Shirin Neshat

In Search of Opposites

Shirin Neshat (Farsi: شیرین نشاط, b. 1957) is an Iranian-born visual artist who lives in New York City, known primarily for her work in film, video, photography, and opera; directing Giuseppe Verdi’s Aida at the Salzburg. Her artwork focuses on the notion of opposites between the East vs. West, femininity vs. masculinity, spirituality vs. violence and the beautiful vs. the disturbing; highlighting the contradictions between these subjects, through the lens of her personal experiences of exile and finding a sense of belonging.

She has exhibited her work internationally at numerous museums and galleries, including: the Serpentine Gallery, Stedelijk Museum, Hamburger Bahnhof, the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Faurschou Foundation, the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal and Museo Correr, which was an official corollary event to the 57th Biennale di Venezia in 2017. Neshat’s Turbulent was awarded the Golden Lion Award, the First International Prize at the 48th Biennale di Venezia (1999). Her first feature-length film, Women Without Men (2009), received the Silver Lion Award for Best Director at the 66th Venice International Film Festival. Her other feature films are Looking For Oum Kulthum (2017) and most recently Land of Dreams (2021), which premiered at the Venice Film Festival.

In concurrence with her recently released short film and exhibition The Fury, NR Magazine spoke with Neshat about her memories of her childhood, transition from working between different mediums, working with subjects originating from the Middle East to the US, and about the excitement of embarking on her most recent projects. 

Dara: I would like to start by asking you about your early memories of your childhood growing up in Iran and later moving abroad.

Shirin Neshat: I grew up in one of the more religious cities in Iran, Qazvin, with a lovely family. My father was a farmer and a physician, and my mother was a housekeeper. We were 5 children, and we had this dream life in a home with a beautiful garden. Therefore, my early life in Iran, up until I was 17, was quite normal and peaceful. I left Iran at the age of 17 because my father, like many other Iranian families at the time, wanted me to continue my education in the West. So, I came to Los Angeles with my sister, and that was a pretty dramatic transition for me. This was because the image I had in mind of America and what had been depicted for me was very different from what I saw and experienced, which caused me to fall into a depression. This period was in 1975, a few years before the Iranian revolution, and I remembered I really wanted to go back to our small town because of how ill I was feeling leaving the proximity of my family. 

Unfortunately, my father was quite persistent for me to stay, and shortly after the revolution happened in Iran. During this period, I had just turned 20 and began my studies at UC Berkeley. Therefore, the early days of my studies in college coincided with the revolution taking place, followed by the war with Iraq that led to the breakdown of diplomatic relationships with the US, and my total isolation from the rest of my family due to not even having remote family in the US. This experience was quite horrifying as a 20-year-old who never really felt comfortable living here, and this feeling was perpetuated by the inability to communicate with Iran through post or telephone service. 

Therefore, my early memories of my childhood in Iran were quite peaceful and happy, but this quickly transitioned into a very dark period of my life was quite traumatic, as I’m sure many other Iranian people that experienced this separation could relate to. During this time, I suffered from anxiety and was stuck in this constant feeling of being ill that caused me to not perform well in my studies. I think this period, from when my sister left back to Iran a few years prior to the revolution until when I eventually moved to New York in 1982, was the most difficult period of my life. 

After moving to New York, I started to finally find the right community, and I married my Korean partner at the time, which led me to join him in running a non-profit organization dedicated to art and architecture. Starting this new life in New York was hard at first because I didn’t know anyone and had no money, but due to the nature of the city, it allowed me to find a sense of security and community. During this period, I didn’t have the opportunity to go back to Iran and see my family for 11 years, partially because of the war between Iran and Iraq and the diplomatic breakdown between USA and Iran, but I finally had the opportunity to go back in the early 1990s. 

The reason I explain this background is that it has a lot to do with the art I create, and the emotional, psychological and even at times political substance of my work. My work is a reflection of the sense of exile and loneliness I experienced during this period, and the anxiety and alienation that came from that. Therefore, many of my characters in my films are very representative of these feelings. Following my return from Iran in 1996, due to me beginning my work as an artist, I have been unable to revisit ever since. 

Dara: I can’t imagine how difficult this transitional period was for you, especially considering all the events that took place during that time in Iran. I’m sure many Iranians moving abroad prior or during this time can relate in their own way to the feelings you’ve shared. I’m curious to hear more about your experience of visiting your family for the first time after over a decade, and how this experience felt and influenced your work that followed.

Shirin Neshat: It was both exhilarating and horrifying. I remember during this time my son was born; he was 3-4 years old and had a Korean-Iranian background. It was kind of strange after 11 years because there was a distance between the life that I had lived and the life that my family had lived in Iran. There had been so much that had happened: the revolution, war with Iraq, and the economic situation that had followed, which caused a gap between us that was hard to distinguish for me – understanding who they were before and who they were now.

On a public and societal level, everything had transformed, even visually. It was almost as if the color had been lifted off the cities, and everything had become black and white. In some ways, I felt excited because I felt the life that I had lived during this time away was so meaningless. I thought my life during this time was so individualistic and so much of it was about me caring for only myself. Being in an environment where people had suffered so much, in the early 1990s where all these events had taken place so recently, and having the opportunity of seeing and reconnecting with many of my old friends, I finally could try to understand and feel what had just happened. I had the opportunity to read books and material on all the events that had taken place, and also hear experiences to try to immerse myself in this time that had already passed.

Therefore, when I returned to New York, I found it really difficult because my heart was no longer in working on our non-profit organization with my husband. I just really wanted to go back again and I did a few times until I had trouble being able to visit. All of these interactions, impressions, and inspirations I had during my visits to Iran ultimately culminated into my art. What many don’t understand is that prior to these initial visits to Iran, I wasn’t an artist, and I was mostly interacting with art through helping other artists in their practices. But I realized that all I wanted was to connect with Iran and what I had just witnessed during my time there, and art very organically became this connector and a great tool for raising questions or creating a dialogue with all the issues I found interesting.

I believe that there was a misunderstanding of people thinking I was trying to make a statement or claim towards the events that had taken place, but this was never my intention. I knew very well that I was an outsider, and my intention with my work was to focus on a subject that interested me, and I would try to research that idea. For example, with Woman of Allah (1993), I read my friend’s philosophy thesis on the subject of Martyrdom (Shahâdat) in post-revolutionary Iran, and I was mesmerized by his analysis of the correlation between love of god in religion and the violence in death. To me, this was an incredible paradox that inspired me to make that series of photographs,. To this day, I’m attacked because people think that by creating this body of work I supported the fanaticism of the current regime, and on the other hand, the government thinks that I was critiquing the regime. My intention with this body of work was to raise questions on a very symbolic and conceptual level.

My artwork was triggered by my return to Iran through my experiences and inspirations during these visits, and it grew from there very organically from one medium or topic to another.

Dara: What really moved me about this body of work, Woman of Allah, is the juxtaposition present in the heaviness felt in the composition of the images and the use of calligraphy, and on the other hand, the sense of vulnerability felt through the presence of the woman’s body. As a viewer, I found myself positioned at the center of this paradox. Can you further discuss your position and process behind this series and your decision to use calligraphy in your work?

Shirin Neshat: You have to keep in mind that I was educated in the West and due to this, I developed a Eurocentric background in my relationship with conceptual art. On the other hand, my subjects are very rooted in Islamic and Persian art and architecture. If you look carefully into my work on an aesthetic and visual level, you notice an emphasis on symmetry, repetition, harmony, and integration of text. There is a reference to sacred text experienced in Persian poetry and Islamic architecture. Therefore, many of my ideas are borrowed from authentically traditional Persian and Islamic art that points to my heritage, but the language of my work is very much that of conceptual art. I grew up influenced by the work of artists like Cindy Sherman and artists who were predominantly working in self-portraits. Therefore, the enigma and abstraction that are present in my work are not coming from traditional influences but my experience of Western conceptual art.

The paradoxical sense of duality you mentioned about Woman of Allah and my work at large comes from my subconscious strategy of finding contradictions, opposites, and paradoxes in the work I create. This duality is evident in Turbulent (1998), Rapture (1999), The Fury (2022) and my other work as well. These conflicting ideas and notions of opposites, for example, men vs. women, spirituality vs. violence, the beautiful vs. the disturbing, or open natural landscapes vs. controlled fortresses, both aesthetically and conceptually influence my work, ranging from photography, film and opera. This duality is represented in my emphasis on working in black and white, juxtaposing realism with surrealism and dreams, and has stayed constant throughout my work.

Dara: Before we move on to your films and your transition into moving images, I want to take this opportunity to further discuss your body of photographic work, such as The Book Of Kings influenced by social and political movements throughout the Middle East.

