High Visibility is a podcast on arts, culture, and ideas in rural America and Indian Country produced by Art of the Rural and Plains Art Museum, a part of a longterm collaboration of exhibitions, publications, and events that share the richly divergent stories, experiences, and visions of folks across the continent. This episode is hosted by Matthew Fluharty, organizing curator of High Visibility.
Today’s guest is Erika Nelson, an independent artist and educator whose work asks provocative questions on the place of contemporary art in the public realm, particularly in rural spaces. Erika's work can be followed on Facebook and Instagram.
While living in a vehicle for two years, she traveled the nooks and crannies of the United States seeking out the odd and unusual, and gathering stories of people who built Outsider Art Environments and Roadside Vernacular Architecture
Erika developed her own traveling roadside attraction and museum -- The World's Largest Collection of the World's Smallest Versions of the World's Largest Things, and she settled in Lucas, Kansas in a house adjacent to S.P. Dinsmoor's visionary folk art site The Garden of Eden.
Her work manifests itself in a series of interesting, innovative, engaging public art projects that incorporate art into everyday experience.
Through her travels, she has written a Graduate thesis titled Driving Around Looking at Big Things While Thinking About Spam, prepared a full meal utilizing foil and her automobile's radiator and heat manifold, stood on a sideshow performer lying on a bed of nails with a genuine Kansas Cowboy at the last functioning 10-in-1 sideshow in Coney Island, found out whatThe Thing is in southern Arizona, drunk free ice water at Wall Drug, eaten Rocky Mountain Oysters, bought a Genuine Walnut Bowl from somewhere along I-70, seen Rock City, and been stuck in a traffic jam in Branson in front of Yakov Smirnof.
Erika's piece Gremlin Cache was featured in the recent High Visibility exhibition at Plains Art Museum.
Our conversation dwells on the communities, places, and artworks that tell the story of this journey. Along the way, Erika shares a ton of wisdom on what life in a small town in Kansas can teach us about how we live, work, and create across difference.
This conversation was recorded in late summer, in that beautiful time of year, as Erika describes, when a harvest of ripe tomatoes leaves everyone ready to share the abundance with their neighbors.
Artist photograph above by John Noltner for A Peace of My Mind: American Stories.