I met Erin Jane Nelson through a good friend of mine who recently moved to Brooklyn. She introduced Erin as a young but mature upcoming artist who relocated to Atlanta from Oakland about a year ago. In addition to Erin’s art practice, she runs the gallery Species inside of her studio at Atlanta Contemporary with her partner Jason Benson, another new transplant to the Atlanta art community. Both Erin and Jason are showing nationally and internationally, and both have also been selected to participate in the upcoming Atlanta Biennial at Atlanta Contemporary, placing them among the few local artists included.
Jiha Moon: I have known you for a short time, but you are still new to many in the Atlanta art community. How did you and Jason decide to move to Atlanta, and what was your life like before in New York and Oakland?
Erin Jane Nelson: Most of our friends and peers had moved away from Oakland to New York or L.A., where it’s become slightly more affordable to live than the Bay Area, but we were fed up with the rat race of trying to maintain both home and studio rent in such high cost cities—it felt that either of those choices would be more of the same. I grew up here and have always thought that, for all of its industry and music and food, Atlanta seemed glaringly missing from the larger American emerging art world. I was hearing about spaces and artists in Nashville, Memphis, New Orleans, and Birmingham, but was never hearing about Atlanta. So a mix of curiosity, family, and sustainability made it an easy decision.
JM: You are one of hardest working young artists I know. You are not only showing all over the place but also running a gallery. You also often travel to do workshops and studio visits with artists, and sometimes you write, on top of keeping your daytime job at the High Museum. How do you balance all these activities? How do these different roles affect you as an artist and your work?
EJN: I’m flattered that you think I have these things balanced when I definitely do not! Most of the time I am either time-poor or money-poor, and even more often I am both. Although my top priority is to be an artist, I also love exhibition-making, writing, and research. I’d rather spend my time and money working in service of other artists than … going to brunch, for instance. Being a morning person helps.
But I don’t think it’s advantageous to have so many different roles. Even if they all help support my art practice is tangential ways, I always end up wishing for more time in the studio alone with my thoughts.
JM: I find this tendency in the art world that more and more artists are running galleries these days. I think artist-run galleries tend to allow artists to test their creative limits because they are not primarily concerned with the business side of things. Do you see Species that way?
EJN: Species is mostly a way for Jason and I to remain connected to our friends and artists we admire who live outside of Atlanta by inviting them down to make exhibitions. We would love to make money or even break even with the gallery, but from what we’ve seen elsewhere, letting artists make the work they want to make and subsequently having strong exhibitions and a distinct program will—hopefully—lead to some form of success either for the gallery or the artists involved or both. Although we don’t organize exhibitions with the expectation of making money, we really try to avoid being slapdash and overly casual. We don’t want artists to feel like they’re missing anything by showing with an artist-run space.
JM: That’s a good point. Species travels as well. You and Jason have curated shows elsewhere, including the recent group show “Peachtree Industrial” at Bodega in New York [in which Moon’s work was included]. The Fuel and Lumber Company in Birmingham is run by another artist couple, Amy Pleasant and Pete Schulte. Both spaces are not geographically fixed and can move to other places for exhibitions. I love this idea of a fluid gallery moving around. Do you see your future projects evolving more in this way?
EJN: Maybe… We enjoyed organizing the group exhibition in New York because it was a way for us to bring some of the artwork we had seen and loved in the South to a New York context. However, we don’t imagine ourselves as professional curators, so while it’s nice to do off-sites every once in a while, it’s not a core part of our goals. We have been lucky to have several other invitations to bring the gallery to San Francisco and even Berlin, but are primarily focused on the next four shows at Species that will happen by the end of 2016. We are still figuring out how much bandwidth we will have for 2017 and beyond and whether organizing both locally and outside of the South is feasible. [cont.]