Shirin Neshat: Over time, I realized that subconsciously I found myself referencing history in my work. For example, The Book Of Kings (2012) was influenced by the Green Movement, Women Without Men (2009) was influenced by the 1953 Coup, and Looking for Oum Kulthum (2017) was influenced by Egyptian history during my time there in the Arab spring. I tend to approach history in a very fictionalized way, and in The Book Of Kings there is a focus on this notion of patriotism influenced by Ferdowsi’s Shahnameh (Book Of Kings), which is a long epic poem of tragedies that focuses on the core narrative of these heroes that self-sacrificed for their virtues and their nation. Ferdowsi’s book is largely credited for saving the Farsi language following the Arab conquest that ignited the introduction of Islam in the Middle East. Also, The Book Of Kings is influenced by the more recent Green Movement in Iran, which was a forward-thinking movement not focused on religion, and people demanding a new idea of liberty while not overthrowing the government. These powerful notions of the spirit of patriotism that later on continued throughout the Arab spring tend to always intersect with genocide, violence, and cruelty, similar to what is present in Ferdowsi’s Shahnameh where you read about men’s heads being severed. I found this tension between compassion and love for the nation, and the brutality, violence and genocide that came with it incredibly moving and profound. I represented it in this series of photographs through symbolic gestures such as having a group of patriots with their hands over their hearts, a group of villains with scenes of war from Ferdowsi’s Shahnameh inscribed on their bodies, and a group of 45 images depicting innocent bystanders observing this circus. My intention with the series of photographs was to capture the spirit of patriotism during the Green Movement in 2009 and for it to serve as a remembrance for those who lost their lives, and also as a reminder that history tends to repeat itself.

Dara: It’s interesting to hear you move from such a personal subject so close to you to a more expansive conversation with a wider audience throughout the Middle East. I’m curious to hear why you decided to transition from photography to moving image as a medium to continue this discourse. Also, as a starting point, I wanted to ask you about your first short film Turbulent and your application of music as a communicative tool throughout this project.

Shirin Neshat: I think after Woman of Allah I received such a dogmatic response to it as a project, a response that was quite political and the judgment was so heavy. This experience made me feel that the nature of photography limited me from building more ambiguity, and to be able to take the audience to a place where they were not forced to impose their relationship to the subject of politics. Therefore, transitioning into moving images felt like a massive departure for me. It opened a new door to a whole new medium that refused to be reduced to these types of judgments because I had the opportunity to be far more evocative and abstract – even if my work was politically charged. The other advantages this new medium offered were the opportunity to set a background or a landscape, and to introduce music and choreographed performances. Also, it gave me the ability to situate my audience to have them experience it in a way that I could control as an artist.

With a photograph, as a viewer, you are placed in a situation where a single photograph has to say everything. This became quite difficult and problematic for me because most of the time, that image is reduced to a few symbols such as a veil and a gun, and this leads to the loss of every other complexity present in the work. Therefore, I found my transition into film as a beautiful new and freeing journey. Turbulent focuses on critiquing the sociological issue of women in Iran being deprived of the experience of music. It does so by again placing the audience in a conflicted point between two opposites: one being a man performing a song to an audience and being applauded for his performance, and on the other hand, a woman performing alone with no audience, and her performance escalating into a form of protest. But this is the impression that is first felt on the surface of the film. Gradually, there are these layers of meaning that begin to show themselves below that surface. There is a conflict between the conformist and the rebellious, but also between tradition and the act of breaking away from that tradition; to start something new. What I loved about Turbulent was that I felt that my audience, from every corner of the world, got it and truly understood it, and I didn’t have to say anything in that process.

This was a great realization for me that moving image and all the qualities that it comes with granted me the opportunity to create experiences that are far different from what can be achieved with a photograph. This made me step away from photography for a few years and make other films, such as Rapture, which again introduced a paradox through two separate screens; one showing a group of men in a fortress and the other showing a group of women in nature. But at the end, the audience understands the message behind this enigmatic film, which was that the women started this journey from where they started and end up in this boat that they depart in and leave, whether to commit suicide or reach freedom, but the men end up staying and being left behind in the same place. So there was this symbolically calculated outcome that was delivered through form, shape, music and poetry leading to an end that evidently had its sharp knife.

This quality of progression in storytelling in moving image inspired me to continue making many more films and staying away from photography. When I finally decided to return to photography, I had a completely different approach to it as a medium.

Dara: I found your use of two screens in these films quite effective because, as a viewer, you find yourself in the middle of two subjects that are having a dialogue with each other. This experience can be quite emotional and moving, but can be quite overwhelming and uncomfortable as well. Sometimes, you get one screen focusing on one subject and the other giving you a wider context of the surrounding scene or environment. I found this duality in the experience quite powerful.

Shirin Neshat: As mentioned earlier, all my films are built around the notion of opposites, and having the two separate projections only adds to that. The audience cannot watch both screens simultaneously, and they become an editor that has to make a choice. When they focus on one screen, they are missing something else on another. I like this idea of forcing the audience to be a true participant and to be drawn in by the device that this film has created, hence becoming a part of the film. This experience can sometimes be quite uncomfortable for the viewer.

Dara: I felt that sometimes we, as viewers, make the decision of where to look subconsciously. We get drawn into a particular scene and want to continue to follow that narrative and subject. I found myself watching parts of the film again because I had completely lost sight of what was happening on the other screen. I think this ability to have a choice to follow what you connect with is quite freeing.

Shirin Neshat: The viewer’s role becomes much more active. They are not just passive recipients of the content; they become engaged participants who are making decisions and interpreting the narrative in their own unique way.

Dara: I want to ask you about some of the other films you worked on, moving onto doing full feature films and switching from black and white to colour.

Shirin Neshat: When I work with a medium for some time, I end up in a place of stagnation, similar to how I felt with photography. Also, I felt a bit exhausted from only working within the art world because everything was more or less focused on commodity, and you were valued based on how much your work was worth. At this point, I received an invitation from the Sundance Film Festival asking if I was interested in making a feature film, and my immediate answer was no. But after reflecting on where I was at that moment with my artwork, I realised that I was at a point where I wanted to take a new risk. This led to Women Without Men (2009), which is based on a book with the same title by Shahrnush Parsipur. It took six years for the film to be made.

I think the opportunity to make feature films was interesting for multiple reasons. One was the ability to connect more with popular culture and to show my work to an audience that may not necessarily know me as an artist from galleries and museums. But for the most part, I wanted to know if I had it in me to make a feature-length film. So, it became an education for me over the years, working with different scriptwriters and learning how I could invent my own language in cinema by borrowing from what I’d done previously in my work as an artist, while fully embracing cinema as a medium.

Although I had received a lot of criticism telling me to stay in art and not to take the risk going into cinema, Women Without Men was quite well received and this motivated me to keep pushing making more feature films. My next project, Looking for Oum Kulthum (2017), was much more difficult because I was making a film in Arabic about an iconic figure in Arabic culture. As a non Egyptian and someone that didn’t speak Arabic, making this film became a tremendous effort. This film became semi biographical and semi artistic, and I wouldn’t say it was fully successful. But I believe none of my work had come without their flaws, yet I never regretted making them. 

My next feature film was Land of Dreams (2021), which was shot in New Mexico staring Matt Dillon, Sheila Vand, William Moseley, Isabella Rossellini, Christopher McDonald and Anna Gunn, was one of my favourites because I had learnt by this point how to direct and how to think about scriptwriting in a way that I didn’t before. I had the opportunity to work with Jean-Claude Carrière alongside my husband Shoja Azari to create an original story, which was humoristic and based on my own ideas. This process lead to me being very happy with this film, and I never expect to make films that are main stream but for them to be very uniquely a manifestation of a visual artist.

With Land of Dreams, it was the first time that I simultaneously did a feature film, 110 photographs, and a double channel video projection. It all came from my obsession with my own dreams, and followed a three part video project I did two years prior called The Dreamers, which depicted my own nightmares. So Land of Dreams came from taking that obsession and going after other people’s dreams and nightmares. There was a parody about America being the land of dreams; this place where people come to make their dreams into reality, which I believe is true in many ways. I wanted to play with this idea of me going after Americans dreams and collecting them. In doing so, questioning if dreams are a manifestation of our fears, which I believe that they are, and what the subjects are fearful about. 

The video that is part of this project involves this strange colony inside of a mountain where all these Iranians are busy analysing Americans dreams. The same actress I worked with in Land of Dreams, Sheila Vand, acts as a spy for the colony, going into a near by town, pretending to be an artist asking American’s whether she can take their photograph, later asking them about their most recent dream, and then taking this information back to the colony. 

But with the feature film itself (Land of Dreams), We took it a step further where she (Sheila Vand) is working for the American government’s Census Bureau, and that the Bureau has made a new requirement that, along with regularly requested data, every citizen is asked to share their latest dream. This concept is rooted in my interest in the way governments and corporations are using surveillance to develop an understanding of our subconscious. There is a humoristic but also disturbing side to this film; in the fact that we ourselves are targeted by people in power, whether governments or corporations, to be controlled. Also, the film focuses on a main character who is an Iranian woman and an artist, which is based on myself, that is quite haunted because of personal and political reasons.

Therefore, Land of Dreams ended up being quite layered sociologically in regards to America, but also on a individual level. I think with this film we did well in terms of developing a script or story that is very concise, while having many layers and enigmatic subjects. There is a true balance between humour and absurdity in this film, but also between what our ideas where and what we were able to convey.

Dara: This is a good point to ask you about your latest work The Fury, your process of making this short film and your decision to go back to the two screen installation experience.

Shirin Neshat: The Fury (2022), in some ways, goes back to the same nature as the Woman of Allah, which is something I tried to stay away from because I knew that if you get close to some of the issues in Iran, people tend to come after you. However, I was influenced by the testimonies shared during Hamid Nouri’s trial in Sweden about women’s experiences in prison, similar to what is being shared today, and how even some of them ended up committing suicide after they were freed. Also, it is important to mention that this film was shot in early 2022 before the recent events that have happened in Iran following the death of Masha Amini, even though many people think this film was influenced by these more recent events. I was very interested and moved by the psychological and mental breakdown of women who are traumatized by sexual exploitation, and due to my consistent focus on the subject of women and how the body of women is used as a space for ideological or religious discourse. In a sense, women are forced to embody the rules of men. 

