Transformational Objects- Artist Spotlight on Nanci Hersh

     Remember back in grade school when you learned about the seemingly magical process through which a humble caterpillar emerged as a butterfly? The newborn caterpillar gorges itself on leaves, becomes fat, then sheds its skin through multiple molts. When the time is right, it hangs upside down and spins itself a silk cocoon. Far from remaining inactive inside the cocoon, the caterpillar becomes busy transforming its body in preparation for its emergence as a butterfly.[1] It converts itself- astoundingly- from an awkward, slow-moving, gravity-dependent creature to an elegant being untethered from the ground, able to soar among the flowers. And then there is the amphibian. Tadpoles, for example, ultimately eliminate the gills they sported in their younger days and develop lungs as they morph into a frog, which allows them to breathe on land. Pretty amazing. The natural world is filled with these small miracles of metamorphosis. Then there are the macro-metamorphoses: the gentle wind gathering force to become a tornado, the ocean wave triggered by undersea earthquakes to become a tsunami. And then there is the cognitive metamorphosis: the ‘idea,’ transforming itself from the sludge of half-conscious daydreams into carefully honed knowledge and creative bursts that can in turn change our world. Each of these metamorphoses occurs as a result of an unseen force, whether biochemical, physical, or cognitive. This unseen force, the spark of transformation, seems to be made visible in the art of InLiquid artist Nanci Hersh.

     Hersh’s work One seems to visually express the process of metamorphosis. In my view, it’s like a swirling, converging mass of biological matter that is gaining momentum as if to transform itself into a new entity. It seems to express the very act of becoming. Perhaps it depicts the coalescence of seemingly inert strands of DNA and RNA into a sentient being, or winds gaining momentum to become a tornado, or the caterpillar parts inside a cocoon converting into a butterfly, or even fragments of ideas blending together in creative unity. The complexity of color and filament-like shapes portrays the diversity of component parts while the faintly visible latticework at the top and sides of the work seems to provide glimmers of a bond unifying the swirling mass. The artist states: “I am interested in the transformative power of the creative process. Gestural lines, fragmented patterns, and assorted textures are the threads of my work which create a space for the confluence of memory, time, and place. The overarching theme of my work is a narrative drawn from personal history, my meditation and spiritual practice, community engagement, and interest in the mysteries of the Universe.” To me, this work seems to capture the mysterious moment of transformation. The artist seems to utilize meaningful extracts from her life story, just as the caterpillar or the changing wind utilizes bits and pieces from its initial form as it morphs into something new. And this notion of fashioning a whole from singular parts seems to be further expressed in the title. The result is a mesmerizing blend of intensity and dynamism.

Nanci Hersh, One

     Hersh’s Goddess of Stolen Moments, constructed of netting, rope, wire, and found objects, further explores the layers of disparate elements enlisted to fashion a new entity. Here perhaps the amalgam of tangible material objects creates not just an unusual assemblage, but a statement about the intangible, as expressed in the title. As further noted by the artist: “A visceral and tactile layering of fluid and entangled lines, reflections and shadows are part of an ongoing conversation to afford the tangible and intangible to coexist and to embrace our interconnectedness along the way.” This work seems to be about the confluence of the tangible, material as well as the intangible that interconnect to create a rich, colorful life. It’s melding the past and the present, and maybe even hopes for the future, among the material objects.

Nanci Hersh, Goddess of Stolen Moments

     The works (Leaving) the Nest and Nest seem to convey that metaphorical space where transformation originates. The title alludes to the very tangible space of the nest, or home base. The intermingling lines seem to evoke twigs and branches. The work (Leaving) the Nest seems to be like a close-up of Nest. Yet (Leaving) the Nest seems visually reminiscent of brain cells, or synapses, a representation of the space where intangible ideas are born and raised before being sent out into the world. Perhaps it’s a metaphorical representation of the place where ideas percolate, where they grow before transmuting into fully formed thoughts. Perhaps the nest is the launching point for transformation, where raw, unfiltered ideas coalesce into sparks of creativity. As such, it again illuminates that unseen force in metamorphoses, whether it’s the bioactive goop inside the cocoon or the interlocking electrons in a gathering tornado or supercharged brain cells. Fountain seems to illustrate that transformative force leaving its nest. The work looks like a spout emanating from a brain-like shape, as if conveying ideas pouring out of a mind. There is lattice work again, as if it’s a gel that holds those internal ideas together before they leave the safety of the nest.

     Hersh’s evocative works seem to visually capture multiple facets of transformation, whether it’s literally from one life form to another, one physical state to another, or from the crux of an idea to creative work of art. It’s a process that reverberates throughout our natural world. The idea of metamorphosis even impacts each of us, as who we are changes and grows throughout life. And in psychoanalytic parlance, the transformational object, usually the mother, is seen simply as a process by the cognitively underdeveloped infant. This process in turn modifies the infant’s evolving subjective sense of self. There is no question that there are enigmatic forces that propel a range of metamorphoses. Whether these forces include biochemical changes or barometric fluctuations or a sprinkling of pixie dust, it is part of the wonder and beauty of our natural world. And Hersh’s art, with her thought-provoking transformational art objects, adds to that beauty.

[1] Ferris Jabr, “How Does a Caterpillar Turn Into a Butterfly?” Scientific American, August 10, 2012. (https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/caterpillar-butterfly-metamorphosis-explainer/#:~:text=One%20day%2C%20the%20caterpillar%20stops,as%20a%20butterfly%20or%20moth

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