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Liisa Nelson


I am a 2018 MFA graduate of the New York State College of Ceramics at Alfred University. I completed a post bac program at the University of Colorado Boulder (2015) and have a BFA in 3D Media from Pacific Lutheran University (2009).

I grew up in Montana in a place where people don’t often leave. My father is a Lutheran minister and my mother is a nurse: body and soul. All my life I've seen the human condition as a paradox. The studies of art, science, poetry and Daoism have been indispensable in my life and work.

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People say that what we're all seeking is a meaning for life. I don't think that's what we're really seeking. I think that what we're seeking is an experience of being alive, so that our life experiences on the purely physical plane will have resonances within our own innermost being and reality, so that we actually feel the rapture of being alive.

                                                                                      — Joseph Campbell 

Throughout history objects of contemplation testify to the human urge to have our inner desires fulfilled outwardly. Illuminated manuscripts, ‘ritual’ objects of stone from antiquity, and alchemical aspirations of achieving immortality through the transmutation of base metals evidence the human need to seek completion and transcendence by physical means — to attain spiritual effects from material catalysts.

Transcendent experiences are often rooted in a heightened sense of physicality: ornate patterning on prayer rugs, the spinning of whirling dervishes, brightly painted decorated pages, the touch of gold-tipped brush to parchment. Materials resonate with bodies and can amplify our perception of the physical basis of our lives. They can evoke immediate desire and sustained longing.

Reaching towards the rapture of being alive is at the heart of my artistic practice. My motivating questions involve fundament, the nature of the phenomenological world, the human experience, spirituality, transcendence, cultural and religious practices, and scientific study. I draw on sources that document the ways in which humans seek, and the language of poets. 


Like poetry, my work uses physicality and form to point to what has none. My primary motivations are curiosity and awe. Materials have transcendent consequences.

Two like forms side by side embody magnetism. They are siblings, lovers, multiple aspects of a self, self and other, cells dividing and multiplying, branches of simultaneous potentiality. Longing is inherent. The symmetry and scale reflect bodies, faces, eyes, and psychological study.

Juxtaposition creates tension. Rigid geometric bars melt into pinkish soft ripples. A full volumetric, chrome-yellow limb flattens to an unglazed terra-cotta ‘shadow’. A room-sized garden of ruffled fabric hangs across from a photograph of itself being penetrated by an androgynous face about to bite into an apple. Object, image, and inhabitation become one another.

American culture separates body & mind, religion & politics, male & female,  right & wrong, self & other, and on and on. Are any of these truly mutually exclusive? I work to recognize paradox and the spectrum of complexity between named categories.



Over and Over, Like I Did

I will never unimbibe     like I did over
& over     deal with the remains
Trust in no      god    everywhere

A brush drags across      I will never unimbibe

Mallards mate for life     clean     clean the mark 
Of your lines turned out     missing it

Nothing happens     for centuries     
Read all the books     become everything else     
In the trees     your dirty graphite    deal
With the remains     imaginary morning
The world     your face      make love
Where is      the sameness     
Like I did     over & over

Counterpart     letting go letting go
Sleep     land around us     what is gone? 
Green red     alive dead     
Line blend    long wait     
Mallards mate for life     green red     

Over the edges     what is it?    
Crayon stuck in  my     
Mate for life
Pursue    or home     set my apple core down

(If I) walk backwards in a line will the years start over?
Over     The dog     your black eyes
We could build something
Green to black     another     duality
Fall back     fall     
You never finish all the milk
Work early     I’ll get it later    crumble into ourselves
Contentment how are you attained?
Mouths covered        a pair                quite give enough
Completion                             quite give enough     obsession
My long hair     reach out over and over       I

Lover     Letting      completion     two
Off on leaving     supple     ample
Held up      down

Enough     what you gave me     what once
Your drawings       smoke cigarettes   sickening
Eating an apple     broken     longing      
I’m gone     our land      Is this the stuff of centuries    ?

