Sense of humor in tow,
Nelms “keeps the funny” as she plays with the concepts of time and allure in her exhibit, Celeste Nelms: Recent Works, showing at the Macalester College Art Gallery through December 5, 2008. Sepia toned photographs such as “Binoculars” or “Pool” show the relationship between man-made objects and the natural environment. The former pictures the artist in the middle of a cornfield, sitting on a television as if it was a rock, and looking at the sky with her binoculars. “Pool” ironically pictures Nelms immersed in a plastic pool of water in the shape of a pond, in the middle of a forest. In another image, Nelms crosses a road in a forest with a deer head in her arms, a 30 km. pedestrian sign in the foreground.
In these images Nelms gives new connotations to objects. “As soon as I picked them up, they become new, I give them a new meaning,” Nelms said. She would like to make the viewer realize that not everything that is shiny, clean, or new is essentially beautiful.
Her photographs and dollhouse installations range from the use of discarded objects to self-portraits in natural environments. “If I see a landscape, it needs to have some reference to human presence,” Nelms said. “I feel more comfortable with human-made things on the land.”
The photographs are self-portraits on different levels. First, Nelms is often the main character in the artwork. In one instance she pictures herself playing with toy trains as a real train passes and in another photo she is carrying a deer head while crossing the road in a forest. In these works she bridges the natural and the manmade. Second, her work elicits her own feeling of childhood nostalgia. “People forget about playing because they have to make a living, I keep a simple life being playful,” she said.
Celeste Nelms was born in 1960 in Richmond, Virginia, although she has been living in the Midwest for a long time. Since the early 1990s she has worked with photography, audio performances, and several other installations. Her studio is now located at the Jax Warehouse, in downtown St. Paul. This building is remarkable for housing several important local artists, and for organizing the St. Paul Art Crawl Festival every year in the fall.
Her first solo exhibit occurred at the Ichiyonichi Gallery in Japan, in 1991. In the Twin Cities, her works have shown at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts in 2003, No Name Exhibitions @ The Soup Factory in 2000, and the Minneapolis College of Art and Design in 1997 and 2005. She has also been honored with the Midwest Photographers Project, by the Chicago Museum of Contemporary Photography in 2005; and the University of Minnesota/McKnight Foundation Photography Fellowship in 2003.
Throughout these exhibits, the artist is well known for playfully transmitting a psychological message to the viewer. Celeste Nelms: Recent Works is no different. As Nelms herself says, “I record a response both physically and psychologically. This action links my human presence with the natural world and provides an honest sense of place as to how I am connected to it.” And this show certainly leaves the audience questioning the influence of humans on nature.