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This body of work was inspired by a residency in coastal Maine where Nina witnessed the care, collaboration, technology, and resources that are used to move yachts from water to land in Belfast harbor. Later, her encounter with the slag piles on the US/Mexico border asked different questions about care. Working across various media, the work compares the mechanisms of industrial lifting with those of carrying emotional burdens. The videos and drawings are often exhibited alongside the sculptural props and slag samples from the Overburden video.


This project is made possible through residencies at Waterfall Arts in Belfast, ME (with support from The Onion Foundation) and at the Object Hotel in Bisbee, AZ.


  • University of Illinois (2024)

  • Hold The Void, Pacific Northwest College of Art (2023)

  • Time Pieces, Albion College (2023)

  • Nina Elder: HOLD, University of Maine (2023)


As a counterbalance to the exclusivity she observed in the conspicuous care of yachts, Nina made these drawings while considering what else is carried in more private realms. Created using marine motor lubricant and industrial pulp mill waste—materials that point to certain non-recreational realities in Maine—these drawings abstract what is uplifted and are meditations on the kinds of invisible emotional lifting we all do. See more drawings.


33 minute two-channel video

videography by Erin Elder

video editing by Melinda Frame

soundscape by Darius Holbert


overburden: (verb) to give someone a weight that is too great to carry.

overburden: (noun) the geologic material that is removed to expose a desired underground mineral

From 1902-1987 the Dodge Phelps Corporation dumped massive piles of slag along the United States/Mexico border in Douglas, Arizona. This final product of copper mining is a toxic landscape defined by radioactivity, infertile soil, and acidified rain and rivers. It is a dramatic and dangerous place that has become a theater for United States politics as enacted by border patrol employees, walls, and myriad forms of surveillance and incarceration technologies. 

Overburden documents Nina’s attempt to care for and carry away the slag. She uses hand-sewn devices, accentuating both her strength and her softness, to uplift and dignify the pulverized, leached, melted, dumped, and forgotten rocks. 


10 minute looping video 

Hannah Perrine Mode - videographer

Tongue Stones depicts Nina Elder’s futile attempt to gain intimacy, knowledge, and empathy with geologic materials by forcing them into her mouth. Filmed at the edge of a receding glacier in Alaska, this video is an inquiry into displaced and disregarded materials. In Tongue Stones, Nina embodies and implicates herself in the legacies of disruption, extraction, and neglect that shape the American Western landscape. By stretching herself beyond capacity, she manifests the exploitation and voracity that emboldens capitalism, and the overburdening that creates trauma in human and ecological bodies. The title Tongue Stones connotes the carved stones that are placed in the mouths of the dead in many cultures.

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