Born in Alaska, Nikita Gale spent her formative years in Atlanta before attending Yale University, where she studied anthropology and archaeology. But she always had a sense that she’d end up making art. A turning point occurred during her last undergraduate semester, after the passing of her maternal grandfather, Walter Norman, who was an avid yet secretive photographer. “I came across this baby-blue hard suitcase filled with hundreds of photographs that he’d taken while on military tour in Korea and Japan,” she says. Inspired by her grandfather’s photos, Gale began taking pictures, which led her back to her passion for art.
Her first solo show, 1961 at (POEM88) in Atlanta, utilized her archaeology background. She recontextualized an archive of Kodachrome slides that she found at an antique store in White County, Georgia, while on a road trip to Tennessee, juxtaposing them with mugshots of Civil Rights group the Freedom Riders, which she excavated from state archives in Mississippi. She paired these contrasting images together, adding fragmented text culled from two pro-segregation texts — a letter to Malcolm X from the grand wizard of the KKK, and a transcript of a speech from the Lt. Governor of Georgia. The re-contextualization of these works in the present day casts an eerie glow on heightened racial tensions of the past and present. This interest in thick layers that are equal doses psychological, sociological, historical and philosophical defines Gale’s conceptual style.
When she moved to Los Angeles to pursue an MFA degree in UCLA’s New Genres program, she didn’t realize how much the city would influence her work. Her MFA thesis exhibition focused on her relationship to her car as both an image and an object, which is very L.A. in spirit. In her installation, neon signs flashed words like “Perfect Sex” and “Eternity” while viewers watched a video with cascading car-brand emblems, car-show footage, and screenshots of a Google Map showing the region from Los Angeles to Las Vegas, interspersed with conversations about intimacy. Viewers heard a voiceover that was partly stream-of-consciousness and partly manifesto, with references to queer phenomenology, the learned nature of movements, and histories of technology. “When you get in the car, all you’re doing is touching and being touched,” says Gale. “It’s a physical, intimate relationship.”
Gale’s work is currently in the group show OCCUPY SPACE DIFFERENTLY at Ochi Projects in Los Angeles, curated by Molly Larkey, which opened on September 3, 2016.