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Sea Meets Sky in a Tennessee Artist's Cosmic Collages

The Southern native dives deep in library-sourced imagery to form her transportative visual works.

Diana Shi

Diana Shi

Images courtesy of the artist.

This article originally appeared on Creators.

Eschewing the musical influence of nearby Nashville, for Old Hickory, Tennessee, McLean Fahnestock cultivates her own brand of surrealist art. Her uncanny ability to be one part in-touch with her tiny town, and one part in touch with the larger universe, results in works that combine the galactic with the planetary. Working in both horizontal and vertical capacities, Fahnestock's designs represent postcards from fantastical isles, where the sky not only touches the sea, but transcends the typical bounds of space and time and incorporates the glittering expanses of a limitless swath of the Milky Way.

Typically, when Fahnestock begins developing a piece of work, she takes moments from films and soundbites from a museum of library. "I use this as inspiration and as raw material which I can combine with material I create [...] into something remixed and recontextualized." The artist sees potential in giving images, formerly unrecognized and forgotten, a new life.

Creators spoke with Fahnestock about how she develops each of her original designs and where she nurtures her expansive imagination:

Creators: How would you describe your aesthetic? Is there a story behind your fantastical subject matter?

McLean Fahnestock: Remix and appropriation. I enjoy when things come together to make something new—when they combine to expand the content in an artwork or introduce complexity visually or sonically.

My grandfather was an explorer and some of my recent projects have to do with exploration and the perils of the sea. Working with found footage and material, the hunt for the right image or sound, is a fun part of the process. I have been researching his trips which is even more specific and makes this part of my process personal and integral to the work. Because of this I am visiting the museums where artifacts and media from his voyages are housed and traveling to locations where he went while on expeditions.

What is the particular appeal of the digital medium for you?

I am drawn to digital work because of the flexibility and time based work because I can show cause and effect, build up tension, and have something resolve (or not) during a the work's time with the viewer. Recently I have been adding sculpture back into my work and putting sound into sculpture by using light triggered speakers. When making sculpture I use plastic quite a bit. Again, I think it has to do with flexibility. I was trained in metal and wood in school but plastic can be light and transparent or rigid and strong and can be handled with many of the same techniques as metal and wood. I am exploring more ways to combine the digital media, video and sound, and sculpture into viewing and listening structures and are integrated.

What are some major artistic developments happening in Old Hickory, Tennessee? How would you describe the overall artistic community in the state of Tennessee?

Old Hickory is a small city, village really, outside of Nashville so I am involved in much of what is happening there. The best thing about being a creative around Nashville is the openness to collaboration and the cooperative spirit. The art scene is growing and is filled with vibrant artist run spaces like COOP and Mild Climate who are curating great shows. I just moved back to Middle Tennessee three years ago after being in the LA area for 10 years. The shift in scale, to a smaller community of artists, has been really exciting because you know that you can be involved in a way that makes a marked difference.

What would you say to young artists who are just developing their artistic voices?

Be a culture sponge. Go to every type of museum you can. Watch the weirdest movies you can find and then go read a book. All these things will start to merge together in your head. You can then wash away the parts that are not important to you and keep only the seeds, the shiny stuff, that you need to nurture to start developing your own language.

To see more artwork from McLean Fahnestock, visit her website, here, and her Instagram, here.

All year, we're highlighting 50 States of Art projects around the United States. This month, we're covering Oregon, Washington, Colorado, Tennessee, and Delaware. To learn more, click here .

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