The Adventures of Nar Duell in Second Life – Redux, 2014 - 201621 page, large-format gallery comic book, archival inkjet print on various papers, collaged, secured with archival tape

The Adventures of Nar Duell in Second Life – Redux features poster sized, comic book pages. This work addresses the implications of crafting within the digital through material/virtual hybridity. The pages that make up the sequential art were originally created through digital collage, and printed out as oversized comic books. For the last six years Heller has been producing comic books with found visuals, ideas and narratives that have come principally out of the time spent in the virtual world of Second Life, an online, user-created environment. The material for the comic books is supplemented by her photography, experiences and sculptures in the concrete world. They represent a blend of material life and a virtual existence experienced through her Second Life avatar Nar Duell, the central character in the comic book. Through a human connection to an avatar, the boundaries of the material and the virtual are blurred and become a seamless spectrum—a space of suspension—that can be infinitely mined but never parsed.

The distinct features of The Adventures—photo collage, Joycean dialogue and scale—enable Heller to create comic books as the fullest expression of an authored, feminist⁠, translation of the experience of the material/virtual. The dialogue written in a largely singular language, consists of a fusion of standard English lexical components, multilingual bon mots, non-linguistic symbols, algebraic, auditory, essentially visual and portmanteau words. The form allows for earnestness, irony, rebellion, and compliance all at the same time—which is an embrace of the double consciousness inherent in the function of comics as well as art methodologies.

Gallery Essay


Chelsea Girls, 2006 - 2008photographic series of 14, archival inkjet print on photographic paper, edition of ten

Chelsea Girls is a photographic series which illuminates the impersonality of the pristine, white walled gallery spaces of the Chelsea district in New York City. It is neither a critique nor a celebration of the art market and its display strategies. Instead, the work documents façades and surfaces. Like portraits of people, the galleries portrayed attempt to fulfill an overarching role as ambassadors of cool, yet idiosyncratic elements poke through, like tusks of hair or bald sheen hovering above barricade-like reception desks. These small peculiarities of human nature, barely differentiated from the architecture, become relatable; gestures that break from their pretentious, sterile, confined and refined structures.

The simplicity and sheer banality of the subjects are striking; grouped together as a series, the galleries gain personas - people each with their own guise and particular shadings. Similarly, the photographs each depict a vista of white walls, yet their capture is off white, an altered perspective - the aspect of being a stranger in New York and thus, the ability to take notice of the desk quirks instead of the giant art work.

Chelsea Girls is an exploration of the real and the virtual, peoples' images and projections of who they are, versus their actual lives. The title takes up this endeavour, as Chelsea Girls has multiple references which include the secretary position being feminized, and her potential dual-life as a prostitute, punk girl, or Warhol groupie. The fictional lives and guises of the gallery space and its personas relate to my ongoing exploration of virtual identities and relationships.



NAFTA - North American Free Trade Art, 2010 - ongoingphotographic triptychs series, archival prints, edition of ten

This series groups three iconic images that were taken in Canada, Mexico and the United States. This work elucidates my ongoing artistic interests and intentions to use formal conceits to underline conceptual implications.

The exhibition - NAFTA – North American Free Trade Art (2010) situates itself between the real and surreal. The photos taken in the three different countries are 'off the hip' shooting of street images – a captured everyday reality. However, coupled and cropped, they function as mechanisms for pointing out both difference and similarity. By not knowing which photo is taken in which country the viewers are challenged to question their own impressions of those places. The exoticism of the unknown is examined through snippets of scenes, peepholes into the unknown. The deliberate slicing of the photo plane, in thirds, though not always equally, emphasizes the problematic construct of nationhood.

