Nylons Become Neurons in Cerebral Projections

New exhibit expands painting beyond femininity and neuroaesthetics

Phyllangial Labyrinth detail

Hillary Price’s “Phyllangial Labyrinth.”

Neuroaesthetics is a new field of study that combines psychology and neuroscience to explore the brain’s response to art.

But what if somebody reverse-engineered the process … and used art to explore the brain?

Hillary Price, a UNLV grad now based in Mississippi, is trying to be that somebody. She’s replacing “brain imaging” with “brain imagine-ing.”

In Cerebral Projections, the exhibit itself becomes her brain, and the gallery—particularly its curved wall—becomes the interior structure of her skull. The flesh-toned surface of discarded nylons (her alternative to canvas) imitates neural tissue and is encoded with painted images drawn from memory.

In this exhibition, Price visually represents the brain and its storage of memories in the folds of gray matter. In her H-shaped work called “Graupel Champaign,” she revisits her move to Mississippi. A nylon centerpiece is tacked on the wall and two panels of nylons are suspended using embroidery floss, making the whole appear to be a painting installation that mimics the brain’s neural tissues, neurons and synapses. But upon closer look, the central motif contemplates cotton—those snowy white buds in fields near the artist’s new residence.

Why nylon? Price worked in a bank from 2011 to 2013, and nylon hosiery was part of her uniform. Once these nylons got a run, she collected and used them as painting material.

The artist does not discuss the role of feminism in her work, yet the transformation of a women’s accessory into an art medium is a subtle feminist gesture. Feminist artists, such as Sarah Lucas and Senga Nengudi, have also used nylon as a medium. But while they use it in sculpting, Price mainly uses nylon as a support base for painting. In a painting titled “only the most brutal of pretty [Jane],” for example, Price painted a desert-dwelling horse carcass on an animal hide (a.k.a. stretched nylon). By attributing the work to Jane or Jane Doe, Price allows the viewer to interpret the lifeless body as either the decaying remains of an animal or an anonymous female corpse.

"Solar Catacomb"

“Solar Catacomb”

Price is all about expanding and thinking beyond the traditional boundaries of art. Her work is not purposefully vulgar or overtly sexual in the way of some feminist artists. Additionally, through the visual representation of memory and the reconceptualization of painting canvases, Price is able to create art that comes from the female gaze (as opposed to the feminist or feminine gaze). In a time when women still fight stereotypes (such as, all female artists are feminist artists), it’s important to have art that comes from a female point of view, in the same way that a man can make art without being categorized as a “male artist.”

With each use of nylon hosiery, Price has created more and more memories, both the unforgettable and the eradicable. Although her work has given the public the opportunity to access her personal and seemingly random memory bank—a Native American pattern, onion skins, a broken chair, breakfast delights, a suspended cave-like canopy, a green circular signage—the artist still guards her privacy. Only she can decode the true meanings of these images and what lies within them. All we can do is project.

Hillary Price’s Cerebral Projections

Winchester Cultural Center Gallery, 3130 McLeod Dr., through May 16, artist reception 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. on Friday, May 16, 702-455-7340.