Between Sleaze and Glamour, Madison Nelson’s Installations Poke Fun at Consumer Culture
Madison Nelson’s work lands somewhere on the spectrum between sleaze and glamour. Assembled from textiles and reflective rubbish, her neon-soaked works overwhelm viewers with the language of consumer culture: abundance, saturation, and sensory overload.
Using recycled materials, the Texas-based artist examines consumerism’s role in the destruction of our planet. “My curiosities lead me to wander, searching for new experiences, yet wherever I go and whatever I do, pollution and the patriarchy saturate the world around me,” Nelson writes in her artist statement. “Visual imagery and consumerism inundate my generation, saturating the senses—and yet this serves as a catalyst and inspiration for tackling this often ridiculous social construction through my creative practice.”
Nelson is the founder of BUILD, The Sculpture Association at Texas State, a community-oriented group that leads sustainability workshops and constructs installation projects from discarded refuse. Her own work often operates in a similar way, recontextualizing unwanted items by giving them a new home.
The result is equal parts alluring and ghastly, a fun-house mirror image of our hyper-consumerist culture. “I’m trying to make something that’s worthless,” Nelson says of her gaudy work. And then: “I’m trying to make something that’s meaningful.” For a moment, both options seem possible.
In Today’s Q+Art Interview…
Madison Nelson discusses the benefits of equating rejection with success, creating beauty from chaos, and the many ways consumer culture affects our lives.
Which books, art-related or otherwise, belong on every artist’s shelf?
Madison Nelson: Mr. Wilson’s Cabinet Of Wonder, Lawrence Weschler; To The Lighthouse, Virginia Woolf; The Lorax, Dr. Seuss.
Which cultural concepts, themes, or philosophies inform your work?
MN: My work examines identity by exploring memory, perception, reality, and time. Consumer culture and issues surrounding sex and gender are also prevalent themes in my work.
If you could have dinner with any artist, living or dead, who would it be?
MN: Eli Sudbrack.
What are you trying to express with your art?
MN: I’m trying to make something that’s worthlessly meaningful. I begin saturating a space with discarded, gaudy things, and I don’t stop until the ugly chaos becomes wonderful.
What do you wish you learned in art school but weren’t taught?
MN: There are so many courses I wish I would have taken in undergrad. Digital fabrication and darkroom photography are the first few that come to mind.
What is the best advice you’ve ever received? What’s the worst?
MN: The best advice I have received came from one of my mentors. “Travel often, have sex, work hard, be powerful, be crazy.”
What's your biggest barrier to being an artist?
How do you maintain a work/life balance?
MN: Meditation and journaling.
What does success mean to you as an artist?
MN: I feel successful when I feel challenged. Using the mantra “success is one rejection a week” helps me maintain an ambitious perspective. Following my curiosities leads me to new experiences, which keep me engaged and inspired.
What are you working on that you’re excited about right now?
MN: I am currently making a fiber-based installation for my BFA thesis show, which opens December 6, 2021, at the Texas State Galleries.
How does your geographical location affect your work and/or success?
MN: I’m getting my BFA from Texas State, so I’m currently living between Austin and San Antonio in San Marcos. Living here brings me a lot of new ideas and opportunities since I get to engage with three different communities.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity. All photos published with permission of the artist.
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