The term NAFTA implies a coming together, an agreement to co-operate between three nations. As Canadians have learnt through debacles like the softwood lumber dispute, the reality of the agreement is a far cry from the written and publicized intentions of the pact. The images in this series are 'forced' together, sitting uneasily, but also with need for each other to support the whole composition.
Curator's Essay

Pillflowers, 2003 - ongoinginstallation, objects, hybrid reality, sculpture, surface design

The Pillflower Project consists of scanned images of pills and tablets, digitally manipulated into flowerlike Mandelas, as well as actual medicinal pills physically assembled into miniature flower sculptures. These two and three dimensional pillflowers are then used to decorate both functional and sculptural work including a toilet, martini glasses, wallpaper, window coverings, tiles, bedding and bouquets – a veritable pillflower world.

Happiness can seemingly be produced through the use of modern pharmaceuticals; not only by taking them, but also by the magnetism of their colourful and candy-like appeal. The omni-presence of pills and drugs is augmented by practices of self-medication, evidenced through a pill-popping society that is continually fed ubiquitous promotion and marketing advertisements that ‘legitimate’ and ‘illicit’ the supposed need.

In our culture there is no space for slow enlightenment, we need ultimate revelation instantly. We search for quick-fixes that are often accompanied by harm. The Pillflower Project emphasizes dynamic oppositions in contemporary culture: notions of happiness and sadness, self-remedy and self-sabotage, nostalgia and stark reality, intoxication and sobriety.

The pillflowers accentuate the range of soft, baby-like tints pills are coloured: pale pinks, blues, purples and greens. These sentimental colours signal a nostalgia for what we often refer to as a simpler time - the domestic life of the 1950s. A video animation of the pill-flower patterns in Pillflower Animation (2005) is set to groovy music. The changing images synced with the music, create a hallucinatory effect, a reflection of the purpose of many of these pills. Within the context of the domestic they invite the viewer to think further about secrets of pill-taking that occur behind the closed door of a bathroom. The clean aesthetic and sterilized presentation of the Pillflower Project alluded to by the hospital-green often used as border or background, references the site of illness, unhealthy activity and the sadness that often causes it.

The Pillflower Project uses domestic, functional objects in order to evoke the atmosphere and impression of another time and cultural conventions. Blow Series (2006) makes light of the combination and relation of martinis and pills by depicting a pillfower in each martini glass. Presented on a mirror, one’s interaction with the glass recalls the 1950s marketing of glamorous movie stars sipping on cocktails. The work ignites a sense of ideal days gone by that never existed, in which one fetishizes aspects of different eras. The martini speaks directly to the cocktail culture in which the stay-at-home, serving wife prepares a drink for her working husband. The drink becomes a metaphor for her fidelity, and is touched with femininity, evidenced by the pretty flower in its base. Similarly, rather than being seen only as a contaminant, an ordinary white toilet sprouts pill-flowers from its bowl. Pillflower Toilet (2006) transforms the process into growth and flourishing beauty; making excrement pretty.
Gallery Essay


Image from Still series

Stillphotographic series, direct canned flora and insects, archival prints, edition of ten2005 - ongoing

When viewers first enter this exhibition they are faced with two sets of distinct imagery. The first is made up of five large giclée prints depicting magnifications of flowers and bugs. These beautiful images are immediately impressive because of their sheer size and beauty and they draw the viewer in out of a desire to be closer...

...The five large giclée prints are similar in that their final result and the reality behind them are not the same. Taken from scanned images of flowers, these portions are then honed in on by Heller on her computer screen and then magnified and printed out. The results are the beautiful colours and textures of the flowers and petals combined with any dust on the scanner surface, flaws in the scanning process and other unexpected objects like dead bugs. The texture of the petals end up feeling fabric-like or maybe even like skin and the details of the fly and bee are incredible. If the viewers allow themselves to live with the images for a while they will enter into a whole new world. One viewer upon seeing one of the Still prints said:

Who would have known that...the edge of a dying flower could turn into a wave of an orange ocean, cradling a dead fly that reminds us of a sleeping baby. (Suzanne Smith)
Curator's Essay