In the case of The Fury, this idea evolves much more into the concept of the women’s body both being the subject of desire, but also of violence and brutality. I wanted to tell a story from the perspective of a person outside of Iran, and the story of a woman who can no longer cope with her reality and goes mad. I referred to my own experience of living among a large Hispanic community in Bushwick, New York, which are hardworking people and come from poor backgrounds. Sometimes, I found myself walking in the streets, listening to Persian music, and feeling like an alien, asking myself what I’m doing here. I experienced this feeling of displacement or disconnection from living among a foreign community, all the while constantly thinking of Iran. 

With The Fury, I wanted to create a work that emphasized this experience of displacement, conveying a story of a woman who feels completely out of place as soon as she walks out onto the street, while going mad in her head because of all the traumas she’s dealing with. She’s living inside her own head, and you can get a sense of this early on in the film from her dancing by herself to no particular person. My intention was for the film to progress into a flashback of a trauma where, in order to survive and not be killed, she had to dance nude in front of a male audience – and this is in no way comparable to what women experience while being incarcerated in prison. In the film, the men never actually touch her, but they are brutal in their gaze towards her. When she finally escapes their gaze and runs outside into the middle of the street, she reveals this sense of vulnerability. What is very profound at this point is that all the people on the street who are initially shocked by seeing her outside end up coming to her rescue. This is something I’ve felt in my own neighbourhood; even though the people I live among and I are worlds apart, if anything were to happen to me, these people are my community and would go out of their way to help me because they are good people. To see this community come to her rescue and it turning into a form of protest or dance, in an uncanny way, is exactly what happened after Mahsa Amini’s death. Her death became an impetus for the unleashing of other people’s rage because we’re all angry and we’ve all experienced some form of injustice. Therefore, it is an opportunity for everyone else on the street to also express their pain and anger, turning the scene into this fury. For me, it was about how the pain and suffering of a single human being can be contagious, unleashing our pain, and that we are all ultimately part of one humanity. Many of the people cast in this scene are my friends and members of my community, making this project quite personal to me. 

I didn’t want to create a work that tells you what is right or wrong, but I wanted this work to place emphasis on the idea of power, the male gaze, and the vulnerability of this fragile body. The idea that we can all be fragile in the hands of power, but when bad things happen to certain people, it affects others as well and that is our greatest weapon. I received criticism for the assumption that I was labelling all women as victims, and I do not believe in the notion that all women are victims. However, Mahsa Amini was a victim because she was killed and all the other women imprisoned or killed are victims. That is the reality, but the other reality is that we respond to that because it is unjust and unacceptable. 

I believe that The Fury has a very bright light at the end of the tunnel, meaning the connection between people, no matter where they come from in the world. Even though they may not fully understand what has happened to her, it causes them to come together in solidarity with her.

Dara: Shirin, I want to finish by using this opportunity as a platform to ask you to share a message with women, especially Iranian women, that are practicing art and are pursuing their creative journeys today.

Shirin Neshat:Firstly, I believe that art shouldn’t be anything else than an obsession that you are at its service. Secondly, I often think about liking myself more when I’m vulnerable, and not liking myself when I’m not. I think it is important for women to allow themselves to be vulnerable, and look at their vulnerability in a positive light because by doing so you are more truthful and can make art that is more truthful as well; art that leads to other people seeing their own vulnerabilities in your subjects. Unfortunately as Iranian women we’ve had so many setbacks, and when we make art there are so many expectations and judgements towards us. Therefore it is so important for us to go within and connect with our internal world, and not care too much about the external world. This is a way for us to check what is so pressing within ourselves to bring out and share with the world, and if there isn’t anything at that moment we shouldn’t do so. Leading to my final point, I hate to say it but mediocracy is the worse of it all and we don’t need to contribute to mediocracy. It must be work that we absolutely feel the need to do and bring out because it has something significant to say and is asking us to be brought out into the world. Otherwise, be patient and don’t rush it.

Dara: I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for being a part of this issue with us. It has been a pleasure to have this conversation with you, and I hope it will move and inspire our readers the way it has done so for me. 

Fabrizio Narcisi

Present Tense


Cinematographer · ALESSIO PANZETTA


Original Music & Sound Design · GIUSEPPE MAFFEI
Recording Engineer · NICOLA RECCHIA

Make-Up and Prosthetics · GRETA GIANNONE
Make-Up Assistant · CAMILLA OLDANI
Casting · Director POLLY PAOLA RUTA



Ileana Ninn

“Even when you invent aspects of yourself, it’s always a part of you”

Through manipulating her photographs, Ileana Ninn plays around with concepts of perception, personality and how we see ourselves. Often erasing facial features, attaching multiple limbs, and cloning her subjects, Ileana encourages her imagery to be interpreted by the viewer at their own pace and without a concrete explanation.

Visually interrogating what it means to present yourself and your personality to the world, Ileana’s work is a palate cleanser for the timeless questioning of identity in portraiture. Ileana’s interest in the different facets all of us have to our personality and social façades is the driving force behind her work.

Ileana aims to explore our ability to change whilst remaining true to ourselves, and her work uncovers the conflicts and dilemmas that are apparent in what she describes as ‘a unique personality.’

NR Magazine speaks with the photographer to discuss her creative influences, how she sees others and how she has learned to observe herself through her work.

What inspired you to start manipulating and distorting your photographs?

I wanted to represent the phenomena of photography having different elements of personality and personal reflections of the world.

Your work plays around with the concept of perception and how we see ourselves. How would you describe the way you see yourself?

Although I represent myself in my photography, it’s not necessarily just my personality. I also play with my surroundings. The aim isn’t always to show myself, but more to highlight the complexity of an individual.

Do you find that distorting or manipulating your work uncovers anything about the original subjects? And do you find new creative perspectives from this process?

Yes, I try to reveal something. Whenever I choose a subject or take a photo, I do so knowing almost always in advance how I will distort it. I don’t always find my photos interesting without the process of manipulation that I put them through.

Talk to me a bit about your creative background and influences. Do you take much inspiration from aspects of surrealism and contemporary youth culture?

I grew up listening to a lot of music, mainly English pop and rock, and I was always fascinated by vinyl records and their covers – my father had a huge collection. In terms of surrealism, I think everything I saw from the world of Tim Burton influenced me.

You’ve mentioned that you like to highlight people’s ability to change while remaining themselves. Could you talk a bit more about that?

I think everyone shows different sides of themselves in different situations, to protect themselves or to show off, for example. When a person wants to show off to gain something, even if that person forces some of their personality traits, in the end it is still a part of them that they are showing.

“Even when you invent aspects of yourself, it’s always a part of you. I distort my photos the way people distort themselves.”

What do you want viewers to take from your work?

I am a young photographer, so I don’t really have enough experience or maturity to want anyone to get anything out of my work. If people are simply looking at them, then I’m happy. If people want to share with me the effect my work has on them, then even better. If I’ve been able to bring something to them in any capacity, that makes me happy. I want to share.

How does social media affect your practice? Is it your main way of communicating your art to others?

Yes, this is my main way of communicating my art. It’s easy, fast and I can reach people across the world. I prefer putting up posters, where people can stumble upon them randomly while walking down the street.

What photographers do you take inspiration from?

Hannah Maynard – she was born in England and moved to Canada in 1851. You should study her life and her work; I think she was an amazing woman.

Your work also demonstrates the different aesthetics and capabilities of the body and how figures interact with each other and the places they occupy. Is this a conscious choice? Does your work have a specific narrative?

Yes, I have a very clear idea of my subject, and unless there is a technical problem, the photos themselves are produced fairly quickly. I try to create an interaction and a link between my subjects. In staging myself multiple times in the same image, I want to give the impression of being different characters that are interacting with each other.

What do you enjoy most about photography as a means of self-expression?

I would say the manipulation of the image and being able to simultaneously express myself while being hidden.

Have you discovered anything about yourself or your surroundings through your work?

I’ve been able to choose how to look at myself and to not be subjected to the gaze of another.

With the theme of this issue being Identity, I’d love to hear your thoughts about the concepts of identity and ambiguity in your work.

For me and my work, identity is several things. It is a plural; it cannot be one and constant. It is influenced by all the different factors around us and can change and evolve over a lifetime.

“We may want to reinvent ourselves to satisfy an understanding of who we are.”

What aspects of your work reflect your own identity?

I stage myself multiple times throughout my work, as I feel like there are so many different aspects of my personality and how I want to represent myself publicly. I’m still young and I’m not sure of who I am and who I want to be just yet.


GT Nergaard

“do as little as possible”

In GT Nergaard’s photographic practice, the intersection between fiction and reality offers the grand gesture of self-portraiture. Every photograph reflects his journey towards discovering personal narratives that have shaped his background, artistry, and thoughts. As he builds his themes around these philosophies, he creates photographs based on his imagination and observes a situation through his lens, all while forming a bond of who he is and how he wants himself to be.

Through a monochromatic palette, the Norwegian photographer includes his viewers as he fuses self with nature. A Vitalist at heart, he employs the life force in living things to calculate his shots and summon delicacy, grace, and rawness in his photographs. With the sun as his source of light in the day and the flash of his camera at night, GT captures the interaction between man and nature, eliciting poetry in visuals and autobiography in practice.

