Nell is an artist whose work eludes categorisation. Her practice ranges across media, and includes the darkly humorous tombstone Happy ending 2006 located at the entrance to UQ Art Museum, a neon-light sculpture of her name, and a performance in which she was driven around on the back of a flatbed truck with AC/DC blaring. She has said, ‘I’m different every day. I think people end up with signature styles, kind of an accent in a way, but my accent is just who I am.’ Her entry in the Self-Portrait Prize documents her destroying a work she made previously, an ironic act given her Buddhist practice, which advocates non-violence. The artist says,
The fly in this video was made for an exhibition at the Art Gallery of New South Wales in 2002. Fly as high as me was as long as I am tall, and was an odd take on a self portrait. In the amplification of the uniqueness and singularity of one obscure blowfly is the ‘flyness’ of all flies – just as the ‘humanness’ of all humans is tangible in any decent artistic portrait.
Fly as high as me was later exhibited at Newcastle Regional Gallery, The Queen Victoria Building in Sydney, and at Ipswich Art Gallery. But, after 10 years in storage, it was time for the fly to die. So I killed it. Seasons come. Seasons go. As the Bible says, ‘There is a time for everything, and a season for everything under the heavens’ (Ecclesiastes 3:1).
Life is fragile – every living thing will die. And yet … life goes on. What was once a sculpture is now a video. SUMMER is therefore a double self portrait in which I am concurrently living and dying. I wear all red to signify the bloodiness of birth, the bloodiness of life and death. With a blowfly and cricket bat, SUMMER is distinctly Australian – the mindless swatting of flies, and the bloody mindedness of violence.