My work explores the textural richness of layers of the commonplace: the musty piles of compost, or the cloven hooves, farm boots, and tractor imprints in a muddy pasture that write the farm’s routine like a Braille narrative. Materials of the farm such as wool, hay, earth, honey, even intestines and steel hold meaning, are alive and responsive.
Most of the work becomes performative, sculptures revealing the actions of wind, rain and sun, even animals, as they transform shapes and alternative materials collaborating with an element of time. Like pastoral painters that once walked the countryside, I have traded studio for the farm to create site-specific explorations in collaboration with the seasonal rhythms, muddy pastures and beating hearts of small homesteads.
Sometimes, I wrap myself into a sculpture of wool or record the pattern of the farmer by walking over an earth-laden canvas. Putting myself into this performance has been a part of my understanding of place, something a farmer knows intimately. When the work is taken out of the context of its surroundings and put onto the white walls of a gallery or surrounded by steel and concrete of a city, a new dialogue is created.
For my latest project, I created a printing press platform able to hold the weight of a herd of cows. Using an earth paint from the soils the cows walk on, I created a situation in which they walked through the earth paint and onto the canvases as they moved from one pasture to another to graze. This captured their hoof prints in a thirty-foot swirl of movement mark making.
For another piece, I hand tied horse hair from re-claimed cello bow strings onto netting creating a fifteen-foot kinetic sculpture reflecting on the origins of music. My goal is to create empathy, curiosity, and a new way to reflect on the relationship of man and nature. I explore the tension of man in the landscape, and his desire to belong and be a part of the landscape.
Defining her art as “contemporary pastoralism,” Nancy Winship Milliken is inspired by our age-old relationship to nature as a way to consider ecological questions in the present. She creates environmental and site-specific sculptures in both urban and rural settings using natural materials like sheep’s wool or mud from pasture fields. Her pieces interact with the environment and are activated by ephemeral forces such as wind, rain, and sun, calling attention to the textures, odors, and movement of natural materials composed in formally simple structures. Based in Vermont, she spends much of her time in self-directed residencies on farms, and her work ultimately addresses complex issues involved in sustainable living.
Born in 1962 in Hartford, Connecticut, Milliken earned an MFA from Massachusetts College of Art and Design. She has installed work in New England and New Zealand farmlands, and shown in solo and select group shows, including at Artstrand Gallery, Provincetown, Massachusetts; Boston Sculptors Gallery; The Brattleboro Museum & Art Center, Vermont; Burlington City Arts, Vermont; the Christian Science Plaza in Boston; Provincetown Art Association Museum, Massachusetts; Qorikancha Museum, Cusco, Peru; and the University Museum of Contemporary Art at UMass Amherst, Massachusetts. She lives and works in Charlotte, Vermont.