SHAWN BITTERS

In the short story, Signs & Symbols by Vladimir Nabokov, a character believes that Nature is communicating messages to him through patterns he perceives in the natural environment. Humanity has a long history of attempting to read nature through shamans, prophets, or scientists. A stone communicates its complicated history through its shape, color, texture, and chemical structure. This history can be read, reread, reinterpreted and still retain indecipherable elements waiting to be decoded.

My work explores how we use language, narratives, and belief structures to establish connections to our environment. I construct printed-paper sculptures and installations based on geological phenomena. These paper/rock formations are composed of various sets of 26 stones, one for each letter of the English alphabet. Using print-media I print thousands of these stones in various scales and colors, use and re-use them to encode anthropomorphized landscapes with my own language, order, and narrative.

In my modest way I am constructing a new nature. I build these landscapes with the contradictory aim of creating a convincing illusion of a reality that flaunts it’s own fabrication. These are queer structures sitting between accepted categories. They are both print and sculpture, weighty and weightless, active and paralyzed, object and sign. I present my paper in stony drag to reveal the complicated nature of accepted realities.

My most recent alphabet is derived from volcanic bombs. Volcanic bombs are aerodynamically shaped rocks, formed from lava as it solidifies in midair after being forcefully ejected from a volcano. I am working on two ongoing series featuring these stones. A series of eight drawing/screen print works called The Volcanic Exclamation Series and The Icelandic Stanzas, a series of photographic/screen print works.

I use mediums based on their aesthetic and conceptual characteristics. In these recent works I want surfaces that constantly shifted into and out of visual harmony. The screen printing ink almost appears to hover on top of the paper, flat and glossy. The pastel areas are chalky, and matt. Archival inkjet pigments bond with the paper creating a luminous richly-hued surface. Conceptually, each medium functions differently. Screen printing facilitates reproduction and endless possibilities for changing color and scale. It allows the stones to be graphic signs and physical objects. Drawing with pastel brings subjectivity via “the artist’s hand” in addition to the fantastical illusion of space and movement. Finally, photography lends an assumption of the documentation of reality. By bringing these mediums together each work shifts from visual and logical harmony to fractured, separate elements. My graphic, alphabet stones, fly through the air and appear to sit harmoniously among real stones.
Finally, each work is embedded with secret messages waiting to be decoded. The sculptures are accompanied with a separate decoding card and the two-dimensional works have a key (and sometimes a legend) included in the framing.

Concurrently, I am also in the planning stages of creating volcanic eruptions out of printed-paper in a variety of scales.