Heidi Norton at Chicago Works Gallery, Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago.

Snake Plant Skins in Wax and Resin, 2012

From rich botanical sculptures, to the ghostly ethereal composition of each photograph, Heidi Norton has created an exhibition of polarity. Housed in the intimate BMO Harris Banks Chicago Works gallery in the corner of the 3rd floor at the Museum of Contemporary Arts, Chicago; Norton has composed an exhibition that combines her undulating and vulnerable sculptures, with photographed installations that barely come into existence, only being held together by the click of the camera.

The sculptures are most commonly associated to a herbarium, incorporating houseplants encased in wax, paint, glass and resin. They are also reminiscent to a tomb, where the previously living objects become ornamental, being uprooted and left to decay in order to quench our thirst for visual pleasure. Each sculpture almost tricks the viewer on first sight, presenting us with a mounted glass panel with compositions made up of mirror shards, melted wax, spray paint, faded books, magic lantern slides, and (most dominantly) green houseplants. The works appear 2 dimensional at first, reminiscent of a Man Ray or Fox Talbot photogram, yet once you are truly in the space and invest time exploring each work, you begin to see the compositions boldly jump out at you. Protruding leaves, stems, soil and roots, offer the chance to see the under belly of the work, the process, and fragments lively with their own purpose. The belly, painted white in parts,  leads you back to the photographs on the walls, which are so dominated with white space that they almost become vapor, with a spectrum of colored dust left hanging in the void. Her high contrast photographs transform textural physical arrangements into encased two dimensional representations that play with the viewer’s sense of color, dimensionality, light, and transparency. “This interplay of these two media suggests ways of organizing perceptions of space and registering impressions of time.” (Karsten Lund, Curatorial Assistant at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago).Where does the work begin and where does it end? Perhaps the question is left unanswered as the compositions are constantly in flux, with life, death, and rebirth being present in each piece.

With such a vast array of visual themes in her sculptures and photography: from decay and growth, encasement and release, to sterile and dilapidated, Norton has perfected the act of obliteration. Her sculptures are layered, combined, manipulated until no square is left bare, each element merges into the next, all becoming one. In contrast, her photography is so over exposed that it is no more than a whisper, or a detailed close-up that could easily be mistaken for an abstract expressionist painting. Without doubt, Norton has a remarkable feeling for texture and form. She both freely executes her works in the chaotic spender of physical forms and the clean sterile practice of creating an exceptional photographic print. Norton has pushed against conventional notions of studio practice and achieved a tactile exhibition where contrasting expressions have been carefully sewn along the seams, embracing both life and death, and always looking for ways to rejuvenate. 

Herbarium Specimens--An Intersection, 2012