How Photography reimagines Reality: Lori Nix’ and Kathleen Gerber’s new joint series Empire
Sentinel, Pigment print, 121,92 x 121,92 cm © Lori Nix
When the apocalypse is over, the Brooklyn-based artist duo NIX/GERBER begin their work. Their new joint series Empire visualizes the traces of a vanished empire, destroyed by an unknown disaster. In large-sized photographies we see deserted cities, empty of people, but still reflecting the remains of a former civilization: a rusty hot dog truck, a lonely shopping trolley, ancient sculptures, scaffoldings and crumpled newspapers that headline “It’s over.” Within the urban ruins wild nature burgeons again.
The artist and photographer Lori Nix (*1969) grew up in Kansas where her playful fascination for disaster arised: “Every season brought with it a new disaster or weather phenomenon. As a child I personally experienced tornados, floods, blizzards and drought. I was never scared or upset by them because I had my parents to worry about the implications. Rather, these events brought excitement to a life that by most people’s standards was quite dull.“
Lori Nix in her studio © Lori Nix
After moving to New York she starts collaborating in 1999 with her partner Kathleen Gerber (*1967), photographer and artist with a background in gilding and glassblowing. The duo works on meticulous hand-made dioramas and architectural models, which they later use as material for their fine art photography. Their models of dystopian urban landscapes are famous both in the United States and Europe, showcased in several solo and group exhibitions and on magazine covers worldwide. Nix and Gerber showed their new series Empirefor the first time as an artist duo from April 26 until May 26 2018 at Gallery Klüser 2. Following previous series by Lori Nix like “Lost” or “The City” which have been already shown at Gallery Klüser 2, Empire with its colourful landscapes is more than ever shaped by the aesthetics of Romanticism and the Hudson River School.
NIX/GERBER at Gallery Klüser 2, Utopia & Overpass, 2017, Pigment prints, © Lori Nix, Photo Jamie Fischer
The complex artistic process that leads to each picture lasts for several months; on a series rich in detail as Empire the artist duo usually work many years. Kathleen Gerber describes this process in the following way: “Most of the fabrication takes place in our apartment because that is where all the power tools, spray booth, paints and supplies are located. When the work is close to being finished, we pack up the parts and pieces of the diorama and transfer it to our outside studio where there’s more space and where we keep the lighting equipment. When we install the scene out here, it’s usually the first time we see itas a whole.“
Studio Shot, Kathleen Gerber © Lori Nix
For their dioramas Nix and Gerber use basic materials like basswood, foam sheets, acrylic, paperand cardboard, painting it with water based colours. After finishing the models Gerber partially destroys or manipulates the scene to prepare it for shooting. While Gerber engaged primarily in constructing the miniature worlds, Nix sets up the elaborate lighting system using up to 8 strobes, the digital camera and captures the final image. Afterwards the diorama will be destroyed and all that remains as an artwork is the photographic image itself.
Studio Shot, Kathleen Gerber © Lori Nix
The humorous play with fiction and reality of their work, says Nix, opens a liberated perspective on disaster: “Because my work features a model and not a real place, it creates a safe space to think about these larger ideas of disaster. Devoid of people, these spaces become meditative and full of possibilities.“ With Empire Nix and Gerber create images that cross-fade subliminal romanticism with settings resembling American disaster movies from the 1970s: a “fictional urban landscape after”, how Nix puts it. The viewer’s imagination immediately tries to reconstruct the before that the images only express by conserving its absence.