A series of works featuring a miniscule hourglass or sand timer are installed in the same room as the “train man” photograms. Representing the measurement of time as an exchange between two vessels, these pieces bring many of the themes in the show together. Time is malleable in the series 1 Hour, c. 1992-1993, in which nine photograms of the timers are presented out of sequential order, oscillating drastically between measurements. In a separate series of photograms, the timer’s glass is broken and the image is created with the sand pouring out of the vessel. Knowing this process, one can imagine that the “train man” photograms were similarly drawn using sand from broken timers, symbolically conjuring images of loss and absence from the remnants of time. In some of these pieces, there are traces of Felix Gonzalez-Torres’s work, but Nelson’s approach is darker and more brooding, less political. Whereas Gonzalez-Torres drew the viewer in via direct exchanges and shared social and political experiences, Nelson’s work is so personal and mysterious that a viewer can’t help but feel like an intruder.
Among several late paintings that evoke the work of Nelson’s friend Robert Bordo, the last gallery offers an intriguing sculpture made by combining several model train tunnels to form a disjointed landscape and passageway, conceivably for the “train man.” Here, without tracks, the tunnel is a conduit only in the sense that it leads from one point to another. There is nothing at either end though, just a negative space—a hole to be peered into, mined, traversed.
David Nelson @ 80WSE
80 Washington Square East (West Village)
Though the exhibition is no longer on view, you can find a selection of David Nelson’s works on the website for Visual AIDS, a sponsor of the exhibition and co-publisher of the excellent catalog, which is also available through them here.