Andrea Lee Nelson
Stories can be constructed from what is cast away. The central materials in my compositions are identified amongst the broken, discounted and abandoned. The known and unknown past of these found objects build layers of significance. I aim to express facets of these layers and generate intrigue through their arrangement. Originally inspired by santos and roadside shrines in the American West, my work has evolved over 25 years into the arrangement of endless found objects in examination of natural and cultural interplay, often within specific landscapes. My professional background in Alaskan archaeological fieldwork, historic research and museum curation greatly inform my art, as well as living in rural Alaska. More recently I have turned to found fabrics in the creation of faux taxidermy of Alaskan species. More of my work can be found at antelopearts.com.
I have relied on antidepressants for well over a decade for basic functioning, my career and thriving on a personal level. I believe medication has enabled successes in my life that previously were inaccessible; it also prevents unbearable lows. Despite this impressive list of benefits, I hide the fact I take and need antidepressants. In fear of being perceived as fragile, mentally unstable, incapable of handling complex problems, or just broken, I’ve hid my prescription from family members, many friends and most certainly employers.
The medication also has serious side effects, I often feel flat of emotion, an efficient machine more than human. I often ask if I’ve exchanged critical dimensions of myself to be a “productive citizen,” even though I was unproductive and nearly handicapped by my depression without the prescription. I have gone on and off meds to experiment many times, never to good end. Mental health medications don’t fix everything and they cause their own set of issues.
“Spillage” reflects this love/hate relationship to my antidepressants, something that simultaneously saves me and threatens my sense of self and identity to others. The assemblage is composed of found objects and my own embroidery work. Blooming flowers spill from the medicine bottle, suggesting a peak state of being as created by the medication, but the hyper-color of the flowers adds an artifice and unnatural element to them. The garish kitsch jewelry elements follow suit. Can this beauty be trusted? Is it real? Actual cocoons and larvae indicate transformation. Real insect specimens swarm the arrangement but whether they are attracted to life or decay is in question. The uncertainty between what in the assemblage is real and what is manufactured also mirrors my questions around being medicated: where do “I” begin and end in the context of chemical alteration? Several elements are pill-like in form, some natural (like the stones), others beads or jewelry. This, too, plays with the uncertainty of what is
When I finish a bottle of antidepressants, I always thoroughly scratch my name off the prescription label before throwing it away, essentially removing my identity in the unlikely event that someone in my small community will fish the bottle out of the trash and read it. The bottle shows the compulsion to separate one’s identity from the medication/mental health condition, even though it is also integral to it.