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Curator and art critic
<span class="alinea"></span>Nina Canell’s <i>Days of Inertia</i> (2015) sits snugly within and expands outward in the artist’s rigorously poetic and singularly sculptural practice. Indeed, for all its alleged inertia, it could almost be seen to function both centripetally and centrifugally in what she does. For Canell makes sculpture that is very much under the sign of doing, or being (as a verb), if not having been. Her work tends to be either the site and/or result of a transformation, of some kind of activation of materials, process, and phenomena that, in many cases, would otherwise remain invisible to the naked eye.
<span class="alinea"></span>Take, for instance, <i>Treetops, Hillsides and Ditches</i> (2011). To create this Canell classic, the artist places blocks of dyed mastic gum atop a group of vertical pieces of weathered wood, then allows the gum to naturally yield to the force of gravity and flow down the sides of the makeshift plinths. Virtually invisible to the naked eye, the progress of the gum can only be gauged upon repeated viewings, at day-long intervals. Another classic example of transformation in Canell’s work would be <i>Perpetuum Mobile</i> (2009–10). This deliberately indeterminate, process-based work consists of an ultrasonic vibrator placed in a bowl of water, next to an open bag of cement. The high frequency of the vibrator transforms the water into mist, which gradually “cements” the bag of cement next to it. Thus sound is mutated into something not only palpable, but nominally static. <i>Thins</i> (2015) operates in a similar way to <i>Days of Inertia</i>. <i>Thins</i> consists of a magnet invisibly inserted into a wall; a series of gradually smaller nails then hang from the wall, end to end, relying on the magnetic force of the hidden magnet. The nails are connected to one another and held precariously in place exclusively through the dynamic flow of energy passing between them. As such, the energy and tension that unites them is both concealed and perfectly visible.
<span class="alinea"></span><i>Days of Inertia</i> proceeds according to a comparable, so to speak, sleight of hand. This multipart sculpture consists of an assortment of ceramic stone tiles, randomly broken up to form fragments scattered across the floor. The artist then coated the edges of the tiles so that they create a barrier, which helps contain the water that is poured onto them, creating a calm, reflective surface. Invested with a slight, but palpable tension, the water takes on a different material character—it becomes something at once still and totally dynamic, as if it were creating energy by being obliged to be still. The title “Days of Inertia” thus becomes something of a double-entendre, in that it could be referring to the motion invisibly animating the water or its apparent stillness.