Let us begin with the two sections that divide your online portfolio: North and South. Do these pertain to certain locations? What was your idea behind these projects? What did you aim to capture?

The inspiration for my work comes from the locations I photograph in, using the sun as my main light source. Based on climate, I work simultaneously between these two projects in different locations: one in the summer where I shoot in Norway, and the other in the winter where I travel to southern regions, North and South.

For the last ten summers, I have been working on the Storvatn project, recently published as a book. Storvatn is the name of the lake where my family had a cabin thirty years ago and my childhood paradise. In this project, I travel back to the lake in search of my own identity and to reconcile with my past, the time being just as long I have been working on a project in Essaouira, Morocco. Then, when the winter in Norway is at its darkest, I travel to a warmer climate. The project is a very personal and poetic interpretation of Morocco with the working title birds of passage and will be published as a book in the Autumn of 2022.

We are excited about this new project you have! This ties up to how you identify your work as at the crossroads between fiction and reality. Why did you settle on these themes and not other elements? How do you define fiction and reality? In your daily life, do you dwell in fiction, reality, or both?

For me, photography is a medium where I first and foremost convey a personal story and a reflection of myself. The work is like a parallel world, where reality and fiction intersect and create a new narrative. I define fiction as creating photographs based on my own imagination. Reality is when I am an observer in a real situation I have not constructed, and where I take photographs without manipulating them.

It is difficult for me to relate to just one of the methods since they are interdependent, just as I relate to a dream world when I sleep and reality when I am awake.

“The dream may appear surreal, abstract, and difficult to interpret, but intends to create a balance in my life to make it easier to deal with reality.”

It is wonderful to know how reality and fiction balance the dynamics of your life. I wonder if this thought is a root of your work, which is strongly influenced by vitalism. Could you elaborate more on this? How did this occur? Was it an intentional choice to pursue it?

Years ago, I saw an exhibition at the Munch Museum in Oslo with the theme Life force – Vitalism as an artistic impulse 1900 – 1930. The term Vitalism comes from the Latin word Vital and is based on the assumption that there is a life force in all living things. The artists in the exhibition represented a distinctive period where body, nature, and health are at the center and the cleansing power of the sun as one of the central themes. Among the Norwegian artists from this period are the painter Edward Munch and the sculptor Gustav Vigeland. Their works show nude people engaged in play, swimming, and sports, with nature as a backdrop.

From the Vitalists, I affirmed my photographic style and a philosophical understanding of my own concepts. I do not draw direct inspiration from their work, but from a common motivation in the theme.

You interpret the interaction between man and nature in your photography. What discoveries about this interaction did you find out that fascinate you and influence your art practice? 

My attraction to nature as a theme comes from a personal need and a simplification of the photographic process. Ten years ago, I worked as a commercial photographer in fashion and advertising. The working day consisted of large productions in the studio, a lot of technical equipment, and a large crew. At one point in my career, I came at a crossroads, where the result was to find my way back to the freedom I felt when I started as a photographer and a simpler working method.

Today, there are no clothes, hair styling, or makeup on my models. Everything is done in an outdoor location, and the sun is the only light source with the exception of an on-camera flash at night.

“None of the images are manipulated or retouched in photoshop. With this simplification, the inspiration to create gradually came back, along with my photographic identity.”

Continuing the previous question, there is a sense of freedom in the way your subjects embrace confidence in their bodies. As a photographer, how do you interact with your subjects? How do you know when to capture the scene? Have there been any challenging times during your shoot?

I depend on finding people I work well with, who are free by nature and have an understanding of the concept. Many of the models are artists themselves and have a clear awareness of their own bodies and identity. They are equal partners who I have worked with for many years and consider my friends.

I prefer to create a natural situation where I can photograph without taking too much direction. The ideal situation is to travel to a location for several days where the narrative and images occur more naturally. In such a setting I can work both day and night, which gives the story a sense of time and space.

I have two ways of directing. In the first, I take a clear direction and do a controlled study, shaping my subject with light and shadow. In the second, I work in a snapshot mode where the subjects are in action and I direct more intuitively.

“I think the alternation between the stylized and the random makes the project more dynamic and playful.”

I have never experienced situations during a shoot that I would describe as challenging, with the exception of the Norwegian climate. In my region, we can experience four seasons in one day, which can make it challenging to work outdoors with nudity.

Your photographs evoke a sense of timelessness through their monochromatic colors. Is there a reason for this choice of style? How do you work with light in this case?

Today, I think it is because I am a monochromatic person. Everything I own is black, white, or natural wood, with only a few touches of color, a natural choice and typically for a Nordic minimalist design.

In the beginning, it was more of a practical choice since all work was processed in the analog darkroom. I have always been attracted to a classic and timeless expression. Not only in photographic references, but in film, music, literature, and design. I draw a lot of inspiration from contemporary references as well, but the classic is always my starting point.

I am often asked how I work and manage to create the specific quality of my photos. The honest answer is: to do as little as possible. I work based on a ‘Pure Photography’ style where the photographs are created through the control of composition, tone, light, and texture. There is no use of manipulation and effects.

To wrap it up, how do you perceive the body, nature, and health? Are they distinctive or combined entities of life? 

Today more than ever, I feel it is important to reflect on the role of humans as part of nature and how dependent we have always been and still are on each other. By taking better care of myself and living sustainably, not only will my health and body improve, but I will also take better care of nature. Everything is interconnected.


Images · GT Nergaard

Isamu Noguchi

“to be hybrid is to be the future”

The art world, unfortunately, has a certain reputation for snobbery. Everything that is deemed as ‘art’ must, of course, be well thought out, aesthetically intriguing and completely unaffordable for anyone who isn’t part of ‘the rich’. Anything that is actually affordable for people who aren’t part of that income bracket is deemed as ‘low art’. Low art is defined as “for the masses, accessible and easily consumable.”

Over the years this definition has often been criticised alongside the common phrase “art for art’s sake” which was born from definitions like these and “is so culturally pervasive that many people accept it as the “correct” way to classify art.” Thus, it is rather surprising to see such definitions being alluded to in reviews of Noguchi’s exhibition at the Barbican as the artist himself was not a proponent of “art for art’s sake” according to Barbican curator Florence Ostende.

Japanese American designer and sculptor Isamu Noguchi was of “the most experimental and pioneering artists of the 20th century”. His exhibition at the Barbican displays over a hundred and fifty works from his career which spans over six decades and explores his life, work and creative method. The best way to describe him is a ‘creative polymath’ as his work straddled a multitude of disciplines.

The exhibition itself is on two levels and upon entering the space you are directed upstairs. This first section is divided into spacious alcoves and display different periods of the artists work. There is a slight feeling of disconnect here and one finds oneself peering over the railing to the floor below, which appears from above far more engaging. However, this part of the exhibition provides an important overview for those who are not so familiar with Noguchi’s work. It maps the artist’s collaborations with the likes of Brâncuși, Martha Graham and R. Buckminster Fuller, in addition to charting Noguchi’s activist work, protesting racist lynchings, America’s internment of its Japanese American citizens during World War II, and fascism.

However, it is on the first level that the exhibition becomes a real delight, a rambling hodgepodge of stone and metal sculptures and his world-famous Akari lamps that makes one itch to play amongst this minimalist wonderland. Noguchi was committed to creating accessible public art and playgrounds, or playscapes, were a fascination for him. He designed these playgrounds as a way to “encourage creative interaction as a way of learning.” Indeed this interest in play and playfulness is echoed in the exhibition’s main space.

The star of the show is certainly the Akira lamps handing like softly glowing space ships, seemingly emerging from the floor like some strange luminous creature and arranged in clumps like brightly coloured mushrooms. Noguchi designed them after visiting struggling post-war Japan as a way to revitalise the economy. He took the Japanese bamboo and rice paper lanterns and modernised them as a way to bring industry back to the war-torn country.

These lamps became popular in Britain in the sixties and are still available, albeit in a slightly changed form, in IKEA. Because of this they are instantly recognisable and have led to some likening the Barbican exhibition to a ‘high-end lighting showroom.’ However, this brings us back to the discussion of ‘art for art’s sake.’  As I wandered around the exhibition I was drawn back to childhood memories of visiting B&Q with my parents, (they were the only shop in my hometown that had escalators and thus was an infinitely entertaining playground). Playground is the keyword here, I was allowed to roam the aisle alone in delicious freedom and explore this wonderland of light, metal, wood and a multitude of other textures, shapes and materials. To my childlike understanding, all of this was art. Interestingly Noguchi’s philosophy was rather similar. In creating the Akari lamps he aimed to “bring sculpture to everyday households”.

In our current environment of late-stage capitalism, Noguchi’s quiet and thoughtful philosophy’s on purpose, sustainability and environment are perhaps exactly what the art world needs. He saw commercial forms of design “as a way of escaping the art market and working with more freedom and fewer constraints.” While we might criticise the society we live in unfortunately we must still exist within it, however Noguchi “believed in the idea that even in mass-production, individuality is still possible.”  We must adapt and innovate within the framework we have because after all, to quote the artist, “to be hybrid is to be the future.”


