Lines of defense
What would a submarine do in the desert? A military submarine is a powerful, fearsome, movable fortress. It’s a heavily armed and armored piece of machinery, but the success of its defenses depends upon it existing in its intended place: underwater.
“Low Water Mark,” the keystone piece of Nevada artist Nick Larsen’s new exhibition, also called Low Water Mark, is an abstracted depiction of a submarine in the desert. Larsen was partially inspired to make the piece—which is too sculptural to strictly be called a painting—after reading about a real submarine that was used for target practice out at the defunct Wendover Air Force Base in Western Utah.
“It was a castrated weapon,” says Larsen.
It was built for extreme defense, but in the wrong environment—an environment with no water—it was nothing but an open target.
His entire exhibition explores questions of defense, privacy, and the way that fortification increases the anticipation of attack. (You build a fort to protect yourself, and in doing so, you create the expectation of attack.) But these themes exist more as subtext. Superficially, the work itself appears to be primarily concerned with textures and materials.
It’s also an exhibition where the cumulative effect of the artwork is more powerful than any of the individual pieces—the sum is greater than the parts. There’s a series of eight 8-inch-by-8-inch drawings. Each one contains a Polaroid of a desert scene in the center and then layers of subtle paint, marks and masking tape. The central photographs are all either partially or fully obscured, but the ghostly presence of the underlying images draws the viewer in. It’s like the photographs are buried beneath armor.
“Where’s the tipping point?” asks Larsen, half rhetorically, half with genuine concern. “When does a willingness to be open to positive things become being open to attack?”
Or, inversely, when does privacy become hostility?
“When does it shift from positive to negative?” he asks.
For Larsen, these questions about privacy and defense come from personal experience. He’s a reserved person, and a recent move back in with his parents after a decade of living on his own put some strains on his assumptions of privacy and personal space. But, wisely, he chose not to make artwork explicitly about his own experiences, but instead used those emotions as an impetus to pursue wider-ranging artwork.
Low Water Mark, on display now at Bibo Three, is his first major exhibition of work since his 2007 thesis exhibition for the Bachelor of Fine Arts degree he earned from the University of Nevada, Reno.
In the meantime, he’s been working as a publisher, developing Sleepytime Projects, which aims to release art objects in book form. (A book of photographs by Reno artist Omar Pierce is currently in the works, as well as a DVD release of a film by Reno-turned-Brooklyn artist Erik Burke.)
Many of the pieces in Low Water Mark contain layers and layers of different materials, including impenetrable wax sealant, built up like defenses.
“Usually, I go too far,” says Larsen, “and then I have to scale it back.”