by NATHANIEL NELSON
What is it like to be a new person in town? Through his new exhibition, “Reflections of Light and Living,” Winona sculptor and Outpost Winona Curator Nate Bauman hopes to answer that question by showing familiar places through a unique — and slightly unconventional — lens.
“I wanted people to be a little bit displaced, to replicate that feeling of being out of place and new to the community,” he explained.
The exhibition, which opens at Outpost Winona on October 5, is the result of six months and hundreds of miles Bauman has traveled through Winona County, becoming familiar with his surroundings and understanding the place he now calls home. Twelve pieces will be shown, each one physically manipulated and edited to emphasize and embellish different features.
Earlier this year, Bauman applied for a grant from the Southeastern Minnesota Arts Council (SEMAC) after seeing a half-dozen SEMAC-funded projects come through the Outpost doors.
“Being relatively new at the time of writing it, I hadn’t felt totally familiar with the area. I still felt like a stranger. So I wrote the project in such a way that would get me out and explore, taking photos of locations and objects that caught my eye,” Bauman said of the grant.
After he was awarded the grant, Bauman said he began getting Google Maps directions to towns in the region, like Altura and St. Charles. After a while, he would stop following the maps and just drive around the backroads for hours seeing what he stumbled upon.
“It was a really calming and therapeutic experience. This was the first instance where I was driving to actually see the area I was in and familiarize myself with my surroundings, instead of just driving to a place I needed to be,” he said.
While driving, he would occasionally stop and take photos of things that made him “slam on [his] brake, pull a U-turn and take a picture.” Eventually, he ended up with hundreds of photos to comb through, but he said he didn’t want to just cover the walls of the galleries with images. In the end, he narrowed down the exhibition to 12 photos.
But there was a catch.
“I ordered over 100 copies of the lots, so I could edit and manipulate them physically instead of digitally,” he explained. Bauman, a sculptor who often works with raw construction materials and large location-oriented structures, said he isn’t a photographer and never learned much about editing photography, using Photoshop and other applications. But in this process, he wanted to experiment with his process and reach outside his comfort zone.
“My sculpture and wall-hanging work became that comfort zone. I like to call it shameless self-indulgence, where I’m looking at material I love and smashing them together in ways that I love,” Bauman stated. “But I had to find a way to get away from that.”
Over the five years of his undergraduate career, Bauman shifted his focus from architecture to product design, before eventually finding sculpture.
“I was required to take the intro-level 100 sculpture class, and I basically rolled my eyes for three-quarters of the semester,” Bauman said. “And then something just clicked.”
Bauman moved to Winona in February 2017 during his senior year at University of Wisconsin - Stout to study furniture making with a local artisan, who introduced him to Matt Fluharty at Outpost Winona, where he eventually began working as a director and curator. In his time there, he has seen photography, art, and film exhibits pass through the gallery, but for his first project in town, Bauman said he wanted to get a little weird. “People are familiar with Outpost and whatever the Outpost does, and I wanted to throw a curveball,” he said.
Each of the chosen works involves a photo taken of a location within Winona County, physically edited to highlight and accent specific accents that Bauman found intriguing, whether it be physical structures or how two buildings merge. One of the biggest themes in the work is juxtaposition between natural and unnatural, nature and architecture and other contrasting pairings. “It’s very interesting to me, seeing two disparate objects share a location. I love the dynamic, and some can just be funny images and others can be disconcerting,” he said.
Additionally, many of the photos will be paired with documentation of Bauman’s experimentation process, showing the rough manipulation of the photos in an abstract matter. According to Bauman, the manipulation process was a way to “sweeten the deal” for himself, allowing him to translate his sculptural work to photography. “The experimentation process is important to me, and I find as much value in it as showing the final product,” he said. “I like the dirty aspects of sculpture and making things physically, and I wanted to find a way to make photography in that process and present the process.”
Having grown up in a similar river town with a population of 30,000 and a budding arts community, Bauman said he feels very fortunate to be living in Winona as a part of the force making the arts community grow. And while his new exhibit may be different than many others in recent months, he hopes that people will be able to connect with the photography on levels of which he doesn’t anticipate.
“What I find with photography and shows is that anyone, artist or not, can find something to connect with. They look for something, scan the whole image, and find what speaks to them. That’s significant,” Bauman said. “I want to get people to think about where they are.”
Bauman’s exhibit “Reflections of Life and Living” will be on display at Outpost Winona from October 5 to 31. The opening reception will take place on Friday, October 5, from 5 to 8 p.m., which will be free and open to everyone. Food and drink will be provided. For more information, contact Outpost Winona via email at email@example.com.