My new work stems from curiosity about “invasive” plants and their associated narratives. In my practice, ecology and psychology – world and self – meet in constant entanglement. In the mixed-media drawings, installations, prints, performances and artist books of my past work, I wove a world where figure and ground couldn’t separate. Landscapes and bodies twined, mimicking the anxiety and bliss of interconnectedness. Viewers found themselves wound into the tangle.
In my new drawings, I turn my attention to plants that flourish in wounded ecosystems. We’re encouraged to cultivate belligerence toward invasive plants – they “choke out native species,” “destroy habitat,” “upset the balance,” and, at all costs, must be annihilated. In this language, I sense a settlers’ guilt and rage, a troubling mirror of my country. Fascist agendas have, historically, employed ecological metaphors to rally disaffected masses under the cause of a “return to a purer time,” with visions of a stable, “classless society based on a ‘natural hierarchy’ ” and freed from parasitic outsiders. Early ecologists were so attached to the concept of nature as “stable,” “balanced,” and “pure” that they tossed out data which contradicted their theories. Though subsequent researchers have discovered otherwise, these theories still color our assumptions about nature, sexuality, and nation.
And, though we are taught to cultivate belligerence toward "invasive" plants, their presence is most often an indicator of disturbance rather than cause of destruction. In some cases, they actually initiate a series of transformations that will shift landscapes to become more hospitable and less toxic to other species in the future.
My research leads me to integrate permaculture, queer theory, herbalism, botany, and political history to learn new language to describe the relationship between ecology and psychology, world and self. I have begun to make new drawings which feature villainized plants like Phragmites, evergreen blackberry, queen anne’s lace, tansy, purple loosestrife. These plants surround figures engaged in queering their relationships – negotiating power and tension, rediscovering queer sex in nature, losing themselves and re-emerging. These compositions convey abundance and ambivalence: the generosity of the earth envelops figures in uncertain positions, ground that shifts, skin that opens. I’m asking such questions as: How do we learn to see the world as it is? How do we trust that the parts connect to the whole? How do we write ourselves into nature? What makes an ecosystem resilient? What makes a political system resilient? How do we define “invasive,”? Why do so many “invasive” plants have medicinal properties? Who belongs “in nature,” and what is “natural”? I’m not interested in making explicitly didactic images – I seek to reveal subtle complexities, ambivalence, and uncertainty. I am interested in using these images as an opportunity to engage the public in a practice of observing, questioning, and connecting ecology and psychology.
Nicole Sara Simpkins grew up reading books and climbing trees on the New England coast in an old Victorian cottage by a salt marsh. She moved to the Twin Cities to pursue her BA in English from Macalester College in Saint Paul, MN. She holds an MFA in Printmaking from Indiana University, Bloomington, where she taught Drawing. She has also taught Drawing, 2-D Design, and Printmaking at The University of Wisconsin - Stout, and now teaches Drawing at Minneapolis College of Art and Design and at the University of Minnesota. Nicole lives and works in South Minneapolis, where she runs Scylla & Circe Press. She serves on the Steering Committee and is a proud member of of the Conspiracy of Strange Girls Collective.
I wanna hear from you: get in touch! If you are interested in purchasing work, please write via email. Prints from Scylla & Circe Press are also available on Etsy, for now. I like making band art, especially if you make doom, metal, punk, and heavy music, and especially if you are rad, female, queer, and/or witchy. Write to me!