Isolate     linger  
Me     longing     
Maybe it was always me    apple     always
Impatient   skin      fall  take your      with me    ] 

In or out     or in out     what is
Marriage?      another     you’re here you’re gone
Probably you would go            red to black
Broth in your soup     dragonfly green
Name the thing without saying it 
When is it over        a promise

I always     why     see you tomorrow
Love I turned over     we        apart for different reasons 
Even though you want to 

Your face in the morning 
I want to be you      probably
In the doorway     your presence      it’s over
Do anything     to leave     come home
Presence     scattered
Over     still light     obsessed        myself I don’t 
A perfect triangle

Other     smoke in     keep to yourself
Double     double corpse     eventually anyway
Myself I won’t     you again
The milk is in the bowls
Lover, every lover

Foreign Organ

I oxidize 
Under a leaf     watching its curl loosen,
Spread over     the elements     my carbon offering redoubled
An unfastening extends to the waiting    made of the greenest parts

I, Wearing your eyes as a garment, lay down like a baby
leaving out syllables of   what I wanted     for you in a daughter
The cry in your belly goes as a tonal shift, a spreading asymmetry.
It goes as coins     the size of eyes into a deep fountain.

Now your ballast is in place I can finally say this:

I am a darkness dancer, sporting fine light-eating intricacies.
My hair is a mile long  and dragging    on the ocean floor\    the ground
Is becoming a whole wave    and a grower of a dream        of arrangements
Along a metal line   imperceptible   but 
always moving

Re-become (as if to make a shift.)     I talk
To my lover in the morning      Love(r)
In the morning   to let go    of what is enough to
Make a change    completely dissolve

Your skin —incarnate object— makes mine   withdraw into something
I don’t recognize    five phase key
Beneath reduced   chrome crystals.          In the chrysalis
The caterpillar completely dissolves  before     reforming
Into a new kind of creature

So slow one cannot see  it moving    even though it
Always is      Rhythms bring observers
That blush of blood through your skin brings me
To see you unfurl    foreign organ       love(r)
In the morning-    to let go

Half an hour    before I’m awake  but the south
Pole holds still   and a builder     of a dream  
Of a forest    and everything beneath
Us moves around it    still     smell the rain
And step back through the sloped window   punch the fighting
Spiders to determine a winner        collapse
Like a sea creature under the weight        [wait]         unscore
What has fallen out     of this instrument     rattle
Down this perspiring loop

If a Silent dancer can perform   through Millennial bodies        still
What more is possible (?)     to love   someone you’ve never met
Till now by looking in their eyes    to swell into a massive space
dust again,        weld the teeth    to the ends of the fingertips,     lay
Down like a baby,      become overtaken   by a swarm of peace.  
Know something about love     by moving slowly.     love
Someone you’ve never met.      look     at their eyes.

Pour a pool of water onto the floor    wash in it,
Like a desperate fish      hold your lung     in the palm
Of your hand

Hold a shell to the parts of your body you most wish
Could weep       foreign organ       weep with the body
You most wish you could embody      remember
To breathe into your stomach      your expansion    will continue
To hold you             you can trust this


Origin Tap

Go down,   origin tap, my particular emblem.     As a body
how you watered me down when I slumped in dry dirt. I
bent under your wave       particle pattern I was to fold under
white-tipped sacrament    (My waist bends in many directions.
My knees and ankles and neck also bend)

Could I exorcise nostalgia?  Time is a trumpeter, wounding tyrant      
(brash mean queen)        Universe, you have wrecked us,  you
did it over and over       Universe            thaw and return arbiter  
of one-last-tries   selves mender,

Her fluid lines are amassing clusters, her rush slowed —the tunnels
that play the old rush-rhythm, scared of the day, and, yes, they
will turn off. Gush give up. Dammed river, log-tied flow strike

Aliveness discharge. I can see that star-built organ pounding in your
neck, the artery slightly flicking in horizontal light —it casts its own little \
sideways shadow.         Who will be my surrogate when you leave?
I follow it, but cannot see its back.     Deliverer,   my other,     stay.