India Nielsen - Exhibition Text Originally published to accompany India Nielsen’s solo exhibition ‘I'm in the Dark Right Now (Feeling Lost but I Like It)’ at Kebbel Villa (Schwandorf, 15th April - 21st May) April 2023
India Nielsen’s paintings defy easy canonical classification and present initially perplexing parallels, as the artist appropriates pop-cultural imagery, art historical allegories or sacred symbolism into idiosyncratic collages that camouflage her own innermost thoughts and feelings. Being of the first generation to be brought up alongside the internet, she often ponders that peculiar contemporary proclivity to live our lives more online than off, as well as speculating on the negative effects of instantaneous access to information and the potential for twenty-four-seven interconnection.
Recently, Nielsen has been attempting to realign her artistic practice to reflect the wisdom she received from her mentor and former Royal College of Art professor, the late Milly Thompson, specifically the importance of pursuing a pleasurable life, both painterly and personally. The challenges encountered when entering the artistic establishment - particularly as a young woman - cannot be understated, and a struggle to strive for legitimacy is all too often experienced within an institutional or educational context. In light of this, Nielsen aims to embrace unpredictability and approach both life and work as unburdened and unrestrained as possible, eschewing that endless and often abortive battle to be taken seriously. To make decisions determined by pleasure rather than expectation, to create in alignment with an inner amusement rather than an outside assumption, and to live in response to the whims of your own body rather than the projections placed upon it.
Concurrently, Nielsen came across similar inspiration in somatic therapy, an alternative body-centred counselling practice that treats mental unrest by engendering a greater interconnection between mind and body. By bypassing your thoughts to instead focus on both physical and emotional feelings, such psychotherapeutic processes allow you to uninhibitedly inhabit your whole self. Nielsen endeavours to apply an analogous attitude to painting, excluding thinking from her process in favour of an emotive, almost automatistic, approach to the selection of subject matter. And so, the words of revered spiritual guru Ram Dass, Uncle Boonmee (the reincarnated protagonist from the first Thai winner of Cannes’ Palme d’Or) or a European Firebug coexist comfortably alongside Azealia Banks’ mermaid mixtape, mythological sirens, spiritual psychopomps or a psychedelic cycling skeleton. Employing an egalitarian view to visual or verbal references, both high and low culture are accommodated for, and nods to the ’90s or early ‘00s cohabit harmoniously next to contemporary societal touchstones. Just as the epithet emblazoned across the back of Pete Davidson’s letterman jacket states, Nielsen's creative contemplation spans ‘Past, Present & Future’.
Nielsen strives to reflect, recontextualise and remix an honest and instinctual interpretation of the world around her, specifically those treasured things that provoke and provide the pleasure Thompson so described. Accordingly, animals abound as if inhabiting a David Attenborough nature documentary on emotional intelligence and sentimental symbiosis, directed by the artist’s own camera commands. Such self-aware self-editing, a sampling of previous painting’s settings, subject matter or selected segments - a closer crop of a spiderweb bridging an antelope’s horns or a sunlit river now viewed from within a bat-laden cave - allows for further reappraisal. Ants, bats and capybaras readily recur in fact, the alphabetical trio simultaneously serving as self-portrait stand-ins and animalistic everymen with a timeless universality equivalent to easily intelligible emojis, able to embody intimate interpersonal relationships with an appealing anthropomorphism. Additionally, a proportion of Nielsen’s latest paintings were produced during the artist’s time at Kebbel-Villa’s adjacent residency programme. That month immersed in unfamiliar Bavarian surroundings, combined with both a Covid-19-induced period of self-isolation and a self-imposed attempt at digital detox, has left a markable mood to the works. A sensitive site responsivity arises, with Germanic influences now intermingled into the artist’s scenic scenes of cornfields, flaming forest cabins and Donaustauf’s monumental Walhalla memorial.
Self-aware of the often surrealist impression or interpretation of the paintings, Nielsen’s distinctive titling grounds each artwork in its own reality. Many of the titles, as well as this exhibition's own, are lyrically sourced, be it from prominent chart-topping stars such as SZA, Beyonce, Taylor Swift, Ariana Grande, Justin Bieber, or more underground, alternative or senior songwriters such as Fleet Foxes or The Smiths. And while again their selection may be intuitive, each is carefully considered to provide an emotional context to the work, if not a didactic narrative reading or handy source-material hint. Viewed en-masse, India Nielsen’s paintings present as an alluring choose-your-own-adventure experience. pre-packaged for an awaiting audience already well-acquainted with image overload and systemic overstimulation, by now apathetic of their ability to be everything everywhere all at once and uninterested in the availability of a little bit of everything all of the time.