Lori Nix: “The City” at G Gallery

“Subway,” 2012, Lori Nix, Archival pigment print, 40″ x 50″                       Photo: courtesy G Gallery

In a world overflowing with photographs, Lori Nix has carved out her niche. This New York artist is as much sculptor, painter, and assemblage artist as photographer, one who meticulously constructs her subject matter rather than going out and finding it. Over an eight-month period, she will create a mind-boggling diorama and then photograph it with a large-format camera. After hand-printing a limited number of color photographs-usually 15-she destroys the dioramas, making her first and foremost a photographer.

There is no digital manipulation in these large photographs of what Nix thinks of as romantic and, more specifically, sublime landscapes of a futuristic world after an apocalypse. In Subway, for example, a subway car is slowly decaying, its floor covered with mounds of sand and plants. Glimpsed through the open door, across an empty expanse is an urban skyline suggesting Manhattan, but it could be any major city. In Anatomy Classroom, the shelves are lined with skulls and other modeled body parts, but the chairs are overturned, and the walls and ceiling are cracked and slowly being destroyed by the forces of nature. Other post-apocalyptic scenes include a library, art museum, beauty shop, botanical garden, three-story mall, and cathedral. Nix has been working on the diorama photographs since the early 1990s and “The City” series since 2005. The latter are all architectural interiors that she creates in her Brooklyn living room.

The detail is astounding. Nix builds the sets and nearly all the objects by hand and paints them with help from her partner Kathleen, who specializes in faux finishes and gold leaf. After Nix finishes, Kathleen adds dirt and distresses the walls to make them look old and decrepit. Nix then lights and photographs them. Nix herself grew up in a small town in western Kansas, where each season brought threats of disaster, from winter snowstorms to spring floods and tornados to summer insect infestations and drought. Her lifelong fascination with disasters, as well as her concern with the long-term effects of climate change, are a major influence on these frightening yet mesmerizing tabletop worlds. It is unsettling to think that in the future, our world might end up looking like a Lori Nix photograph.

VIAdonna tennant
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Donna Tennant is a Houston-based art writer who writes reviews for various publications, including art ltd. and Visual Art Source. Other publications she has written for over the past 35 years include the Houston Chronicle, Southwest Art, Artlies, ARTnews, and the Houston Press. She has also written numerous catalogue essays. She has taught art history at University of Houston–Downtown and Lone Star College and is currently a writer and editor for the Houston Independent School District.