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Visiting Artist talk on Zoom: Nancy Milliken

Milliken, Windscape, installation of sheep’s wool, in collaboration with Shelburne Farms, Burlington, VT, 2014

Nancy Milliken's work conveys the naturalism of the pastoral landscape tradition in European painting through the poetics of materials physically connected to the contemporary farms where she works. Her sculpture consists of metonymic fragments of the farm and its animals. Rich textural qualities and the multivalent symbolism of organic materials in particular drives the meaning of her work. Her methods and materials form part of a long lineage of contemporary art since the 1970s that combines industrial and organic materials together, in works that extend from sculpture to installation. Unlike Joseph Beuys, one early inspiration, or the Arte Povera artists who used similar materials to make more explicitly political statements, this work operates on a more fundamental level that might be called humanist, were it not explicitly about the closeness and interdependence of human, animal, and agricultural worlds. Unlike the Earthworks artists who pioneered art installations using--or abusing--the natural environment in the 1970s, her material is harmoniously and integrally linked to the places, or creatures, where it originates. It suggests the pragmatic as well as symbolic importance of rural farming and its links to both tradition and technological innovation. The work speaks to the symbiotic relationship of human and animal life, and our conflicted, often forgotten, relationship to the land in a postindustrial society. Its paradoxical qualities of ephemerality and monumentality link us to larger natural processes, local ecosystems, and cycles of life characterized by equal parts gentleness and violence. Its ecological message and respect for contemporary small-scale agriculture could not be more timely today.