“Simeon Nelson’s Ambiguous Topographies”, Sherman Galleries, catalogue, 1999, p2.
Simeon Nelson’s Ambiguous Topographies
As cultural critics are fond of pointing out, the freeway is what makes it possible to drive coast-to-coast and never see a thing. In his most recent series of ambiguous sculptural topographies, Simeon Nelson allows us to see something else in these ubiquitous networks.
Just above or below the surface of the earth lies a tangled web of communication and transportation systems. We hardly even notice it any more. And when we do, we catch but a glimpse of its vast interconnected architecture.
Looking at these works, one imagines the artist injecting coloured dye or quick-setting epoxy into a living breathing system. Instead of revealing veins, capillaries and arteries, Nelson discovers nodes, hubs and circuits. His graphic two- and three-dimensional representations provide us concrete images of an enormous utilitarian infrastructure fragmented and shrunk down to human scale.
We recognise these muscular systems immediately, though we’re not quite sure where from. They are like sci-fi skeletons of the global giants that invisibly move people, goods and information from one distant point to the next. We begin to see these systems of movement and action in a new light. The genius of the subway map meets here with the precision of a printed electronic circuit or the exactness of an architectural rendering.
As the world is further “aided” by computer design, the seemingly arbitrary patterns of highways, cul-de-sacs, and pixels look increasingly similar. If we look carefully we can recognise in Nelson’s work fragments from the “mechanosphere” the mechanical infrastructure that spans the globe like an enormous out-of-control jigsaw puzzle.
Each piece appears as an isolated part of an enormous system whose scale is almost impossible to grasp. Seen here as static objects, frozen moments of movement and exchange, we start to see new levels of complexity and inter-relatedness.
Abstracted, miniaturised and made tactile, these sculptural forms trace layer upon layer of built environment and representation. We might even imagine ourselves as travellers caught inside the imaginary worlds of these objects, minute electrons buzzing around some unknown nuclei “” inside the matrix of physical, mental and social life. We could then imagine our selves being pierced by the exoskeleton of this grand technological artefact of which we are an integral part.
Maybe this is why, on closer inspection, Nelson’s forms suggest that this iconography of technology-in-the-raw is the same as the evolutionary tree-of-man and other more ancient scientific representations of nature. We have always imagined that our own molecular make-up is not so very different from the make-up of the external world “” regardless of whether that is natural, mechanical or electronic.
Cells and atoms, circuit boards and freeway designs. These visualisations of information all conjure up a vast circuit of interconnecting parts, of enormous veins and arteries pulsing ‘manga-style’ through some awesome post-everything metropolis.
Perhaps it is impossible to imagine ourselves as being isolated from other parts of the world any more no matter how near or how far we are. Today’s giant networks might reduce the furthest position on the globe to a millisecond away, but as we begin to realise in looking at Nelson’s sculptures, the very notion of near and far has itself all but disappeared. Today we are instead a part of another more ambiguous topography which we are only just beginning to understand.
Ross Rudesch Harley