Scanning the earth: Scott Nedrelow's Palisade Head

Scrolling down this post you start to get an idea of what it's like approaching Palisade Head, an immersive 65 x 74-inch print by Minneapolis-based artist Scott Nedrelow. Since I first saw it in his Northeast Minneapolis studio last year, and through many revisitings of a detail of it online, I'm more drawn to it -- and into it.

Created while Scott lived in the northern Minnesota town of Ely, where he says he moved to have "a Walden kind of experience," the image presents, in 1:1 scale, a plot of earth, captured with a flatbed scanner with its lid removed. While he officially says the work is a "reflection of growing anxiety between culture and nature," an idea he picked up from his advisor at the Chicago Institute of Arts, Kathryn Hixson, he acknowledges he was also... playing. "I was curious about what would happen," he says. "It's a device that normally is used for taking easy pictures of other pictures-- so the question was, hey, what happens if you just use it to take pictures?"

He wrote me in an email:
From there it became clear that as a camera it's not very well suited to do much except pretty flat surfaces, so I started scanning the ground in overlapping segments and piecing hundreds of them together. The resulting image and print is actual size, which isn't usually a feature of photography. As large actual-size prints, they start to get object-like qualities, which is why I like to show them without frames. It's more like a an actual-size map, but it's not a useful map-- it doesn't show a large area like satellite maps or blow up a view that could be examined at more of a "Honey, I shrunk the kids" level of fascination. It's just a segment of ground presented actual size on a wall, something that can be ordinarily observed. So there's a deadpan poetic element, it becomes significant because it doesn't show anything that can't already be easily seen. This goes back to the anxiety between culture and nature when you look at a magazine like Dwell and you see people making tiny little houses on concrete pylons in the middle of nowhere to minimize the effect on the land. The question is why is that an impulse right now?
Illuminated by the scanner's bulbs, the closeup view of lichen, moss, twigs and leaves is remarkable in its detail and realness while, weirdly also seeming unreal, like too-perfect plastic flowers at a Wal-Mart. And the depth of field, perhaps two or three inches, provides a view I've rarely had of nature -- face planted firmly in flora -- yet without the scents of nature I'd expect. That culture/nature thing again.

But the personal meaning for me is about something more immediate. With all there is to worry about these days -- from imponderables like war, financial crisis and elections to localized fretting about relationships or job security -- losing oneself in the intricate geometry of lichen rhizomes or the curve of a tiny white flower peeking out from a field the green -- is good medicine.

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