The Apocalypse Is Nigh
Artist Lori Nix brings her tiny catastrophes to the new Kansas Focus Gallery at the Nerman Museum.
Trees sprout from the floor of what was once clearly a grand library, one of them stretching up two floors and pushing through the ceiling, revealing a patch of blue light. Much time has passed since an earthquake — or meteor strike, or arctic freezing — destroyed the world beyond this sanctuary. Books sit gathering dust on the shelves, their pages scattered with bits of debris. Framed pictures are askew on the room’s moldering walls; chairs are toppled to their sides.
This scene — and others like it — subscribe to the sort of post-apocalyptic themes that artist Lori Nix delights in. Over the course of seven to 15 months, she painstakingly creates these three-dimensional environments on a miniature scale, measuring the furniture in centimeters and the rooms in inches. Once the completed diorama — which is always completely devoid of a human presence — is photographed by Nix in her Brooklyn studio, she destroys it, salvaging its parts for future projects.
When the Kansas Focus Gallery held its grand opening last month at the Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art, the images adorning the glass-box gallery’s walls were Nix’s photographs — works from her series The City, which will be on display through May 29. The library photograph is featured, along with several other bleak but oddly poetic scenes (a decrepit casino, an abandoned laundromat). Though her works hang in several museums, such as the Smithsonian American Art Museum, and she garnered a prestigious Guggenheim Fellowship for photography in 2014, this will be Nix’s first exhibition in the Kansas City area — and one the Norton, Kansas, native is honored to be a part of.
“Honestly, I’m flabbergasted that I was the first artist to be chosen to be in the space,” Nix says over the phone from her home in New York City. “Hopefully, I’m doing Kansas proud.”
Proud, yes — even if the inspiration for her artwork verges on the terrifying. Since 1999, Nix has been living in NYC, where she moved after receiving her MFA in 1995 from Ohio University (she received her BFA in 1992 from Truman State University in Kirksville, Missouri). But she has no trouble recalling her rural Kansas upbringing or the sense of being under near-constant threat from tornadoes and world-ending snowstorms. And if it wasn’t the elements that would get her, Nix was sure something else would.
“When I was growing up, I had a whole map of missile silos scattered through the Midwest,” Nix says. “It was crazy; I was so fascinated by their presence. And there was this made-for-television movie called The Day After  filmed in Lawrence, Kansas, and it was about the day after a nuclear bomb hits the United States, and I loved it. I’m just addicted to that type of feeling and scenario.”
Chasing that feeling is what has led Nix to explore and create scenes of catastrophic destruction in her art. In her The City series, she envisions a modern world being reclaimed by the elements in the days and years following some sort of widespread, civilization-flattening event.
As for that pending Armageddon, Nix prefers to keep the narrative loose. How the world will end does not particularly interest her; it is the unfolding of it and the aftermath that she wraps herself in.
“If you read from the newspaper or listen to news or the radio, it’s all about climate change and how the world is changing faster than we can keep up with it, right?” Nix says. “So there’s this threshold of, ‘Can we save ourselves, or is it too late?’ And I think I kind of hone in on the doomsday.”
Nix sounds utterly carefree as she discusses the planet’s dark future. Despite what her work suggests, she remains an optimist.
“Just because humans are gone, doesn’t mean it’s not a great place,” she says with a laugh. “We’re gonna kill a few species, including our own, but plants and animals are going to thrive without us just fine.”
Artist Lori Nix will appear at the gallery on March 24 for a presentation on her work from 3:30 to 4:30 p.m. at the Hudson Auditorium. The event is free and open to the public.
Lori Nix’s works will be on display through May 29 at the Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art on the Johnson County Community College campus, 12345 College Blvd., Overland Park. The Kansas Focus Gallery, devoted solely to Kansas-based or inspired artists, was designed by architect Kyu Sung Woo and spearheaded by donor Mary Davidson. For more info visit nermanmuseum.org.