Medium Density

Medium Density


Wood, plastic, metal, laminates


  • Medium Density, Sherman Galleries, Sydney, 1999

Ambiguous Topologies

As cultural critics are fond of pointing out, the freeway is what makes it possible to drive coast-to-coast and never see a thing. In his most recent series of ambiguous sculptural topologies, Simeon Nelson allows us to see something else in such ubiquitous networks.

Just above or below the surface of the earth lies a tangled web of communication and transportation systems. We hardly even notice it any more. And when we do, we catch but a glimpse of its vast interconnected architecture. Looking at these works, one imagines the artist injecting coloured dye or quick-setting epoxy into a living system. Instead of revealing veins, capillaries and arteries, Nelson discovers nodes, hubs and circuits, particles, waves and corpuscles. His graphic two- and three-dimensional representations provide us with concrete images of enormous utilitarian infrastructures - fragmented, isolated from context, blown-up or shrunk-down to human scale.

We recognise this connective tissue immediately, though we're not quite sure where from. They are like sci-fi skeletons, vascular systems left by the global giants that invisibly move people, goods and information from one distant point to the next. We begin to see these systems of movement and action in a new light - in terms of the complex relation between information and matter, between life and material. Here, the genius of the subway map meets here with the precision of a printed electronic circuit or a sequence of DNA.

As the world is further 'aided' by computer design, the seemingly arbitrary patterns of loops, cul-de-sacs, and pixels look increasingly similar. These random patterns and events are like algorithms, programming 'dumb' material with 'intelligence'. Basic matter is imprinted with information, creating aesthetic form - from the monad and the gene to the piano-roll or the Difference Engine.

If we look carefully, we can recognise in Nelson's work fragments from the 'nanosphere' and the 'mechanosphere' - the artificial infrastructure that spans, penetrates and pollutes the biosphere. Each piece appears as an isolated part of an enormous system whose proper scale is almost impossible to grasp. Seen here as static objects, frozen moments of movement and exchange, we start to see new levels of complexity and inter-relatedness.

Abstracted, miniaturised and made tactile, these sculptural forms trace layer upon layer of built environment and representation. We might even imagine ourselves as travellers caught inside the imaginary worlds of these objects - as minute electrons buzzing around some unknown nuclei - inside the matrix of physical, mental and social life. We could then imagine ourselves being pierced by the exoskeleton of this grand technological artefact.

Maybe this is why (on closer inspection) Nelson's forms suggest that this iconography of technology stripped bare has more in common with pre-modern scientific representations of nature than we might have initially thought. For we have always imagined that our own molecular make-up is not so very different from the make-up of the external world - regardless of whether it is natural, mechanical or electronic.

Cells and atoms, circuit boards and freeway designs. These visualisations of information all conjure up a vast circuit of interconnecting parts, of enormous veins and arteries pulsing through some awesome Manga-metropolis. And by way of their ambiguous and multi-layered topologies, these works remind us that such complex dynamic systems are but reflections of our own mutable models of understanding.

Ross Rudesch Harley, Sydney 1999