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UNIVERSE OF

NINA ELDER’S WORK IS QUIET,

controlled, conceptual, and often monochromatic. Her work explores the visual repercussions of land use in the West, spanning production, consumption, and waste, with special interest in features such as gravel pits, mines, and lumber mills. In a sense, Elder is a visual anthropologist. Through paintings, drawings, and installation, she examines the contemporary landscape as a reflection of the economies, politics, and culture of modern life. Her work has been exhibited at the Harwood Museum in Taos, the Center for Contemporary Arts in Santa Fe, the Rule Gallery in Marfa and Denver, and most recently at Central Features in Albuquerque. ninaelder.com SITE AND MATERIAL

dollars worth of metal, resulting in a hundred billion dollar

One of the most important steps in my research is

profit for the Guggenheims and JP Morgan. I was surprised

a physical interaction with place. I hike into mines, I

by many aspects of what I encountered, primarily the

petitioned for security clearance and was able to visit the

minimal environmental impact that the mine at Kennecott

Nevada Nuclear Test Site, and I will sleep among radar

actually had, the speed at which entropy happens in Alaska’s

dishes. Through physical inhabitation I seek to develop

extraordinarily dynamic landscape, and the current invisibility

empathy for a place and its history. The impacted

of the Kennecott Corporation, a company that grew from

landscapes that inspire me are often of a scale that is

that mountain side in Alaska and now has interests ranging

somewhat inconceivable and only through physical

from Zimbabwe to Peru to Utah, and an annual value of one

experience do I perceive the industrial sublime. I gather

hundred and twenty eight billion dollars. This summer

material from sites that then become part of my studio

I will travel to the Yakataga Bay Radar Site on the Lost

process. Using radioactive charcoal that I harvested from

Coast of Alaska, surrounded by eighteen-thousand-

the burned forests surrounding Los Alamos National Lab,

foot-tall mountains and giant ice fields. Although it was

I recreated classified photos from early atomic tests. I use

decommissioned in the 1980s it is one of the few remaining

discarded paint that is considered industrial waste. My

intact radar sites. This project is allowing me to investigate a

drawings of mines are burnished with soil and rocks and dirt

new set of questions: How does a once functional and now

that I gather from tailing piles and slag heaps. By embedding the

obsolete place become a place again? What does it mean to

actual site into my representation of it, I hope to further

bear witness to a place that will never be monumentalized,

reveal how integrated industry and extraction are to our

but was significant not only in my father’s life but also to

consumer-based existence.

the nation’s entire notion of safety and security? What can I communicate and transmit from a silent place about

BRICKHEAD

humanity, what we value, what we preserve, and what we

PAINTING INDUSTRY

State Land Commissioner Aubrey Dunn wants James

disregard? You can see me interviewed about this project in

I make paintings and drawings of industrially

Tyler’s sculpture Brickhead: Hope removed from its

an ice cave under the Kennecott Glacier at https://polarlab.

impacted landscapes in order to re-complicate

current position on Old Santa Fe Trail, and proposes to

anchoragemuseum.org/projects/nina-elder/

the mundane, see the unseen, and unveil the

replace it with an educational display of an oil pump jack. As

camouflaged places on which our daily lives depend.

an artist, an environmentalist, and a person who is deeply

THE NEW WORK

Although I will probably never paint a human

committed to Santa Fe’s vibrant and creative future, I could

I am currently making large-scale photo-realistic drawings

figure, my work is about people, their needs,

not agree more. James Tyler’s website states that he strives

of the mines where Kennecott Corporation and its

their policies, their economies, and their power.

to create a global vision of art. I have nothing against this, nor

subsidiaries perforate the globe. These mines span

Industrial sites are monuments to The American

do I have anything against the concept of hope, and I hope this

from Australia to Canada to Peru. Each day, Kennecott

Dream, icons of man’s dominion over land and our

sculpture finds a good home. I applaud this rare opportunity

Corporation extracts approximately four hundred and fifty

ability to provide the raw material for our wildly

to expose that it is land use and resource exploitation, not

thousand tons of rock from their copper mine near Salt

consumptive existence. Rather than ignore mines,

art, that keeps this state economically solvent.

Lake City, one of hundreds of sites that they are exhuming. I choose to draw these sites realistically because their

power plants, factories, and the military-industrial complex, I use aesthetics and art contexts to bring the

THE ALASKA PROJECT

vastness and structure is unfathomable, yet a photograph

industrialized landscape into a conscious space that

I am thrilled to have support from the Polar Lab at the

documents their actuality. They look otherworldly and

encourages reflection on what we use and what we

Anchorage Museum to engage in long-term research in

hyperbolic, yet without any one of these massive mines

are using up. I question the resiliency of a natural

Alaska. In 2014, I spent three weeks in the towns of McCarthy

our daily lives would be impossible. In holding myself to

environment barraged with industrial voracity, and

and Kennecott, deep in the thirteen-million-acre Wrangell-

reproducing the mines in near photographic detail, I am

I hope that my paintings and drawings create a

Saint Elias Wilderness. Early last century the copper mine

a witness to these places to which our contemporary

platform for further investigation.

at Kennecott produced a staggering three hundred billion

existence is bound.

M AY

2015

THE magazine | 15

THE magazine May 2015  

THE magazine is Santa Fe New Mexico's magazine of international art, photography, culture, and restaurant dining.

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