Images · Isamu Noguchi
Noguchi at the Barbican is open from Thu 30 Sep 2021 —Sun 9 Jan 2022. For more information visit


  1. Portrait of Isamu Noguchi, American sculptor, the latter’s special assistant planner, July 4, 1947 in New York City. (Photo by Arnold Newman Properties/Getty Images)
  2. Bronze plate
  3. Noguchi, Isamu (1904-1988): Humpty Dumpty. 1946. Ribbon slate. Overall: 59 ◊ 20 3\4 ◊ 17 1\2in. (149.9 ◊ 52.7 ◊ 44.5 cm). Purchase. Inv. N.: 47.7a-e New York Whitney Museum of American Art *** Permission for usage must be provided in writing from Scala.
  4. Terracotta and plaster

Kliwadenko Novas

“innovation is not coming from technology but by having the chance of approaching the building process with more freedom”

Sweeping shots of golden arid landscapes, wild salty Pacific bays, and the rise of the rocky Andean mountains serve to juxtapose the modern architecture nestled in the wilderness. This is one of the documentaries by Kliwadenko Novas,  an audiovisual production company formed by Katerina Kliwadenko, a Chilean journalist, and Mario Novas, a Spanish architect. Since 2015 the duo has been developing an investigation into architecture and urbanism in Latin America, a region they have a special interest in due to its state of “constant crisis that forces it to reinvent itself.” In addition to this, they also focus their projects on “people capable of redrawing the limits of their disciplines and questioning what they do”. NR Magazine joined them in conversation about their work.

What was it specifically that inspired you to create these documentaries about architecture and urbanism in Latin America?

In 2014 we did a one year trip crossing the region starting from Guatemala to Southern Chile. This is a part of the world we really tried to get to know better. Having a common language that allows us to interact properly with everybody is a huge advantage in order to film and interview. This led us to develop a two-year-long research project on its contemporary architecture scene as an editorial work. This kind of matched with the 2016 Venice Biennial when the director has been Alejandro Aravena. There was this momentum of Latin America that attracted lots of views and we thought that the right format for portraying this project would be a documentary. The documentaries format enables a collective experience for viewers when they are screened and this helps to diversify the type of public it reaches. Otherwise, the traditional forms of publications are just consumed by architects.

You describe Latin America as a region in constant crisis. How do you think that affects architecture in these countries?

This means the future is somehow uncertain. Facing this, architects try to develop their profession in different ways, some of them really disruptive and radical. What we’ve found, when we discover some of the new lines of work like one from Al Borde in Ecuador, Solano Benitez in Paraguay or David Torres in Mexico, is that they enjoy architecture in a wider sense. On one hand, they are involved closely in the management of the construction which is an aspect that makes the profession really exciting, and on the other hand, they have to deal with such hard budget restrictions that the solutions have to be innovative. We see it as a change of the architects’ role which enables them to make architecture not only behind a computer screen, but by being on the construction site and related to their clients more closely.

You come from quite different backgrounds as an architect and a journalist respectively. How does that affect your collaborative process when creating these documentaries?

Us architects are often trained in school to express ourselves in quite a strange way. When you read the explanations of a project in the architectural media it sounds over intellectualised or over sophisticated and without any need. So having a journalistic approach means that the way we portray projects can reach the wider public.

I would say now, reading the question again, we are not as aware that we come from different backgrounds anymore. In our daily routine, we switch continuously from our role as a couple, to our role of teammates, and to the role of parents. And we are always trying to keep every sphere safe from the other-one.

Regarding the films, our creative process is really organic. We both carry out all the different phases, from the script to the editing, together.

Are there any new technologies that you are aware of which you think will change how architecture will be approached in Latin America in the future? 

In terms of new construction technology, you have to realise there are not the same as in Europe or in North America for the high budget buildings. Having such a high percentage of inhabitants who can not afford those kinds of constructions, I would say innovation is not coming from technology but by having the chance of approaching the building process with more freedom. Not having so many rules creates a really good environment to try to solve problems in an original way.

Your documentaries also focus on social issues in Latin America. Do you consider them as a form of activism that will help to shed light on, and bring attention to these issues?

We try to create documentaries with a positive approach that show how people solved certain aspects of their personal and local environments. We like to use those examples to show the public the act of taking care of local problems, no matter where you live. Because surely there are many things to solve and improve in our environment. Portraying architects who do it in their areas within their conditions and expertise is a way of saying that if they can, so can you, regardless of whether you live in Miami, Zürich or Melbourne. Ultimately it is about showing ways of coping with life.

In your documentary Do More with Less you explore housing issues for those living under the poverty line. By 2030 two billion people are expected to be living in slums, so you think that indigenous practices of building homes can be used to tackle issues like these in Latin America?

We think solutions have to come from local knowledge. Every part of the world is so different that in certain aspects indigenous practices could be part of a solution. If they did it over 500 years and it is still working, why not? But as I said, every case is different, so a way of facing these issues could be by creating structures to allow collaborative processes, where everyone can bring in their knowledge.

Which architectural project/work stood out to you the most in your work? 

I would say the SESC Pompéia, a project built in 1977 by Lina Bo Bardi in Sao Paulo. Everything you Google about this project, or from the work of Lina Bo Bardi will blow your mind.

What difficulties have you faced while creating your documentaries and how did you overcome those challenges? 

Acquiring funds is our biggest problem. So one way to solve this is to keep production and post-production budgets really low by doing most of the work ourselves. We are still looking for the right partners who can see the opportunity in joining in with these movies.

In a broad sense, how do you think architecture in Latin America differs from its North American and European counterparts?

As I said before, there are fewer rules especially in rural areas that affect the construction process. And, in general, Latin American governments do not provide an equal distribution of wealth. This creates a large economic gap in society that has to be effectively resolved in another way. In our opinion, these two factors are the origin of the architectural examples that interest us in this region.

What advice would you give to young creatives who are looking to get into the fields of documentaries/filmmaking and architecture?

The advice to learn by doing. Focusing on some local issues means they don’t need big production budgets to travel for the opportunity to start filming and editing. This is a way to find your own point of view and voice as creators, to develop an original and outstanding film. In the end, it is not specific advice for the field of architecture. We believe that it is a subject that can be portrayed from many angles so there is still much to discover.

Do you have any projects you are working on at the moment and what are your plans for the future? 

We released this year a six-episode series called Architecture On The Edge. Commissioned by Shelter, which is the only streaming platform focused just on architecture and design content, it is about six constructions located in remote scenarios of the Chilean landscape.

Now we are completing two interactive documentaries which are to be released by the end of this year. One, called Raw Land, portrays an education model capable of renewing the profession of the architect and the rural context in which it is held. A building process of an architecture student’s degree project settled down in Southern Chile, on a waste territory far away from the world. And Making Meaningful Things Happen on the Fuerte El Tiuna Project in Caracas, Venezuela. Portraying politics of the everyday through this 15 years old project as a form of resistance by proposing in such a polarised country.



Nanometer Architecture

“It is important to have a feeling of love”

Architectural duo Yuki Mitani and Atsumi Nonaka are known for their minimalist architectural work under the moniker Nanometer Architecture. Taking inspiration from traditional Japanese design the pair focus on the smaller details when working on a project. “We believe that building an architecture is like a supplement for the ultimate goal, providing a place, proposing an event, and then inducing it to create an atmosphere.” NR Magazine joined them in conversation about their practice.

Nanometer is an interesting name, is there some kind of story or meaning behind it and how does it relate to your work?

The first letters of “n” (Nonaka) and “m” (Mitani) are connected to form “nm,” which is the symbol for nanometer. In the nano-world, the world is very different from the micro-world. Because it is so small and the specific surface area (volume/surface area) is so large, it becomes highly reactive, and the properties of the same substance can be changed if it is reduced to the nano level. The same material can change its properties if it is reduced to nano size. In other words, it is possible to manipulate a single electron.

Focusing on nanomaterials, we can move from top-down construction, where materials are scraped out of matter, to bottom-up construction, where atoms and molecules are assembled. They will be able to self-assemble like living organisms, without the waste materials that are scraped out. It will be a complete opposite approach to the way we have been producing things.

As I was researching this, I began to think that nanometers are close to our philosophy.

“We believe that the creation of buildings is like a supplement to the final goal and that the essence of providing a place, proposing an event, and inviting people to come afterwards is to create an atmosphere.”

With Nagoya flat, I imagine all the exposed concrete makes it quite a cool space to be in summer, but how did you tackle issues of insulation and heating for when it gets cold? 

I try to prevent cold air from entering through the gaps in the windows, I have gas heaters, and I put down carpets. We don’t have many cold days where it snows, so the heater is all we need.

The room was bare from the time we rented it in the first place. I didn’t want to spend that much money on a rental apartment, so I didn’t go as far as insulating the apartment for long-term living.

With Seaside Villa you had to take into account the effect of sea breezes on the property did you also have to consider issues of rising sea levels and how they might affect the property in years to come? 

We did not take into account the sea level rise. When the tide goes out, the beach will appear and the scenery will change, and people can play there. This site will not be rebuilt in the future because the ordinance has been changed to a place where new buildings cannot be built, so this architecture cannot be rebuilt either.

Where do you draw your inspiration from when working on a project? 

A lot of it comes from everyday experiences. It can be something you notice while casually walking around the city, an exhibition, a movie, a book, or a conversation with someone.

With PALETTE you particularly had to consider accessibility for those with disabilities is this something you also consider when working on other projects and has PALETTE changed how you approach issues like these in your work? 

In Japan, depending on the scale and use of the building, there are some things that are essential to consider. The degree of this depends on the project, but I think it is important to make it easy to use for all kinds of people.

House in Shima has a very open and welcoming design, considering how closely it’s located to a national park is this an intentional way to integrate its man-made structure with the surrounding nature.

