Liz Nielsen — Force Fields



Liz Nielsen
Force Fields

Past: February 2 → April 8, 2017

NextLevel Galerie presents Liz Nielsen’s first solo exhibition at the gallery, and in fact the first in Paris. Titled ‘Force Fields’the exhibition brings together new photographic works, that which are in line in the formal and conceptual of her work.

The analog color darkroom is a magical place where a pitch-black environment allows only the vision of the mind’s eye. There, and without the use of a camera, Liz Nielsen creates unique photograms by building her own negatives and ‘painting with light’.

The way she works in the darkroom is like a musical performance whereby, mixing colors and harmonies, Nielsen creates new gradients. Working with pure color and the edges of each color within the spectrum, Nielsen adds and subtracts wavelengths, playing with diffusion and refraction.

Nielsen’s negatives resemble flat sculptures with moveable parts into which she pours light. To create them, she cuts out transparent shapes and takes apart handmade cardboard puzzles, then reassembles the different forms in the darkness, layering them in a precise way to allow for multiple exposures on light-sensitive paper. Each piece thus requires much planning yet as controlling light is very difficult, surprises always emerge.

Physically moving around the paper as she exposes it, Nielsen variously uses flashlights, bike lights, laser lights, cell phone lights, an enlarger and toy lights to compose and create her images. With so many variables in the process, it is impossible to create the same image twice, making each photogram unique. The paper chosen for her work is important and Liz prefers Fuji papers, either Lustre or FujiFlex — the latter in particular thanks to its ultra shiny surface “that is so reflective it looks like liquid. It appears to accentuate the transparency of the colors, making them seem to exist both deep inside the paper and on its surface.”

Aesthetics suffers from a wrenching duality. On one hand, it designates the theory of sensibility as the form of possible experience; on the other hand, it designates the theory of art as the reflection of real experience. For these two meanings to be tied together, the conditions of experience in general must become conditions of real experience; in this case, the work of art would really appear as experimentation.

Gilles Deleuze, ‘Logique du Sens’ (The Logic of Sense), 1969

Liz Nielsen makes art of the unseen. In the darkness of the color lab, she works with handmade negatives, three-dimensional objects, and opaque and transparent masks to compose photograms by manipulating colored lights. This is an additive process: exposure after exposure the areas of light and shadow build up, creating gradients and layers with blocky and irregular edges. Colorful icons—landscapes, bridges, houses, faceted jewels—are assembled out of these simple shapes. But, crucially, these images do not overwhelm; they point outside themselves. They are, in Nielsen’s words, portals into another world, one which is enabled by the perceptual ambiguity of glossy color paper.

Nielsen’s work is made in blindness, the dark an improvisational partner. As in most modern photographic processes, the printing paper is blank until the latent image reveals itself in development. Yet, even when these prints are finished and their colors revealed, there is an absent presence at their core. Nielsen embraces not only the conditions of real, sensuous experience that viewers might have in front of her artworks, but also the unknowable divergence between these experiences as viewers retreat into interiority. By activating perception, Nielsen also gives up control over how these perceptual triggers might impact individual viewers.

What viewers see hovers somewhere in between the surface of the print and the thick, indeterminate space of the mind’s eye. Nielsen’s prints recall James Turrell’s holograms or Dan Graham’s two-way mirror installations, which appear to give depth to an image, but deny it physicality. I have the distinct feeling that works like these are somehow lodged inside my perception. Like a hallucination, I try to focus on it by moving around, craning my neck or even squinting and wiping at my eyes. There is something, somehow in the space between me and the surface of the image. I can see the images these objects promise, but I can also peer into the depths of paper or glass, even as more shapes appear to protrude from this flat space. It is disconcerting and fantastic, as if discovering something new within yourself.

Nielsen’s work troubles the very simple assertion that being, or presence, requires being in a place. Her artwork is both on the page and, simply, radically, somewhere else. Locating its being, whether the art hovers somewhere between the viewer and the wall, or whether it is somewhere in the viewer herself, is the great mystery of this work. These are works of plastic art that are decidedly intangible, but that nonetheless take up sizable philosophical space. Nielsen may indeed make art out of the unseen, but it might also be correct to suggest that she creates some artwork that is invisible, or more accurately, artwork that is visible only to the viewer and not even to the artist herself.

Kim Beil, January 2017


Liz Nielsen (born in Wisconsin 1975) lives and works in Brooklyn, NYC. She received a M.F.A. in Photography at the University of Illinois at Chicago and a B.F.A from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Liz Nielsen is part of this new generation of have returned to the essential elements of analog photography and its processes as subject matter, reimagining the abstract and painterly potential of the medium. Nielsen’s work has been exhibited extensively in solo and group shows in Chicago (Zolla/Lieberman Gallery), New York (Danziger Gallery, Laurence Miller Gallery or David Zwirner Gallery), Berlin, Dublin (curated by Jessamyn Flore), recently in Paris (Paris Photo)…soon a solo show in London (Photo London) but also in Budapest following her artist’s residency. Nielsen’s exhibitions have also been reviewed in the New York Times, the New Yorker, Artslant, the Wall Street Journal and Libération among others.

  • Opening Thursday, February 2, 2017 6 PM → 2 AM
NextLevel Gallery Gallery
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8, rue Charlot

75003 Paris

T. 01 44 54 90 88

Filles du Calvaire
Saint-Sébastien – Froissart

Opening hours

Tuesday – Saturday, 11 AM – 7 PM
Other times by appointment

The artist

  • Liz Nielsen