as a tapestry, a beautiful cloth woven and stitched with experience and poetic meaning. This perspective is, in my opinion, only half correct. Each individual life is indeed an amalgamation of a hundred thousand experiences, sewn together into some semblance of order. But most of the time, this creation feels less like a purposefully crafted work of art and more like a shambling monster brought to life through hubris and malicious chance. It is our labor which shapes and refines these monsters. My work is a medium-based embrace of such dysfunction; utilizing traditional oil painting, found objects, sculptural and installation techniques to create pieces which communicate this tension.

Much of my work deals with anxiety, both in its physical manifestations and psychological torments. It can feel like a deconstruction, as though every nerve is held together by tenuous threads. Using classical painting techniques as my base material for these pieces allows me to create something with tenderness and attention, something beautiful which viewers expect to be respected, and then ultimately deform it. This defacement, which can be anxiety-inducing for a viewer, becomes cathartic to myself. I abandon perfection, abandon reason and order and expectation, and create a Frankenstein.

This is a time in my artistic career where experimentation is my life raft. COVID-19 has taken away fantasies of security, both professionally and personally. Adapting to this unique challenge requires flexibility, and flexibility requires the acceptance of imperfection. Without the creative space to practice imperfection, I would break like a twig. I think the phrase “Making a Way” embodies that notion, the tentative carving out of a new phase of being. The path we make may not be polished, but it will be ours.

Statement: I Shouldn’t Be The One To Talk About This Moment
Lockdown hit me like a thunderbolt. After school went online and stay-home orders began in Salt Lake City, I couldn’t seem to do anything. Productivity had defined my life, my identity, my worth as a person, and suddenly all I could do was lie on the couch and watch the news scroll by on Twitter. It felt like a giant sucking hole had opened up inside me. Not just opened, those words are too passive. The sensation was more like being systematically ripped apart, layer by layer, until all my ugly fears were revealed. There was the secret pain of it all; a shame which soaked through all my anxieties. In the midst of global suffering, a time in which all people could hypothetically be united against a common threat, my real concerns could not have been more selfish. I wanted to visit my friends or go to Sunday dinner at my parent’s house, see a movie or eat at a restaurant, wander aimlessly around a Target for an hour without buying even one thing. But most of all, I wanted school to go back to normal. School was what I was betting my future on, and it truly felt as though it was crumbling. I caught myself more than once saying that I “used to be a grad student”, like one would say “I used to be married” or “I used to have a dog”. The self-pity was futile and grotesque, non-recyclable garbage that I nevertheless could not stop making.

And so instead I made this. Layers of sketches, paintings, journal entries, photos, each one a record of my quarantine blues. To me, it represents two ideas. One, a process of revelation; the tearing of the paper stripping away my artistic ideations until only clumsy word-vomit remains. On the other hand, it’s also the repository of every piece of self-involved trash I’ve half-heartedly produced in the past few weeks. In essence, a glorified garbage bag. There are many memorials to important events which stand the test of time. These are carved into stones or cast in metals. Mine, however, will fade and collapse and that feels appropriate. I should not be the one to talk about this moment.

I was born and raised in Utah. It’s a beautiful place that brings the mountains and the desert together, as though the two were always meant to coexist. I think a lot of my life has been about trying to hold two truths at once like that. In a way, these mismatched puzzle pieces reflect my artistic career as well. Growing up, my biggest exposure to visual arts was in book illustration, and that is what I chose to pursue during my undergraduate. Ultimately I got my BFA in Illustration with an emphasis in Concept Design, which basically meant I spent four years gazing into a computer screen, trying to breathe life into cold pixels. After years of chafing against the rules and restrictions inherent in client work, my transition into Contemporary Art and simultaneously beginning my MFA program became a much needed breath of fresh air. What I create now is much less linear and a little more obtuse, and certainly often stranger. But I still consider my work to be, at its heart, illustration. I haven’t stopped telling stories, even though my medium has changed.

Instagram: @hanielsendoodles