It does not face a national park but is located in a national park. It is under the control of the Ministry of the Environment and had to be built with consideration for the landscape. For example, the colour of the exterior walls and roof, and the slope of the roof. In this way, the materials and colours naturally became closer to nature. The open design is more in accordance with the client’s request rather than in the park. The desire to live in nature with the windows open at all times and to have a barbecue all year round led to this open appearance.

What was the most challenging project you worked on and why? How did you overcome those challenges?

There are always difficulties in every project, so it is impossible to rank them.

Are there any new technologies within this industry that you are particularly excited about and how do you think they will change how to approach future projects?

3D scanning. If we can easily read the land and the inside of the building, the design will be more accurate.

What advice would you give young creatives looking to get started in this field?

Our efforts will always come back to us in some way. In any project, we face society and aim to improve the atmosphere of the world, even if only little by little. Many young people become frustrated because they think that they are not suited for this kind of work, but you cannot decide what you are not suited for.

“It is important to have a feeling of love and wanting to do something.”

Are you working on any projects currently and what plans do you have for the future? 

We are working on exchanges, housing complexes, detached houses, clinics, relaxation salons, etc. Since we moved our office to Sakae in the centre of Nagoya in February 2021, we would like to work on cafes, salons, apparel, bars, offices, etc. around the town where we work.


Images · Nanometer Architecture


“what drive us was the experience, the moment, to feel physically connected with a space”

NONOTAK was born from the collaboration between architect musican Takami Nakamoto and visual artist Noemi Schipfer back in late 2011. The duo embodies that merge of architecture, spatial design, music and sound. From creating dreamlike environments to performances using light and sound installations, NONOTAK present their own format of art to the world.  Combining Noemi Schipfer’s experience in kinetic visual and Takami Nakamato’s approach of space and sound, the studio creates ethereal environments immersing the viewer.

NR discusses with the duo about the creative process behind some of their works, how the Covid crisis impacted the arts and music industry but how also it gave the two artists time to reflect on themselves and on the meaning of creating art and ultimately the studio’s plans for 2023.

Noemi and Takami, you both come from different creative paths, respectively illustration, visual arts, architecture and music. It is always very interesting and inspiring to see how two worlds merge. How did you meet and what inspired you to start Nonotak Studio in 2011? 

Noemi Schipfer: We first met in highschool in Paris at the Japanese class ( Tak have both parents Japanese and I’m half Japanese half French so it was a way to have good marks at school. Then we lost sight for few years and we met back in Tokyo during summer holiday. Tak was studying Architecture at that time and I was already graduate from Art school. We spent time walking in Tokyo and it was really inspiring to listen to his approach on Architecture and Space.

Tak was also playing in a metal band and I had the chance to follow them on few shows to take tour footages. In the late 2011 Takami was working in an Architecture studio called Bigoni-Mortemard in Paris and they were looking for an illustrator to do a mural painting in the entrance hall of a new building in Paris. To work on this project was intense & fun and it give us the will to do more together and to create our own space. We wanted to merge our backgrounds all together : visuals, space and sound. The installations format came pretty naturally and the first idea was to develop an immaterial space were everything would be intangible and in motion.

Takami Nakamoto: As Noemi said, we have known each other for a long time and the purpose of collaborating together was mainly because we had the same vision on what format of art we wanted people to experience, and how we were going to merge our backgrounds in order to create a particular environment where light, space and sound collide all together.

ISOTOPES V2 is a light installation experience that was inspired from Fukushima’s nuclear disaster. Could you tell us more about the creative process behind creating a dematerialised space? I love the concept of making something tangible out of a feeling or something that disappeared and that no longer exists, making it almost part of something fictitious. It is also a way to sort of immortalise the individuals that had and have been affected by Fukushima and it adds a commemorative and contemplative feel to it. Is that something you consciously wanted to convey?

NS: Fukushima’s nuclear disaster is something that personally really touched me.  I was in Paris at this moment but I remember I was shocked and afraid about the news. Japan is my second country, it is a place that I used to go since I’m born and I have so many memories there and part of my family. When the nuclear central exploded I thought I would never be able to go back there again so it was heart breaking. At this moment I felt really strange how one part of your life could feel like it was almost just a fiction. Everything could change or even worth, just disappear.

Time is a notion that fascinated me a lot even when I was a student in art school. Memories are a notion that is so immaterial but so strong at the same time. When we develop our first installation ISOTOPES V2 we wanted to represented this different notion of immateriality by creating a space that is constantly changing and where the audience would be able to travel through.

TN: I think this project is special to us as long as it was our first piece being exhibited in an international exhibition like the Mapping Festival in Geneva. First time we were able to share the experience of our work to unknown public and it felt like a new chapter in our career. It also made us look at our work in its actual scale, as long as we have been working on small scale models to work on the composition. This really brought another dimension to the purpose of our hard work.

LEAP V.3 at Wave Of Tomorrow Festival 2019 in Jakarta, I loved this piece which I thought was such another great work of yours in terms of translating feelings or emotions into sounds and lights. Could you tell us a bit more about this piece? 

NS: The first time we developed our installation LEAP was in a festival called Electric Castle in Cluj Romania and the exhibition space was really specific and historic. It was in an old stable of a castle, so the space itself was really atypical and the celling had beautiful bricks arcade. It was important for us to keep this strong architecture so we decide to invest the ground as the canvas. We wanted to deploy the installation in the maximum surface of the space and the light to cover every corner of it. That’s how we design those custom panels where 4 indirect lights are hidden behind and pointing 4 different directions. Light is a very flexible medium that has a huge impact on it’s environment. By controlling lights it’s not only the source itself that is moving but the entire space gets affected and painted by the shadows it creates.

LEAP V3 in Jakarta is the biggest version we did of this installation. We wanted to keep the massive volume of the space and highlight the length of it with the speed of lights and sound.

TN: In fact it was important to actually stay and program the installation on site, considering this unique context in Jakarta we were immersed in. We like the fact each site specific installation is about experiencing it through the build of it, the space itself, the people who are helping us with construction with the same goal of looking at something special at the end.

Last spring you revealed a large-scale installation in Porto Alegre, Brazil, titled GIANTS. The audio visual light and sound installation was set inside the Farol Santander building which was reminiscent of Nonotak’s first commissioned project in the lobby of a public housing building in Paris. Exploration of sound and space is at the core of GIANTS. Was also being in Brazil informative as to how you wanted to conduct this piece? It feels like a lot of your pieces are connected to the spaces they inhabit and are quite site specific like LEAP V.3. The interactions from the visitors in some of your pieces such as PARALLELS with the lights and by walking through the space, adds a very important element to that connection.

NS: When we get commissioned for an art installation, the starting point that drive us is the space that will host the piece. When we got the floor-plans and pictures of Farol Santander building we were struck by the verticality of the space and the massive columns. We wanted to accentuate this characteristic by adding more columns with light. The space offer a 360° view so it was important for us to include this specific in our piece as well. The columns included lights in the 4 directions, like LEAP installation concept. This space was also really interesting because there was two floor levels. You were able to see it from the ground levels, but also from above at the second floor. The rhythm of GIANTS is really contrasted. You have the first part were the ambiance is really dreamy, light dots are floating like fireflies are dancing together and then suddenly the sound get more violent and solid lines appear and move in the entire building like an army.

TN: I think the way we named the installation also speaks by itself in a way. When we saw the spatial context of the exhibition space, we immediately thought about experimenting with verticality and create an experience where people would feel like these massive totems of lights are taking over the space like Giants. The scale of these totem gave us the possibility of affecting the space with light so much that we could both create a feeling where we felt both “compressed” by it. The fact they are deployed along the whole space made these totems feel like they were ruling it.

Your work revolves around making visible, moving objects, forms, large-scale AV installations and spatialized sound. For instance with Parallels at STRP Biennale, you have used the whole space as a canvas for light which must also be quite difficult technically. That must result in a lot of experimentations and research behind each piece. Could you both tell us a bit more about that process? 

NS: At the beginning of NONOTAK we were a lot exploring light through projections and semi-transparent screens.

The semi transparent screens allow us to catch the visuals but also letting passing through the light and create duplication of the same visuals into several layers. It was our way to materialise the light at this moment. We develop few installations and a performance using this concept and explore different set up to see how we can create illusions playing with the positions of the projectors etc.

When we get commissioned for STRP Biennale, the theme of the exhibition was “Outside the screen”. We were working on the concept of the piece we wanted to present and at some point of the night we just realise why not just take literally the theme of the exhibition and get outside of our screens. That’s how we develop a concept that would materialise the light through space itself by using haze and would only have the space as a limit of the installations.

The first time we were able to experiment on this new concept was during the few days we had to set it up before the opening of the exhbition. We had preparations and expectations in our mind before coming but the first day we were there we just realise the effect wasn’t working as planned. We had to change everything, move completely the position of the projectors inside the room and start from zero all the composition of the visuals at the last minute. It learns me how important it is to be in front of the piece when you program it and how dangerous it could be to work on something by simulation when it comes to something as sensitive than light.

TN: This is actually one of these projects that really drew a line on the approach and the personal relationship we have with the work we create.

We realized that imagining projects in small scale or simulating them was helpful to visualize projects but nothing felt more real than getting to our exhibition space, spend time with our new piece and work on the composition in relation to the space. Living within the project and make it an intense experience. That’s how we like to experience our installations, and we should never forget that the reason we started all of this was because of our love for materiality in light, and we do think this can’t be replicated virtually and we treat it as a material in itself.

