Elisabeth Nicula is a San Francisco-based multidisciplinary artist. Her work is in the permanent collection of the Boston Public Library and she exhibits in art spaces across the US, internationally, and on the internet. She is showing screenprints and net-based works from the Sense Memories project later this summer in a three-person show at City College of San Francisco.
Elisabeth takes us behind the scenes of her recent collection, Aspects of Geological Time, to discuss climate anxiety, printmaking and constraints.
<WHERE I'M COMING FROM>
I started making animated GIFs a few years ago to realize movement I saw in the marks I made as a printmaker. At the time I had just moved across the country to California and was working on really spare woodcuts about distance. At first I put the GIFs on Tumblr alongside the woodcuts, and then found NewHive and assembled them into installations.
Love of process is a significant motivator for me. Nothing feels better than figuring out how to make something I've never made before and still being into it when I look again the next day.
The other thing that drives my work and life is a habit of walking around outside and looking at plants, weather patterns, the sky during the day and at night, city-dwelling wildlife, dead things at the beach, rocks. Nature and its systems are comforting because they reveal one's insignificance.
At some midpoint of a series specific themes emerge, but in general across mediums, I want to recreate the sense of place and self engendered by being outside. I'm more interested in conveying moods than depicting specific locations and generally try to cover my tracks. I want other people to be able to project themselves into my interior landscape.
There is a fear-based aspect to my work. My friend, the poet Kate Schapira calls it climate anxiety and I could not describe that state any better. Lately I've been looking at my artwork as a means to experience the natural world more fully rather than to eulogize or capture and pin it.
California's well-known and visually evident seismic qualities often have me thinking about the long scale of the universe. Aspects of Geological Time started as a conceptual piece—instructions for assembling an animated GIF with paper and scissors—for the Living Room Light Exchange book. I made companion works (fig. 1 and fig. 2) on NewHive and kept on going.
I have been thinking about normal natural processes and lifespans, plate tectonics, tides, human disruptions, and other cycles of change. I like Heraclitus's idea that you can't step in the same river twice.
Since time is infinitely divisible, it must be possible to experience something infinitely too. I know this is silly but it's a good coping mechanism. Once I was hiking with my dad and while we were resting he asked me how long a route was possible on that particular mountaintop. You could walk forever in one wooded spot.
I know from my design work that it is creatively helpful to have parameters, so I like to set up false constraints for my art projects. I don't want to jinx myself but since I figured this out I haven't had a fallow period. Sometimes it's just a matter of choosing a medium and a color palette or a type of mark. For Aspects of Geological Time I wanted to use slightly abstracted photographic elements, spindly shapes that seem directional, and rgb-ish colors.
I am by no means a photographer and use my phone to make videos and a camera on automatic settings to take pictures. For my last project, Sense Memories, I treated my hard drive and phone as caches of found objects, but I'm collecting new images this time around.
The shapes of my drawn elements come to me while I'm not thinking about it. I usually remember them but I take notes when I can. My sketches are awful.
I love repetitive marks and tasks so making GIFs is extremely pleasant. For the most part I draw vectors in Illustrator and animate them in Photoshop. I suspect I should learn a more advanced way of doing this but I tell myself that this is another constraint that helps me out.
At the moment I'm looking for ways to combine what can feel like disparate parts of my art practice. Printmaking and net-based art have iteration in common, via editioning or pageviews. It has been great to work on the same project for a long time in different mediums, but I want to make more immersive works that relate these elements more seamlessly.
Elisabeth Nicula is currently working on an offshoot of Aspects of Geological Time for her second Electric Objects' Art Club collection, and will be at SF Zine Fest with new zines on the same topic in September.