Spotlight on Nick Rivers: 2017 Open Studio Fellow

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This year we welcomed Open Studio Fellow Nick Rivers to create Corpus Machina, a new sculpture that has become the site of an extended sensory deprivation experience for the Minneapolis-based artist here at Franconia Sculpture Park. Born in 1983, Nick is a 2016 MFA graduate from the Minneapolis College of Art & Design (MCAD) where his transparent isolation chamber 5 Day Fast [My Theses on Art] explored relationships between the other and self, endurance, sacrifice, and interdependence. Corpus Machina continues the trajectory of Nick’s work in creating phenomenal, transformational experiences, and exhibiting the material residue left behind.

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Describe your creative process and influences:

I hear the phrase from artists often, “I’m really process based,” and I think to myself, what the heck does that even mean? Thinking about my creative process, I have to turn to what is at the core of my art interest. This has been continually changing and evolving, but basically I’m interested in creating works which require some degree of physical and experiential awareness. My graduate work focused on objects in relation with one another, usually in some manner of tension and force, which culminated into some form of quasi-kinetic artwork. At that time I was interested in Matthew Barney’s early Drawing Restraint work and much of Chris Burden’s early “shock” value work. Coming from a cultural studies and comparative literature background, I like to think that the post-structuralist thinkers were influential in how I approached art making. Since high school as a post-secondary student, I was captivated by big ideas like deconstructionism, simulacra, hyper-reality, Walter Benjamin’s Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, and Roland Barthes’ Mythologies. I was interested in how modern culture was shaped by media and technology and it made me think about how we as individuals construct our perceptions and realities. In my artistic practice, I’ve extended this curiosity of constructed realities and perception by looking at phenomenal experience. I was really taken by Maurice Merleau-Ponty towards the end of graduate school and I think I’m still meditating on his ideas around perception and experience.

The other big theme that I base a lot of my creative process around is the notion of transformation. This mostly stems from my personal life and experiences where I’ve often felt like a spectator to my own life and fascinated by where I am today. Fifteen years ago I was a typical middle class white kid that came from a typical f’d up middle class home. Raised by a single mother, when I was able to break free and start getting into trouble, I did. Into my early twenties, I lived what could only be described as a search for the bottom of existence. I was pretty gypsy-punk-rock or something and yet today I own a house and I’m married to a beautiful, smart, amazing, talented woman with a one year old daughter. I have a fulfilling life, but one that is radically different from what I ever expected or felt I deserved. I don’t think my story is somehow unique, I just recognize the capacity of human experience to go places we never could have imagined or even conceptualized. This is how I’ve lived and recognized my life story and I know it’s a story, or a perception/attitude which others have as well. I’m inspired by that mentality: that life, or experience has a way of surprising us and amazing us if we are present enough in the moment to recognize it. Because of this, I think a lot of my work is interested in pushing the limits of personal physical experience as well as highlighting the transformative and interconnected nature of life. Tapping into the realm of phenomenology is what keeps me excited about creating because I somehow hope others will realize in my work, something new inside of themselves.

Tell us about your project at Franconia Sculpture Park:

This project is part of a continual pursuit for phenomenal experiences. Corpus Machina is a sensory deprivation chamber that grows crystalline structures from my body’s residue mixed with water, sodium, and magnesium sulfate. I was thinking about this piece as a self-portrait, or a portrait/residue creator. Eventually, in the spring next year I plan to use fire and rocks to heat a bath of hyper-saturated salt water and float in this chamber for several hours at a time. Hopefully next year I’ll have more to say about the experience and the work for FSP. I plan on recording video and taking plenty of photos and audio to document the experience.

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How does your time at Franconia compare to other residencies or projects you’ve completed?

The only other residency I’ve done was right before FSP at the Santa Fe Art Institute Harpo Foundation’s Fellowship Residency. The atmosphere was very different, set on the SFUAD campus, and at Santa Fe Art Institute the program brings together creative thinkers, makers, and researchers to make real social difference in the world. The atmosphere there was much more academic which I really enjoyed, but also lacked some of the passionate creative energy I’ve seen at Franconia. At Franconia, I’ve enjoyed the vitality and energy of the people creating work and I’m impressed by how FSP makes the park and the exchange of ideas and creativity more accessible to all people.

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What did you learn at Franconia Sculpture Park?

I learned a lot about the structure and culture of sculpture parks, and I was impressed by the abilities of artists alongside me and those who came before to create such impressive and often monumental works. I learned a lot about sourcing materials for outdoor projects and altering my construction techniques to be able to withstand the elements. This was the first piece I did which was intended to stay outdoors for a long period of time. I’m hopeful that the things I learned at FSP will help me in the future to create other permanent, outdoor works of art, even though the work I created, is not intended to last outdoors forever. It is meant to fade and alchemically change and undergo a process of transformation.

What was the biggest challenge?

The biggest challenge, quite honestly was being under a tight timeline with my very busy schedule. With work, a mortgage, a partner, and a daughter I needed to create my project in a short window of time. The weather wasn’t the greatest at cooperating with my schedule, but that’s life! In the end, the work was created with some very muddy boots and a lot of dirty t-shirts. I’m excited to visit the park next year to see how the weather, the air, and the earth has responded to the piece.

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Do you have any other projects coming up?

I’ve been working on a series of crystallized “paintings” which take dirty water from people who washed their hands. I grow these pieces through evaporation and crystallization of magnesium sulfates, salts, and other organic materials borrowed mostly from the clay / ceramics world. I’m looking for a place to exhibit these pieces in 2018 and have some other endurance related projects thought up but not fully realized yet. We’ll see! Hopefully 2018 is as blessed a year for me as 2017 has been.

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The Open Studio Fellowship Program is made possible by generous lead support from the Windgate Charitable Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts, and many generous individuals, Thank You. Established in 2005, the Open Studio Fellowship Program supports the creation of new works by emerging and mid-career visual artists from across America.

Subscribe to Franconia’s blog and never miss out on a FSP Spotlight interview. Check out earlier 2017 Spotlight installments: Samantha HolmesJordan Rosenow and April MartinNooshin Hakim Javadi and Pedram BaldariBill KlailaLaura Feldberga and Ojars Feldbergs! We will be featuring all of our 2017 Fellowship Artists throughout the summer and fall, so stay tuned.

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