Your 40 minute audio visual piece SHIRO was ranked by the New York Times as one of the top 15 performances at Sónar Electronic Music Festival in Barcelona in 2017. I could not find the whole performance online but watched various extracts from it. In contrast to your other works, you both are taking part on stage so to speak in the performance. How did that feel? Would you want to do more of those kind of perforrnances in which the public get to actually see you? 

You have performed this piece in different places over the years, was there any in particular that you keep a fond memory of and if so, why? 

NS: When we were working on our installation we also realise it was cool to see people silhouette passing through it. The relationship with the human body scale and the installation was interesting. Tak as a musician was interested to extand his background in electronic music. That’s how in summer 2013 we worked on our first performance called LATE SPECULATION. The concept was us performing inside a translucent structure with 2 projectors and use our silhouettes as part as the visual effect. One projector was placed from the front and the other one in rear. By alternate which projector was on, we were making a visual illusion of us appearing or disappearing. SHIRO is our second performance in continuity with LATE SPECULATION.

Installations and performances are really different experiences. The first big difference is the fact that we are sharing the same moment with the audience and have a direct reaction from them. The dynamic is really different. It’s really powerful to hear the audience during the show.

TN: In addition to Noemi’s answer, I think we simply like the fact to not really limit ourselves to installation artists but also performances where music takes another dimension and also the way we directly interact with the audience and experience something in real time with them.

Stage is a special and unique place to express yourself and we enjoy switching from installation projects to live performance projects.

The 2019 pandemic in which we are still in, has obviously impacted quite harshly the arts and performances industry. The past year has definitely been difficult and for some more than others but I feel like we have all in some sort and in different capacities being able to plant the seeds for the present year. It feels as though there has been a lot of self-reflection and introspective work done at an individual level which will then enable growth, which is the theme of this issue. How do you both feel with this? How does Growth resonate with you? 

NS: During 7 years we had the chance to be able to live for our art and been able to showcase it in so many extraordinary places. I would be for ever grateful for this. The rhythm of our travels, exhibitions, live shows was intense and we never really had breaks at all. When we had our first show cancelled and the first lockdown was announced I was a little bit puzzled but at the same time for the first time since years, I would have a break and time to step back about NONOTAK.

Now that it’s been a year we are in this situation and seeing how it evolves I’m more than sad and anxious about the future. With NONOTAK what drive us was the experience, the moment, to feel physically connected with a space, exchange emotions with an audience, share a stage with people. And when I see the art scene going more and more only online it deeply depress me.

TN: That “covid” crisis really affected the touring dynamic of our collaboration and it is pretty sad, but we know it is also reflecting in many other people’s lives. That crisis gave us the time to reflect on ourselves, the meaning of creating art especially in this type of context. But it also gave us the time to reflect on society and the power the government has over people’s lives and their freedom but more importantly, the way they are able to fragilise culture and normalize it out in the open.

Questioning the narrative became politically incorrect, aspiring for freedom makes you feel guilty and this is the society we allowed ourselves to live in. What kind of future does Art expression have in this “new normal” we are submitting to? I don’t really know about that.  But it seems to me that being a sovereign individual is the starting point of any form of expression and we feel like we are totally losing the value of what it means to be free. It is pretty scary to me and I guess it is for many other people.

I think growth is still possible in this context. being adaptive is key to finding a path you feel comfortable with in terms of creating and growing. Since “covid” started we got ourselves in projects that required lot of learning and we at least feel like we took advantage of this a little bit.  We don’t know when we would have stopped touring without any interruption if this did not happen as well.

We are doing this interview during the first few months of 2021 and the issue will be released this spring. Are there any projects you are looking forward to be taking on and that you could share with us? 

NS: We are working on permanent installations that will take place in 2023. It’s a different challenge than working for events or temporary exhibitions but really exciting about the idea that the piece will last for ever.

Cassi Namoda

“I think colour brings so much energy and vibration”

Cassi Namoda takes archival images, memories and ruminations, and transforms them into vividly rich paintings, weaving an overarching theme throughout. Sometimes, there’s a clear narrative that informs her work, but at other times it can be a looser concept that has been on her mind.

Though many of the scenes and the characters within her paintings are imagined, they are drawn from concrete anecdotes. Take, for example, the character of Maria who often appears in her paintings. Maria embodies the way in which Cassi confront the history of her home country, Mozambique. Cassi saw a similarity between Ricardo Rangel’s photographs of downtown Maputo in the latter half of the twentieth century, and the work of European expressionists in the 1920s, where artists like Edvard Munch and George Grosz depicted scenes of a ‘very fucked up Europe’ at a period of turmoil and debauchery. Maria became a way for Cassi to explore this moment in Mozambique’s history, at a time when the country was going through revolution and dealing with its colonial past. Through the Nightly Bread series, Cassi depicts Maria’s navigations through the seedy underbelly of the city in a way that felt personal to her, given its proximity in recent history. There’s humour in these works too, in which, like Grosz, Cassi deliberately adds a twist on a serious scene – where, for example, Maria has spilled a glass of wine.

Those subtle, but carefully considered, symbols are also evident in the cover Cassi painted for Vogue Italia’s sustainability issue in January this year. The magazine commissioned eight artists to each design a cover for the issue, as a statement against the huge impact that fashion shoots have on the environment. Maria appeared on the cover, with a mosquito hovering sinisterly above her head; a symbol of how disease is an undeniable implication of the climate crisis that is not often contemplated. These issues have been preoccupying Cassi for a while, and as she explains below, the darkness that our future may hold is something that informed the work for her recent exhibition at the Pippy Houldsworth Gallery in London. The show’s title, Little Is Enough For Those In Love, was derived from an East African proverb, and its exploration of the polarities between ‘joy’ and ‘pain’ have taken on new meaning in the context of the current global pandemic we now find ourselves faced with.

In light of what’s currently happening, your recent exhibition at the Pippy Houldsworth Gallery touched upon the balance between joy and suffering, which is something that we’re all suddenly forced to confront. 

Totally, and it’s fascinating to see how the West is adjusting, in relation to the rest of the world. At the end of 2019 and the beginning of this year,

“I had this sense of anticipation that we were entering biblical times.”

It felt as though the Pippy Houldsworth show was preparing for this. As artists, we might be okay or not, depending on how the market swings but, ultimately, it’s just art. I’m very aware of that, and for me, art isn’t about the currency. Instead, it’s about expressing a narrative so, in that sense, nothing’s really changed for me. But, it’s more a case of the impact it’ll have on daily negotiations – like, do I need this expensive yellow ochre, or should I just get this other cheaper one? I hope that this might become something beautiful, in terms of a discovery process. The Pippy Houldsworth show healed me in a way, so that I could be prepared for something to happen.  

Did you anticipate this change when you were making the work for the show? 

Well, I had my show, The Day A Monkey Is Destined To Die All Trees Becomes Slippery, at the François Ghebaly Gallery earlier in 2019, and there was an ominous presence in those paintings, with bold black lines and colour blocking. But, when it came to the Pippy Houldsworth show, it felt as though we needed something else. I wanted to be very sensitive. There were two directions my work took in the lead up to the show. There was the work I made while I was in East Hampton in early Autumn; I would take walks around 7am with my dog, and

“what I noticed was this slight melancholy that comes when seasons change, and I think, a part of human nature is having trouble accepting change.”

So, it felt quite cathartic to massage in the new season – and so, my work was more compositionally about the landscape, with a more detached gaze upon the figures. And then, in November, I did a residence in Oaxaca, Mexico, and there’s something so vibrational about the earth there. I was faced with challenges, logistically, where I was out of the comfort zone of being able to call people to deliver canvases or paints. Also, I mainly paint with acrylic, but it’s very dry in Oaxaca, so my paint was drying on the brush; intuitively, I’d brought a retarder with me, but I still needed to work in an immediate way. So, in the show, there’s these two styles of painting. There’s the very magical, illusive paintings – so you have the beach scene with the couple getting married, and then you might have something like the Mimi Nakupenda painting, with couples dancing and a lot of energy in the air. 

You’ve got two upcoming exhibitions (one at Nina Johnson Gallery in May, and the other at the Goodman Gallery in the Autumn); do you know what you’ll be doing for these shows? 

Yeah, I do. The Nina Johnson show most likely won’t open up in a physical sense, but it will still hang. There will be 8×10 inch paintings, and the show is called Dog Meat, Cat Meat, God Knows What Meat – it’s a little bit humorous because I wanted to do something that was dark, funny and also random. There’s no real narrative behind it. I want to do paintings of women that are in my life, so I’m using this time to do something that I’ve always wanted to do. I can’t paint them in the flesh now, but I’ll get friends from all around the world – Kenya, South Africa, New York – to send photos of themselves to paint from. And then, I’ve also been exploring medical imagery, in the sense that black bodies have been sold under the gaze of medical research, that never actually served the female body, but was instead a form of slavery. I’ve been researching Millie and Christine McKoy, who were these conjoined twins born into slavery in 1851 and were, by the age of 2 being exhibitioned around the world. I wanted to give them a renewed agency, so that they can now be part of the black community so that we can remember them in a more intimate way. And, then, I might also paint a random scene from a Djibril Diop Mambéty film that is special to me – so, the process is really open with this show, it’s more communicative of everything I’ve been thinking about. 

