Heidi Norton writes the following about her work:
If all continued to grow and grow, if there were no death, the world would be monstrous.
My father wrote a home remedy on a piece of paper in 1977, the year I was born. It was folded and pressed like a dried-up flower in a Fox Fire book he sent me in the mail. It spoke of cobwebs, bacon, and muslin, a supposed natural remedy for a wound made by a rusty nail. A year after I received the note, I showed it to him and he refused to believe he wrote it. My parent’s past went missing; they wrote their own self-mythology, retrospectively, using time and space to distance themselves from their previous life as homesteaders. My work is in part an attempt to reclaim their time lost. Through the mediums of photography, sculpture, and painting, my work speaks to the instability and liminality of time, while investigating ideas of preservation through material and modes of display.
Plants and light become the primary mediums, as does glass, resin, wax and detritus (literally dirt from my studio floor). The plants act as a metaphor for larger, macro ideas of nature and its ecological cycles—of its impermanence and futility. Houseplants are encased, pressed, or "frozen" using materials that speak directly to histories of preservation. Light and its phenomenological (via the viewing experience) and physical effect, go hand in hand. The silver halide crystals of a photograph can trap light, just as the photoreceptors of a plant absorb light during photosynthesis. As the plants move through ecological spans of time, the works' physical form expands and compresses.
The relationship between image and object is cyclical and malleable. Material is deconstructed and folded into new works, objects become photographs and photographs become objects, each activating and demanding a new space. The studio is the activation site. It’s hybridity between plant study and art production is a constant negotiation. It has provided insight into my process, helping me realize that I have different ways of performing and producing. The photographic process is methodical and structured, allowing me to use the lens to distort, skew and disrupt space and time––to fix, to sterilize, to make permanent. The sculptural process is one of improvisation, of reaction, of movement, of change. Glass is broken, resin is recycled, dead plant is plucked, and impressions of the studio are lifted and layered into new works.
The large Press Plant Paintings on glass exhibited at the Museum of Contemporary Art in 2012, mark a new direction. Glass, revived from museum storage, lived a previous life in Liam Gillick’s work—vitrines that once held ephemera during his retrospective. The glass inherently speaks to surface and translucency, but also to the context of museum display, science, and optics. The large-scale work was made on the internal loading dock at the museum, and its life span is a product of the institution. It was created, defined and destroyed in the space, aligning with natural cycles inherent in my process. Beyond questions of display, the glass paintings use histories of abstraction and scientific modes of organizing, collecting, and viewing. Like magnified views of chlorophyll under a microscope, or glass-lantern slides, active ways of looking for information are crossed with ways of looking and seeing for aesthetic pleasure.
Heidi Norton is a New York-based artist and writer whose 1970’s upbringing as a child of New Age homesteaders in West Virginia resulted in a strong connection to the land, plant life, and nature. Her sculptural work seeks to “preserve” and present organic materials by encasing them in glass, wax, resin and paint. She received her BFA from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and her MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. She was the recipient of a residency at the Elmhurst Art Museum, which included a mid-career site-responsive exhibition, Prismatic Nature, where she curated the McCormick House, one of three Mies van der Rohe’s residential structures in the United States. Norton had a critically-acclaimed solo exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago. Other solo exhibitions include the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, Northeastern Illinois University, Monique Meloche Gallery Chicago, among others. Select group exhibitions include Contemporary Museum in Baltimore, DePaul Art Museum, the Knitting Factory, Chicago Cultural Center, Ohio State University, Gallery 400 University of Illinois Chicago, La Box Gallery National School of Art France. Her writings and work are included in Art21, BOMB Magazine, Journal for Artistic Research, Grafts by Michael Marder, and the newly released, Why Look at Plants ed. by Giovanni Aloi. She is an adjunct professor at FIT and International Center of Photography. Her most recent illustrated essay, “The Faceless Plant: A Sketch for Timothy Morton,” is in a recent issue of BOMB Magazine.