Studio Visit Heidi Norton

“If all continued to grow and grow, if there were no death, the world would be monstrous.” -Heidi Norton.

A monumental glass pane stands perpendicular to the ground, displaying a central bouquet of rotting bamboo. The bamboo, caught in the ether, frozen in time, a structural composition. It is flanked by organic shapes of bodily-like fluids,  effortlessly floating on a glass pane, intermittent myriad miniscule air bubbles, two large aqua squares, and an arched hot pink tube. The floating shapes of color are warm hues of soft yellows and light peaches. My own image and mortality is reflected, layered---implicit within the work.

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About a year ago , I saw the same sculpture, entitled The Ultimate Preservation, Cryogenics and the Lucky Bamboo, at a gallery opening in upper Manhattan. The bamboo was freshly green, as if cut minutes before my arrival to the gallery.  Today I as I reflect on the piece, I am amazed that there is any bamboo left as part of the sculpture. So much time has passed since I first experienced the work. In Norton’s studio, the bamboo is now brown with a growing, thick white soft fuzz.

The whole cyclical spectrum of life-- growth and death--unfold in this one work. By constructing a sculptural environment for natural material to live inside of the toxicity of resin, Norton preserved and yet killed the plant.

The gradual decomposition of the bamboo was a result of Norton’s sculpture which encased and thus preserved the plant through the winter. “My work is in part an attempt to reclaim time lost,” Norton explained.

All the materials involved in the sculptures may take on the plant’s ephemeral qualities and continuous motion. Norton’s works are many times deconstructed post-exhibition and recycled into new compositions. The works exist not only in digital documentation, but in future, unforeseen works as well.

Norton comes from a background in photography. The desire to preserve a moment in time, working with light as a medium, revealing an image (or in this case a sculpture) on a glass plate, it’s all a very photographic language—in some sense, a romantic one. It is the hypnotic beauty of the works and the meditation on nature and ecological cycles of life and death that take hold when you are staring at the works. Time becomes ambiguous.

Norton describes her studio as an activation site for plant study and art making. This relationship in Norton’s work is clearly seen in her works as well as her collaborations with artists and scientists. In a  collaboration with artist, Danielle Swift, Norton created The Power of Movement in Plants, Charles Darwin, a work that mapped the movement of a growing plant by pinpointing the direction of its upward growth, what Darwin coined Phototropism A line connecting these moments was sewn in a UV thread which responds to sunlight by changing color.

Norton’s works are an investigation of preservation through materials, from the hyper natural to the synthetic, and  and modes of display. Norton is interested in ways of viewing and a culture of over stimulation, slowing vision down. Recent sculptures seem organic and oceanic, yet scientific. Cosmic, yet microscopic.

Heidi Norton’s work is currently on view in Garden Dwellers at Regina Rex (NYC), through August 9th. She has an essay entitled, The Glass Shields the Eye’s of the Plant, in Why Look at Plants, ed. Giovani Aloi, (Brill, Fall 2017). She is a professor of photography at the International Center of Photography (NYC).

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