As for the Goodman show, it will be a lot more narrative based. The show’s called To Live Long Is To See Much, which is very much about what we’re going through right now. I want to call my elders and ask for advice – like, what do we do in this situation? It’s such a strange time we’re living in. So I thought about this Swahili proverb, to live long is to see much, and I wanted to take an archival approach,

“looking at everything that I’ve found so fucking bizarre in slavery, in colonialism, and in the projection that black is bad. I thought about how the Christian epistemology of the world that we live in is actioned through a white gaze, and I want to question that.”

Why hasn’t that been challenged? I’ve also been looking at Pointillism, and then, after spending some time in Kenya, I realised that there’s this African Pointillism here too – it’s called Tingatinga, and I grew up with that type of painting! So, I am ruminating now on how I can combine some sort of folklore with a classical aspect of painting, because I love painters like Joaquín Sorolla and Paul Cezanne. But,

“there needs to be some duality; I want to make these beautiful paintings but also tell the truth.”

Do you consciously group series of paintings together with certain colour palettes? 

I think colour brings so much energy and vibration. I definitely think I work with colour more consistently when I’m working on a show, much more so than when I’m painting in my studio for painting’s sake. I think there’s something spiritual in the process of negotiating with the paint that exists in a body of work. So, yeah – it’s something I’m very aware of and it’s super intentional. With the Pippy Houldsworth show, I wanted to convey healing through soft yellows, light blues, violets and pale greens – and then maybe some stronger colours like red. I feel like red is a very religious colour, and I’m relating colour to John Mbiti’s writings, where he talks about religious objects, like for example, a rock, in traditional African culture. And to me, a chair can be a religious symbol, so when Maria is sitting on a red chair, that’s her religious object. The red chair has become an ongoing symbol in my work. More recently, the symbol I’ve been using is this orange, reddish circle that ends up in the upper right of the canvas – sometimes the left depending on the composition – and that was there in a lot of the Pippy Houldsworth work. It’s a tool that draws you to the upper right corner and it’s a symbol that feels warm. When it comes to narrative, I think about the palette in its totality because, for me, I feel like it’s part of the story.  


  1. Little is Enough for Those with Love/Mimi Nakupenda, 2019 acrylic on canvas 167.6 x 233.7 cm, 66 x 92 in Photographer Mark Blower
  2. Family Portrait in Gurué, 2019 acrylic on canvas167.6 x 121.9 cm, 66 x 48 in Photographer Todd-White Art Photography
  3. Sasha And Zamani’s Fruitful Earth, 2019 acrylic on canvas 188 x 152.5 cm, 74 x 60 in Photographer Mark Blower
  4. Visit From Ancestor, 2020 acrylic on canvas 101.6 x 76.2, 40 x 30 in Photographer Thomas Mueller
  5. Young Woman makes a dress in Quelimane, 2020 acrylic on cotton poly 101.6 x 76.2 cm, 40 x 30 in Photographer Mark Blower

Frederik Nystrup-Larsen

“Say no: say no the market, say no to people, not just following along”

Growing up in Copenhagen, Frederik Nystrup-Larsen was surrounded by the principles of design. ‘I thought I was going to be an architect because that was the most prestigious and important thing you could do’, he explains. But, when, as a young teenager, he realised that this would involve a lot of technical drawing and ‘sitting in an office’, his ambitions shifted towards becoming an artist. An awareness of the uses of space, and the ways in which users interact with their surroundings, nonetheless underpins Frederik’s work. The installation of much of his work, whether sculptural or more performance-led, is shaped by its siting and the ways in which people respond. Those factors are no more present than in last year’s Off Licence – Cash Only, a project with long-term collaborator, Oliver Sundqvist, in which sculptures of everyday objects were made out of found trash and papier-mâché, and sold at a pop-up shop, priced according to their retail value at that moment. If Off Licence – Cash Only was, as Frederik suggests, an ‘analysis of consumerism’, the importance of having a critical approach is key. And, on the day we speak, the innerworkings and underlying motives of the art world is something that has overshadowed the importance of integrity that appears to push Frederik forward. Last year’s installation, How to Build a Blanket Fort, designed in collaboration with Sundqvist for the Tuborg Lounge at Roskilde Festival, presented Frederik with an unfamiliar set of challenges  – mainly, designing a space from London, to be installed by a team in Copenhagen. ‘It becomes about communication; how good are you at saying what you want to have made and what is the result of that?’ But, it seems, the result was more than he bargained for,  where the reality of commercial involvement (and ensuing ulterior motives) have jaded his view of an otherwise well-received project. The tensions between art and critique are extended to the materials that Frederik uses; the Eros Torso vases, repurposed single-use plastic containers, have been latched upon by certain fashion brands keen to champion the importance of ‘sustainability’. Yet, as Frederik maintains in our conversation, neither he nor Sundqvist vocalise the fact that most of the materials they use are recycled; ‘it’s not a selling point’. Rather, he continues, ‘I think it’s irrelevant, I think it’s something that is necessary and everybody should just do it.’ Across the various mediums that Frederik’s work takes, there’s a  quiet emphasis on organic matter, which in turn, translates into a necessary critical engagement with the world around us. 

How do you anticipate the way people might interact with your work?

I think I’m quite open to it, for sure. I mean, a lot of the work is made for interaction; that’s an important part of it. But it’s also always quite interesting to observe how people act around things. When we did the Off License – Cash Only project, when people started coming in, there was a line for the opening of the store and, in the beginning, people would go up to the counter and say, ‘I want that piece’, and the store clerk would say, ‘Just take the piece and come pay for it’. Then, people in the shop realised that that was the whole point, so people just started to grab things, and they would just be holding like five, six pieces to reserve them so nobody else could take them. That whole thing was kind of funny, and interesting, and it obviously worked as a critique of consumerism. People bought the cheapest stuff first, and then it went from there. So it was this analysis of consumerism. 

I read that you were planning on doing Off License – Cash Only in other cities as well, is that still your plan?

Yeah, for sure. I mean, I don’t think it’s going to be in the near future – maybe next year. The work was extremely fun to make – I really enjoyed it – but it was also a case of, when you sell a piece of work for £1, you don’t earn any money. So, it’s more of a fun project, that you can’t do all the time, because you can’t really live…

I read too that you bought fake followers for the Off Licence Instagram account: How did having an Instagram account for something like that work? Did people realise what it really was, or?

No, I don’t think anyone really noticed it. I mean, I had a couple of people asking like, ‘How did you get so many followers?’ But what I saw was that, when the Instagram had so many followers, a lot more people started following it just because it had a lot of followers – which is obviously how things work, with algorithms and stuff like that. But I was like, really? That that amount of followers becomes this signifier of authenticity – like, ‘like, ‘Oh I need to follow this as well because there’s a lot of other people following it’, but’, but it would take you five seconds to realise that all the followers are fake. When you go through the process of buying followers, you also realise how many people buy them – and I started to realise how many people actually do this, and it’s incredible. I don’t remember the number, but it’s something like 60% of all influencers have bought followers, so it’s a big thing.

How did you get involved with the kind of materials that you use in your sculpture? 

To be honest, it probably begins with the fact that, if you want to make big things and don’t have any money, how can you actually do something for nothing? Especially with the Off Licence – Cash Only project, which is made from trash found around London – we weren’t going to spend any money on that because we were going to sell it for nothing. The Eros Torso vases was a similar situation, using found plastic barrels. I mean, I’m not saying I’m going to do this forever, but I like to think about where stuff comes from. It’s also about the concept of the work, and that the concept fits together perfectly with the materials. 

You’re in your final year at the Royal College of Art – has that experience impacted on the work you’re doing outside of the Masters? 

Yeah, quite a lot I think. To be honest, I haven’t been to school a lot because I’ve been busy, and I’ve been sad about that because the whole point of going was to have time to reflect and develop my practice. So for this past year, I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking and not necessarily producing, which is good because I came to the MA confused about what to call myself, in terms of the work and myself as a title. I think doing an MA in sculpture makes it easier because that’s sort of the label; sculptor. Also, London is extremely different to Copenhagen, and that’s been great. Coming from a place that has zero diversity, it’s amazing to be in London and seeing the way people work. In Copenhagen, it’s the easiest place to live – everyone’s has the same sort of ideas. So I think it’s extremely interesting to be involved in a community like RCA to see how other people are working.  

A lot of your work is in collaboration with Oliver Sundqvist, have you got anything that’s in the pipeline?

Not anything I can really say anything about. I mean, I had a long talk with the V1 Gallery that I work with a couple of weeks ago, and we agreed that I will focus this half year on my Masters. For the moment, I’m really into saying no, and I think that’s going to be playing a big part in things coming up. Say no: say no the market, say no to people, not just following along… 

As a young artist, being able to say no is quite a bold thing to do. 

Yeah, for sure. And I think everybody should do the same because I feel like commercial partners take advantage of young artists, using them as figures that they can put their commercial work up against. For the artist, it becomes sort of like peeing in your pants – it’s really nice when it happens, and warm, and then after, it’s a reality check: you showed yourself up and nobody else of value will probably want to work with you anymore. When I started out, I was having a hard time dealing with this. And, after a couple of bad situations, I’m not going to do that again. That’s not why I’m in this game, it’s not about that. 



  1. Artemis Tears
  2. Floor Standing Pedestal Champagne Bucket Cooler
  3. Folding Electric Scooter
  4. Firechief Pressure Water Fire Extinguisher
  5. Gold Plated Family Portrait Frame
  6. Japanese Army Sword

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