Kristin Nelson has a popular name. She shares it with an American primitive painter and an actress famous for her work on the TV series Psych (although the actress spells her first name with an “e”). This is part of the reason she’s not as easy to find online as you might expect an award-winning artist to be, but it’s also because she can be hesitant to discuss her own work.
Take her latest show, for example. It opens March 3 at ace art inc., and it’s called My Life with Pamela Anderson and Other Works. The name raises a lot of questions, but Nelson is careful with her answers. “It’s just a work that I felt like I had to do,” said the Ajax, Ont.-born artist, who now resides in Winnipeg, “but I haven’t necessarily developed the language to discuss it yet.”
Despite her trepidation, Nelson had answers to the biggest questions surrounding this show, the first one being: “What is it?” The answer is a lot of things. “The show is comprised of digital prints,” she explained. “It has six or seven digital prints of my family snapshots mixed with paparazzi images of her [Anderson] that I found on the Internet.”
For the most part, the prints show Nelson and the Canadian actress and showgirl engaged in what Nelson called “action or sport kind of activities: watching a football game, bicycle riding, snorkeling, walking our pets — things like that.” The show also features some cross-stitched portraits of Anderson and a life-sized hay bale made from yarn.
The next logical question, of course, was: “Why Pamela Anderson?” And again the answer was a lot of things. Nelson has been noted for her interest in “gender performance,” and My Life with Pamela Anderson is partly a result of this interest. “I felt like [Pamela Anderson] is sort of a gender performer, and I’m really interested in drag culture,” she explained. “I definitely see her as someone who has a very ‘drag’ personality. [ . . . ] It’s over the top.”
But Nelson doesn’t want to be pigeonholed, and My Life reflects that. “A lot of times my work has been identity based,” she said, “and I feel like I’m moving away from that.” She also had a more personal motivation for the work. “Mainly it was about getting to know her as a person,” she said. “I spent about six months doing this work specifically, researching not only imagery, but also just things about her.” With My Life with Pamela Anderson, Nelson wanted to show that “You can get to know anyone if you try, and you can get to respect anyone if you try. So it’s sort of about that connection.”
Digital prints, cross-stitching and yarn is a strange combination of media, but Nelson said that the media do not signify anything in particular. She doesn’t see the use of traditionally feminine arts like needlework as a statement about gender. “I just see it as being an artist,” she said. “You use whatever things are available to you. If they are wood, then they’re wood, and if they’re yarn, then they’re yarn. I definitely don’t see a distinction at all.”
This was the case with her hay bale, as Nelson explained. “I don’t ever think about that stuff. It’s just sort of like ‘I want to make a giant hay bale, and I know how to knit.’” Nelson’s refusal to commit to one medium or theme makes it more difficult to talk about her work, but it also defines it. “I don’t like to be like ‘I do this kind of art,’” she said. She isn’t the only one of course. As Nelson pointed out, “You’re not necessarily a painter anymore, or a printmaker anymore.”