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Bridging Art & Nature

Oct 4, 2011
by Shannon McGregor, '05

Installation artist Brandon Nastanski makes art (and waves) from things he collects

Fueled by nature and tinged by oddity, Brandon Nastanski’s installation art and sculptures provide a glimpse into the mind of this 2000 grad.

Nastanski created his best-known installation art while exploring Boston’s 527-acre Franklin Park. Walking his dog took him to the park several times a day, where he started collecting discarded items. As a refuge for his collection, Nastanski built a lean-to against a rock outcropping, using sticks and twine he found in the park. He hung a picture of nature’s original ombudsman, Henry David Thoreau, at the entrance and dubbed his creation the “Unofficial Franklin Park Research Outpost.”

“Unofficial” because there was no map to find your way — at first, visitors just happened upon it accidentally — and he didn’t seek permission from the Boston Parks and Recreation Department to build the structure. Spurning the officials landed Nastanski and his outpost on the pages of The Boston Globe and local alt weekly The Boston Phoenix. In an editorial, The Globe celebrated the project, while wagging a finger at Nastanski’s bypass of the permits process.

Permit squabbles aside, Nastanski used the structure to house the growing collection of artifacts he’d found wandering Franklin Park: a rusted shopping cart, old bottles, tea tins, candles, a raccoon skull, religious statues and a keyboard, among other items. Nastanski has almost created an altar to the park itself — a form he’s familiar with — as he admits to a history of “almost obsessively” collecting things.

“I’ve always displayed these things around my home, toeing a fine line between a natural-history-type display slash altar-type display,” he said.

As part of his MFA work from the prestigious Parsons Fine Arts in New York City, Nastanski created a miniature speakeasy that was featured in the 2008 Pulse Contemporary Art Fair in New York City. Visitors entered the tiny wood cabin through a trick bookshelf. Inside, Nastanski served drinks amid found furniture and other curiosities.

“Brandon Nastanski’s speakeasy … reminds us of the at-first cozy, then-frankly-spooky cabin in which Jeffery Euginides’s hermaphrodite protagonist realized she was more than just a little girl in Middlesex,” New York Magazine remarked in its write-up of the work, before celebrating the artist’s eccentric sense of humor by adding, “Or is that just us?”

“Getting the public in is a big part of my installations, [especially in] a public piece like that,” Nastanski said.

An assignment from a Parsons professor to create an art piece involving a shelf, liquid and a jar helped him realize the connection between his collecting past and his artistic future.

“A friend pointed out that this should be the easiest project for me,” he said. “I had these things all over my house. Duh.” From there, Natanski began to marry his personal life with his art life, embracing things he’d previously considered outside the realm of his artistic practice.

During his stay in Boston, Nastanski also helped form Esprit de Corps, an art collective dedicated to providing open access to the art world. The group has exhibited many shows in its own basement residence in Jamaica Plains, along with hosting or curating shows at other galleries.

Now living in Richmond, Va., Nastanski has returned to some of the pieces he began at Flagler, working with plaster to create body casts, which he’s now melding with his love of natural history by attempting to create sculptures of “sort of animal-human hybrids.” Whatever work is yet to come, you can be assured it will be equals parts nature, spook and art.

Natanski says his art in and of the Boston woods is still standing more than two years later. The “Unofficial Franklin Park Research Outpost” has withstood the brunt of two northeast winters in its attempt to reach out to the public and bring them more into the world of art.

“I didn’t have permission to do this, but the area was very underused,” Nastanski said. “I like to think that I bettered the space — I cleaned up tons of trash and made a safer place and a destination in the park.”

He recently visited it and said community has helped to maintain the piece.)

In Richmond, e is also working on a project similar to Franklin Park called, “The Unofficial Chimborazo Museum of Curiosities.” You can view his work at: www.brandonnastanski.com.

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