When I first started spending considerable time in London in the early 1990s, I visited the Tate Gallery often. The Tate is distinguished, among many other things, for having the largest collection of paintings by J.M.W. Turner, and it is those paintings I wanted to see. Turner is often referred to as “the father of modern art,” and looking at his paintings it is easy to see why. He begins in the late 18th century with works that are richly specific in their subject matter, and over the course of fifty years develops a vision that is much less literal in its descriptive capacity, as the work increasingly becomes more about asserting what paint and form can do to evoke atmosphere, even as the paintings themselves do remain grounded in the places and experiences that animated the work. Turner’s tendency towards representation is increasingly supplanted by the desire to make paintings that were about an increasingly radical sense of how those experiences might yet be transformed into another kind of experience entirely. Seeing the progression of Turner’s work was always engrossing and instructive for me, as it provided a sense of how an artist might be engaged with a subject while not being beholden to it, while pushing ones expressive medium and materials to their limit.
Photography, unlike painting, is presumed to be a medium of optical and material specificity, though digital technology has thrown a significant wrinkle into that fact. But for the most part, people still presume that photographs show us some reasonable version of the world that resembles the one that they know. In her earlier works from 2017, made on Lake Michigan, Aimée Nash too begins in a place of familiarity, showing the relationship between this vast body of water and the urban environment of Chicago that borders it. Occasionally the skyline of the city is indeed visible, and elsewhere in this work there is a clear sense of the above and the below. Photographs from this period showing rock outcroppings clearly visible, as they exist both on and beneath the water’s surface; the camera become a visually mediating device through which we experience this duality. But as her work has progressed this sense of specificity and legibility increasingly dissipates until, in the most recent work, we are almost completely unmoored from the world as we know it and thrust into a spatial and material experience that, while materially rich and visually seductive, isn’t an easily recognizable one.
There are several shifts taking place in these more recent photographs that make them even more challenging. One is a shift towards verticality, which tends to loosen our hold on what might be called a more familiar landscape orientation, since the way we engage space and place is generally a horizontally oriented experience. There is also an increasing material complexity, with Nash’s color palette becoming both more varied and nuanced, making for photographs whose inventiveness increasingly invite us to leave what we know behind, and to enter a place where experience is indeed transformed and the imagination deeply triggered. Additionally, the work has taken on a more ambitious scale, making it more of a palpable physical experience, and less an object directed response. What exactly do these photographs mean? I think they mean what certain kinds of good instrumental music means. They make space for a part of our being to be momentarily engaged and transported in ways that life in its usual mundanity does not often allow, momentarily creating a sense of wonderment at what the camera, in the hands of a visionary artist, is actually capable of.