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Nadja Pelkey:Shared Air

By Laura Horne, November 9 2020

This series of images by Nadja Pelkey are created from the same 35mm negative of the shared air between Detroit, MI, USA and Windsor, ON, Canada. The image was recently captured midst the global pandemic and while the wildfires in California obscured the sky with a haze. Then in the darkroom before exposing the paper, Pelkey adds another component, salvaged glass which is laid on the paper to shift the light by reflecting and refracting it, this process makes each image unique. This technique is important in the rhythm and reduction of the image as it either makes the image more visible or invisible. The resulting analog image reads flat - the film grain is more perceptible than anything else playing with containment, reflection and visibility and metaphorically as a counterpart to the surrounding political, social and environmental conditions.

In a sense you are dismantling a specific image, using glass and light, and then compartmentalizing it into categories, seen and unseen, are there more categories and are you conscious of this during your process?

Nadja Pelkey: During the construction of the work in the darkroom I’m thinking of how to divide the projected image with sheets of glass, so I’m thinking about balance and breath, and structure and space. I know in general how the light will be divided but I have to rely on a lot of things - my ability to hold the structure in place, my understanding of how the projection might shift, and the exposure length. 

I’m thinking about the buildings across the river, and how their glass skins are reflecting sun at each other, how the invisible barrier of the borderline is drawn on maps but indiscernible on the surface of the river. I’m thinking of glass and light and longing and visibility. 

Using a single image as the basis for all the work allows me a kind of blank slate. It’s an image - and more than that its a picture of a thing. And its a picture of a thing at a specific time. So, it's in a sense a documentary image. It could only be made at that time. And then through the process in the darkroom that space gets opened and closed with the glass. The reflections and refractions make new images, new spaces, new categories though the picture projected remains the same. 


The minimalist quality in the repetition really defines the concept of the shared space and the seen and unseen variables changing the space. How do you feel the repetition of this image affects the psychological space it holds and also the size of the images? 

NP: A lot of my work has minimal formal qualities that belie the processes that have made them. This work looks abstract but its both a document of the sky and a record of an action in the darkroom so its very concrete as well. I like to root myself in that kind of space, where things can be what they aren't’, and can’t hold what they are. That’s a place I really like to work from. I think there’s a lot of room there, and it can be a place to pose questions or present alternatives. 

In terms of repetition I think that using the same image functions in a couple of ways - firstly it gives the work as a whole a constant, a grounding. And secondly it can also be about opening spaces from a fixed point, so all the possible variations come from this point in time and space. 

At 11”x14” the images are not very large individually. I like to work small and make things in a more intimate scale. I want that closeness, and also in the darkroom I need to be able to physically manipulate several sheets of glass. At times I have things perched and I’m just trying to hold my breath long enough to make it through the exposure. None of the structures are permanent - everything is precarious and unstable. 

How many prints are you planning to create and how do you envision them installed?

NP: The full series is around 70 prints. For this work, the number is really determined by how many it takes to make the rhythm make sense so that when someone is moving through the work - in person or online there is time to sense patterns emerge. I see them installed in sections with a series of prints making up kinds of phrases. 

How has the cultural scene in Windsor changed since COVID and the closing of the Windsor / Detroit border?

NP: We’ve certainly been under stricter restrictions than the USA, we’ve only just begun to see galleries open. Artist-run centres are still closed, and other spaces are as well. I think globally there’s a big pause happening, and a shift in terms of how programming is delivered. In some ways, it has increased access to programming that’s now online and that has been really wonderful, especially with the ability to access asynchronous programming that you can visit when you want to.  Oona Mosna from Media City Festival in Windsor engaged Greg De Cuir Jr. to curate a program called “Radical Acts of Care”, it was urgent and timely and representative of what Media City brings to the community. 

But, also things are difficult and uncertain and it’s hard to imagine a future in a lot of ways right now. 


Nadja Pelkey is an artist, writer, and cultural worker based in Windsor, Ontario. Her work has been exhibited in Canada, the United States and abroad.  She has contributed catalogue essays, reviews, and criticism to both regional and national publications. In 2014 she was nominated for the Premier’s Award for Excellence in the Arts by senior artist nominee Iain Baxter&. 

From 2013 to 2015, she directed the Neighbourhood Spaces Artist-in-Residence program, culminating in the Neighbourhood Spaces Community and Socially Engaged Art Symposium and subsequent publication Neighbourhood Spaces, which she edited. She is the former Executive Director of the Arts Council Windsor & Region and sits on the City of Windsor Public Art Committee.

Nadja is at the University of Windsor, where she manages the photography area and works as a sessional instructor.

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