Nicole Hixon, a second-year student in Stony Brook’s Master of Fine Arts program, turns useless, recycled trash into meaningful sculpture, installation and public art.
Hixon, a native New Yorker, first started her higher education at Nassau Community College and continued her studies at California State, San Francisco. She moved back to Long Island and came to Stony Brook for graduate school.
Career-wise she started out as a dancer for the first 15 years of her life but then stopped. It was after taking ceramics and sculpture courses at Nassau Community College that she fell in love with the craft. After two of her former instructors encouraged her, she became an art major and has not looked back ever since.
Her work generally focuses on the thoughts of her viewers. “I always like to encourage the viewer to think, regardless of what I’m making. I wanna try to give them an overall experience, and that’s often times why work tends to be on the larger side of the scale, literally, by doing large public works and installation art.”
Often she uses recycled materials in her works, and there is a significant reason behind this. “I think that forces the viewer to assess why they’re taking on a new connotation or form, why they’re being put into something that looked very organic when it’s a non-organic material. So it’s really about questioning thought, value, purpose, and reassessment,” Hixon said.
Not all of Hixon’s work involves recycled material, but many of her projects do. She has found the idea of recycling in this generation to be fascinating and has wondered what happens to the objects after being recycled. This concept has also led her to make connections with today’s population. As Hixon puts it, “We live in such a disposable society where not only these things are disposable, but sometimes people are looked at that way as well, and I think it’s very unfortunate.”
In the past, she had used recycled steel-belted radial tires to create several different pieces. She had also worked with aluminum soda cans. Currently, she is working with plastic bottles.
From March 13 to March 27, she showcased her most recent work in the Lawrence Alloway Memorial Gallery in Stony Brook’s Melville Library. This exhibition piece was called “All that is solid melts into the air.” It featured 2,000 plastic bottles put together to create a womb.
She based the title of this work off a quote from Karl Marx in the Communist Manifesto, which she learned about in one of her past philosophy courses. “When I read it, ‘all that is solid melts into the air,’ I thought about how that applies to pretty much everything, ourselves, in these shells, in this vessel, in this body, because when we perish, regardless of how our remains are treated, whether they are buried or cremated, you will recycle and become into something else.”
This quote inspired her to think about how she can incorporate the idea into an art piece that fit her practice. She thought about how recycling is a catch-22 in that it can aid the environment, but hurt it at the same time. The objects can be made to be reusable, but in order to do that, heat must be applied, which causes certain toxic gases to be emitted. She then related this to Marx’s quote.
“Going back, thinking about something, let’s say the plastic bottle: if it’s solid at one point, it’s going to melt into the air at some other point even if it is just through the gases that are emitted while trying to put it into a new form, as life then takes on a new form.”
Putting these two things together had led her to create a work that represents the creation and movement of life through the simulation of a heartbeat. This life was made to be inorganic, encompassed by a membrane composed of beautiful, translucent plastic.
She left it open for interpretation, but one of the meanings she tried to get at with this work involved some sort of post-apocalyptic world. “What happens afterwards to these things, what happens if they’re given life…in whatever way shape or form? Are these big mounds of plastic, of tires, of these other things, are they sparked and given new life from above?”
This project took months of preparation and four days to install in the gallery. It was a challenge, but in the end she was very happy with it, and that was what mattered.
After completing her master’s, Hixon hopes to teach. She currently teaches an introduction to sculpture class here at Stony Brook, and she really enjoys the atmosphere. Hixon wants to visit different places while making art, but her end goal is to further educate people in the fine arts. “I could be really happy teaching for the rest of my life,” Hixon said.