Peter Bonde Becker Nelson (b. 1981) grew up in Annandale, Minnesota. He earned a BA in Studio Art from St. Olaf College in 2004 and an MFA in Interdisciplinary Visual Arts at the University of Washington in 2010. Peter taught photography, video, and new media for three years at St. Lawrence University (2010-2013). He is now an Assistant Professor of New Media in the Department of Art & Art History at St. Olaf College. He has exhibited work nationally and internationally.
Examining themes of gender, aging, class, and identity, Nelson records and interprets the personal narratives of his friends, family, and self. As one reviewer recently wrote, “His work delves into the nuances of human connection — love, friendship, intimacy, frustration and loss.”
In addition to art, Peter sings and plays the mandolin with the indie-folk duo Jayber Crow.
Tell me about your work- what are you currently working on?
I recently completed an animated film, titled Intruder Man that explores the story of a woman (my paternal grandmother) at two distinct stages in her life. As a young home economics teacher, she faces the wrath of an authoritarian superintendent who blacklists her from teaching; as an elderly woman, Alzheimer’s disease makes her paranoid of an “intruder man” who haunts her apartment.
My upcoming exhibition at Truckstop Gallery incorporates and expands on this film, specifically on the themes of paranoia and dementia. The animated film will be screened with a live performance by a vocalist and pianist performing the score. Other works in the exhibit include an interactive twelve foot tall pink cake with a slide that gallery attendees can climb up and slide down, a 360° immersive video of an elderly woman in her apartment, a performer playing a cymbal in the gallery, an audio installation with my grandmother’s voice, and a wall text piece with words my grandmother wrote in the early stages of her dementia.
I have worked primarily in audio and video in the past, so this new work is a significant departure from what I have been doing. It’s been exciting to incorporate my growing interests in sculptural, interactive, and relational work into this exhibit.
When did you decide to become an artist?
I think I always knew I wanted to be an artist. I’ve been making art in one form or another for as long as I can remember. That being said, there was a specific moment when I realized I was miserable working a 40-hour per week desk job doing tedious graphic design tasks. At that point, I deliberately decided to pursue my MFA and take art more seriously as an important part of my career.
What was the best advice given to you as an artist?
A wise friend, Zack Bent, told me that being an artist is the hardest job you can have because there is no prescriptive way to be an artist, no rules for what you can and can’t do, and no one to hold you accountable to deadlines. Strangely, that thought has given me both comfort and confidence when I’m struggling. It’s good to acknowledge that it’s a difficult road, but also good to remember there’s a lot of freedom and creativity with that amount of autonomy.
Is there any medium you’ve always wanted to try but haven’t yet?
I am interested in developing a practice in socially engaged art — art that incorporates other people and builds community. I don’t know who I would partner with or what I would like to pursue, so the first step is getting out in my community, building relationships, and putting out feelers for possible collaborators and projects.
Many artists struggle to find ways to sell their art. How do you sell your work? How do you market yourself?
I am not a great person to ask about selling work. I have only sold a few pieces of my video work and have not pursued that seriously. That being said, I have applied for many grants, art exhibits, and film screenings. I have been fortunate to receive a number of grants and have my work exhibited and screened widely. While that is not the same as selling work, it’s a serious commitment to get work out there and get new projects funded through artist grants. I am also fortunate enough to have a steady teaching position that encourages and supports my art practice.
Who are some of the Twin Cities artists you enjoy?
Rini Keagy: http://rinikeagy.com/index.html
Andrea Carlson (recently moved to Chicago, but love her work): https://www.mikinaak.com/
Xavier Tavera: https://www.xaviertavera.com/
Pao Houa Her: http://www.paohouaher.com/
Ben Moren: http://www.benmoren.com/
Chris Larson: http://chrislarsonstudio.com/work/
And so many more!
If I were to follow you around to see art in the Twin Cities, which places would we go? What would we see?
Since I live about an hour outside of the Twin Cities, I don’t make it to the cities as often as I’d like. My most frequent stops include trips to the Walker and the MIA to see the MAEP Space and the new acquisitions. If we had enough time, I’d want to stop at All My Relations, SooVac, and the Soap Factory too.
Do you have any exhibits to promote in the near future?
Yes! I’ll be showing brand new work at Truckstop Gallery on November 17th, 7-10pm. The show is titled “I Feel Loneliest When I Was Sent Here.” Please come!
For more of Peter’s work, check out www.beckernelson.com.
Follow Peter on Instagram @pbbnelson.
Saturday, November 17, 2018, 7-10 pm
with Screening and Live Performance starting at 8:30 pm
All images courtesy of the artist.
Interview written by Donny Gettinger, edited by Sarah Kass.