Heidi Norton’s site-specific installation at Wave Hill examines the intricate links between humans and the natural world. Inspired by Wave Hill’s grounds and the Sun Porch’s architecture. Activated by sunlight, Norton’s installation is made of sculptures and large, vibrant photographic scrolls draping from the ceiling and undulating through the space. Norton says that the configuration of scrolls encompasses landscapes of present and past, incorporating recent photos that the artist took of the gardens, as well as archival images. Norton’s work draws on her rural upbringing by New Age homesteaders. She upcycles discarded plant clippings from Wave Hill’s gardens, repurposes compost and deconstructs past work, incorporating it into new pieces—speaking to sustainability, contemplating how memories are embedded in materials and landscapes, as well as how a sense of place is recorded through time and changes in the land. Heidi Norton with her site specific installation, The Edges of Everything at Wave Hill, July 16th – August 28th, 2022. Meet the Artist recording can be found here.
What is the idea behind your project and what will the visitor encounter?
The Edges of Everything is a site responsive installation on the Sun Porch of Wave Hill, a historic public garden, overlooking the palisades, in the Bronx. It consists of vibrant undulating back-lit films, resin and glass sculptures and wax works activated by fire. The work responds to the ecology of a public garden and who it serves– from humans, to insects, to plants. The exhibition title is a term that Wave Hill horticulturists use to describe the importance of details and nuances in tending to the grounds. It also refers to the zones of interaction in nature within symbiosis- the edge between life and death. Drawing parallels to the multi-sensorial approach of a gardener, I’m interested in asking, “What happens when we consciously shift our perspective from the middle (observer) distance to the minutia, noticing the spaces in-between and around?”. This can be achieved using a heightened multi-sensory approach, similar to other species. Each organism in a space like Wave Hill, experiences a unique sensory world. This is the concept of Umwelt, a German word for environment. If you start thinking about the umwelt of other animals, you understand that nature’s magnificence is all around us. There’s a vast world around us that animals can perceive — but humans can’t. For example, flowers are extraordinarily beautiful, but if you had the ultraviolet vision that a bee has, you’ll be able to see patterns on those flowers that we can’t see. The colors of flowers have evolved to ideally please the eyes of bees.
This is illustrated through the forms, colors and imagery in the work on display. One can see bees, larvae, pollen, super saturated colors collaged against photographs of the land and sculptural elements and text. The configuration of the scrolls is in a wave pattern replicating the topography of the land past and present, but also the wave pattern of energy vibrations. The work serves as a metaphor for the invisible elements of the natural world and life’s impermanence, as well as birth and regeneration.
By working with living material and embracing chance, I’m acknowledging the symbiotic yet often misunderstood relationship between humans, plants and other living creatures.
Flowers and other organic materials are displayed in glass panes and encased in wax, calling to mind specimen slides of living matter that change over time. The wax sculptures are embedded with flora found at Wave Hill and are made by casting into the earth around various patterns of plant growth. They are then lit on fire and change as the elements shift. Investigating ideas of preservation, my work explores the instability of the present and the states of transition between one stage and the next, drawing parallels to mythologies of origin, decay and death.
About the Artist:
An artist and writer, Norton has had solo exhibitions at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, Lubeznik Museum, and Elmhurst Art Museum, among others. Select group exhibitions include Sargent’s Daughters, GRIMM, The Contemporary in Baltimore, Swale House at Governors Island, the Knitting Factory, Chicago Cultural Center, and La Box, National School of Art, France. Her writings and work are included in Artnet, Art21, BOMB and Frieze Magazine. She is founder and director of Vantage Points, an art education and portfolio development service. She earned a BFA from the University of Maryland, Baltimore, and an MFA from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago.