Domenico Gnoli

“I never actively mediate against the object, I experience the magic of its presence”

As one enters the exhibit – the soft stumps of the shoes break the silence – the first instinct is to graze the fingers over the relics of Domenico Gnoli, to violate the laws Fondazione Prada upholds just to caress the paintings on display and test their hyperrealism. As the sensation passes, a new emotion washes over: the awareness of stepping into someone’s home and looking into their private lives, becoming an insider and an outsider at the same time. The artist may not have intended to cause such an emotion, but there it is in its youthful peak. From the shadow clothing over the fabrics and wave-like curls of the hair to the figures sleeping under the sheets, Domenico Gnoli mastered narrating the everyday life everyone tries to hide.

Fondazione Prada presents the exhibition “Domenico Gnoli” in Milan from 28 October 2021 to 27 February 2022. This retrospective forms part of the series of exhibitions that Fondazione Prada has dedicated to artists – such as Edward Kienholz, Leon Golub, and William Copley – whose practice developed along paths and interests that took a different direction from the main artistic trends of the second half of the 20th century. The exhibit marks an exploration of Gnoli’s practice within a discourse free from labels and documenting the international cultural scene of his time, all while understanding his art’s contemporary visual relevance and recognizing the inspiration he drew from the Renaissance to illustrate the value of his works. 

Conceived by Germano Celant, the exhibition brings together over 100 works produced by the artist between 1949 and 1969 and will be complemented by as many drawings. A chronological and documentary section featuring materials, photographs, and other items will retrace the biography and artistic career of Domenico Gnoli (Rome, 1933 – New York, 1970) more than fifty years after his death. The project has been realized in collaboration with the artist’s Archives in Rome and Mallorca, which preserve Gnoli’s personal and professional heritage.

A homeowner touring a sojourner in his abode encompasses the arrangement of Gnoli’s artworks at Fondazione Prada. The yellow seat covers form uniform patterns, so freshly washed and pressed for an elegant dinner party that Santiago Martin-El Viti – based on Gnoli’s portrait of him sitting in one of the sofas – would attend. A beige shirt soon appears on a yellow tablecloth with silhouettes of flora in green, the creases and folds of the shirt visible even without scrutinizing the painting. From the living room, Gnoli heads towards the bathroom where an empty bathtub awaits next to a branch of a cactus that adorns the minimalistic interior.

Author: Domenico Gnoli (1933-1970) Title: APPLE Date: 1968, signed and dated on the reverse Dimensions: 117 x 158 cm Medium: Acrylic and sand on canvas Inscriptions: on the reverse inscribed by Domenico Gnoli: D. Gnoli 1968 ” apple ” (1,60 x 1,20) Inv. Fundación Yannick y Ben Jakober no.51 Fundación Yannick y Ben Jakober

“Many things have changed for me: I finally feel I have shrugged off many constraints and prejudices,” Gnoli wrote in 1963 and a letter to his mother. “I paint as I feel without worrying about the current culture and my responsibilities towards it and I intend to live the same way: free and faithful only to the truth that I feel now. Life begins now; up to this moment I have been apprehensive of too many things: school, friends, modern painting, socialism, marriage, culture, maturity, responsibility. I have painted a whole load of imaginary characters: a large woman reading the newspaper, a gentleman peeing against a tree, an office worker, a poetic waiter with blue lips, and then numerous portraits, but with a difference: instead of people seen from the front, they are seen from behind. Because, I thought to myself, mountains are painted from every side and so are houses, flowers, animals, trees: everything. Men and women are not, however. They are the exceptions and are only painted frontally, in three-quarter profile or from the side. Why?”

Down the hall, guests find the elevator that will take them up to the private spaces of Gnoli’s home. As the doors open and the bell dings, they stumble upon the guestrooms where intoxicated guests may sink into one of the well-made beds. All the beds are available except the ones where Gnoli and a woman sleep. In a couple of his paintings, they break up and make up in a span of two canvases, implied by the joined and separated figures under the sheets that Gnoli’s art style highlighted. 

Author: Domenico Gnoli (1933-1970) Title: CURL Title during the exhibition at the Sidney Janis Gallery, even though it does not appear on the catalogue this painting was exhibited Date: 1969, painted in s’Estaca, Majorca, October 1969, last paining painted by D.G. Dimensions: 139 x 120 cm Medium: Acrylic and sand on canvas Inv. Foundation C. no. p23 Courtesy Fundación Yannick y Ben Jakober

From the exhibit’s text: “For many years Gnoli’s work was interpreted in relation to the forms of realism that arose in stark contrast to the abstract and conceptual currents of the 20th century. Gnoli was viewed as a pop or hyperrealist artist by contemporary critics, who nevertheless recognized the peculiarity of his poetic imagery and artistic production. Over the following years, art critics drove their attention to those paintings made from 1964, characterized by a photographic cut and a specific interest in the human figure and objects, acknowledging the inspiration that he drew from the Renaissance or underscoring his ability to create paintings capable of creating a dialogue with the observer.”

The connection between Gnoli and the viewers sizzles, the manifestation of the intended dialogue. From one alley to another, the transition in storytelling simmers in the next paintings. The house party is about to begin. The noise of the invited crowd on the ground floor filters through the master bedroom where Gnoli and the woman deck up. The private and public lives start to blur the more the viewers wander around to gaze at Gnoli’s paintings.

On his canvases, the selection of hairstyles – neck-length, braided, and curled – comes first before choosing the shoes to wear for the party – flats or heels, leather or synthetic. Next up, Gnoli’s artworks zoom into the details of the clothing to don: the folds of the shirts’ collars, the pearl buttons of the dresses, and the zippers of jackets. Almost ready, the artworks display a necktie and a bowtie, both in stripes, and an ironed suit with a pocket square. Gnoli and the woman close their bedroom door and head for the elevator, a huff to expel the breath of excitement and agitation before inquiring “Ready?”

In 1965, Gnoli expressed how he had always embodied his art practice, but it did not attract attention due to the abstraction’s moment. “I have never even wanted to deform: I isolate and represent. My themes come from the world around me, familiar situations, everyday life; because I never actively mediate against the object, I experience the magic of its presence,” he commented. Only then, thanks to Pop Art, that his paintings became comprehensible, the employment of simple, given elements that he neither amplified nor reduced. 

Three years later, the artist deemed his system as a vehicle of showing two scenarios in one space. “You begin looking at things, and they look just fine, as normal as ever; but then you look for a while longer and your feelings get involved and they begin changing things for you and they go on and on until you don’t see the house any longer, you only see them, I mean your feelings,” he penned. “For instance, take some of these modern pictures where nobody can tell what’s what; they are a mess because they only represent the feelings rumbling about without giving you any idea of why it happened.” At Fondazione Prada, Domenico Gnoli welcomes the viewers into his home and hands them an invitation to reminisce the legacies he left.

Anicka Yi

“If I had to guess I would say I was smelling the Machine Age, but honestly it was hard to tell”

I decided to binge Foundation recently, the Apple Original series based on Issac Asimov’s famous sci-fi novels. It’s a fantastic piece of television but in it there are a few throwaway lines that mention ‘the robot wars’. The series is set millennia in the future, long after humans have populated the galaxy, but that simple phrase sets the imagination whirring.

Quite often when scrolling social media you come across videos of robots that scientists are working on, some humanoid, some not. However one thing is constant, and that is somewhere in the comments people are joking that these robots will one day turn on us, and ‘the robot wars’ will become reality. This sentiment is unsurprising, especially from a generation brought up on media such as Black Mirror. But what if they didn’t turn on us? What if the ‘robots’ or the ‘machines’ become part of the ecosystem, benign artificial beings that live in the wild and evolve on their own?

Anicka Yi’s installation in Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall explores such a possibility. As you enter the space you spot them, flying high above the crowds of visitors, like strange sea creatures with gently waving tentacles and whirring propellers. They come in a variety of pinks and yellows and some are transparent. Yi calls them aerobes, and in addition to sea creatures draws inspiration from mushrooms. The hairy, bulbous aerobes are called planulae, whilst the ones with tentacles are called xenojellies. “Combining forms of aquatic and terrestrial life, Yi’s aerobes signal new possibilities of hybrid machine species.”

Yi collaborates with a team of specialists using artificial intelligence to pilot these aerobes, and they all follow unique flight paths generated by ‘a vast range of options in the systems software’. The machines use electronic sensors placed in various locations around Turbine Hall as a stand-in for their senses and react to changes in their environment inducing visitors heat signatures. “This sensory information affects their individual and group movements, meaning they will behave differently each time you encounter them.”

Another thing you might notice upon entering the Turbine Hall is the smell. When I visited it smelled swampy, almost like a peat bog mixed with the smell of petrol and metal. This is intentional, another part of Yi’s instillation are smellscapes. Based on different times in history these smellscapes change from week to week. There are marine scents from the Precambrian period, coal and ozone from the Machine Age of the 20th century, vegetation from the Cretaceous period, or spices that were used during the Black Death plague of the 14th century. If I had to guess I would say I was smelling the Machine Age, but honestly it was hard to tell.

Overall the exhibition does feel a little sparse. The Turbine Hall is a huge space and it feels like the number of aerobes in comparison are rather small. One feels that in the world that Yi is visualising that these aerobes come in great swarms that fill the skies like flocks of sparrows. Reality is a little different, understandably but the concept remains and upon leaving the space you find yourself wondering what the world would be like if it was populated by herds of roaming robots or packs of floating synthetic aerobes.


Images · ANICKA YI
Info ·


  1. Anicka Yi, In Love With the World, Hyundai Commission, Tate Modern
  2. Anicka Yi, In Love With the World, Hyundai Commission, Tate Modern
  3. Anicka Yi, In Love With the World, Hyundai Commission, Tate Modern
  4. Anicka Yi, In Love With the World, Hyundai Commission, Tate Modern

Joselito Verschaeve

“sometimes you do not have the vocabulary to pinpoint your feelings towards a project, a place, an object, or a person”

The ambition to photograph the purity of isolation in nature infiltrates the images of Joselito Verschaeve. In his works, the fog clothes the rock formations, a hand soaks in the color of the coals, the sea laps over the grainy shore, the crescent-shaped sun ray filters through the cracks, and Joselito grips the camera in his hands. In every image, the unspoken longing to form a bond with nature, or perhaps become Mother Nature herself, tugs a wandering soul to embark on a pilgrimage with the Belgian photographer.

As one skims through the works Joselito has captured so far, they may deduce them as a meditative perception of the environment, a narrative-infested series that touches on a myriad of undefined themes with nature at the heart of his philosophy. Joselito may have just commenced his journey, but he has already left an imprint in those who gaze at his images, and now, in NR Magazine.

I would love to learn your background in photography. How did you end up taking photographs? Has this always been your first choice of medium, and why? Did you try other artistic mediums before this?

Before studying photography, I had studied 3D animation where we had to create a series of environments that were often dystopian-themed. We had to go out and create images out of worn-out objects to source our aimed textures. After a while, I realized I enjoyed image-making more and the world-building you could imply with sequencing.

Let us get into your philosophy in photography. Your work leans on day-to-day encounters. Why do you draw your photographic influences from this well? What encounters do you remark as the most significant to you, and why?

It leans on day-to-day encounters because it is the most honest way through which I can show my work. These are the moments that tend to take place in my life, but I happen to have my camera with me during these times. After these moments, the ball keeps rolling, and I can reminisce the places that I have discovered through these events, or be happy with what I got from that day. The most significant encounters I recall are the images that I captured.

You also turn to narratively driven images. Could you elaborate more on this? What kind of stories do you want to narrate through your images?

Part of my practice is the day-to-day encounters; another part is just my general fascination for dystopia, nature, history, and future events. The influences of the photographs I capture from this mindset: How can I make this newfound scene fit in these themes? I think this also forms part of my practice, just seeing if I can transform these set scenes into different ones. That is where the narration and sequencing of images come into place to tie the story together.

You have shared that you are building an archive that can fit different themes. Other than the ones already mentioned above, what other themes are you exploring? Do you have certain topics that you want to dive into soon? Why?

I would like to stay dedicated to these themes. What I do want is to narrow it down to certain topics. Now, I’m leaning towards places that see repetitions in natural events, or man-made places that withstand the test of time and nature. For me, these places come closest to my idea of dystopia where nature has the upper hand.

I want us to talk about If I Call Stones Blue, It Is Because Blue Is The Precise Word (2020 – 2021). First, how did you come up with the title? What is your relationship with it? Did you plan it, or did it pop up after the series finished?

It is from a Raymond Carver book, which echoes ‘day-to-day encounters’ in the best way. I think it categorizes under ‘honest fiction’ which sounds amazing on its own. Anyway, he uses it to write a poem, but the line is originally from Flaubert. My relationship with it is that sometimes you do not have the vocabulary to pinpoint your feelings towards a project, a place, an object, or a person. However, this does not stop you from understanding the significance of your emotions, so you compare them to the closest feeling that you do know. This is what I feel and do.

All images are black and white. Do you feel a deeper connection with this style rather than the colored ones? Is it more of a personal choice or a conscious one to tap into your audience’s emotions? 

There are a few reasons for this. Of course, the images I make share common thoughts, but the black and white style helps my images grow on each other. They may be at completely different times and places, but this variety causes interesting dialogues. To simply put it: the monochromatic style causes timelessness.

I see a lot of images deriving from nature: the uneven formations of rock, the silhouettes of forest trees, the gentle laps of the sea’s waves, and a bird trapped between the branches of trees. Does nature have a healing effect on you? Do you find it meditative? What do you think and feel whenever you place yourself in nature?

I think it is more on the idea of nature that piques my interest. It is in itself timeless and independent, which is how I would like my images to appear and be like. The balance between being comforting and intimidating is something that I admire. It is why I am so fascinated by the dynamic between nature and man-made: having the power to tear down sound and established structures versus life designs that have adapted foundations to withstand this former’s power.

What is next for Joselito?

I have an upcoming book with VOID, a publisher based in Athens. I am looking forward to this. Other than that, I will keep doing what I do and work on other projects. I have always worked on the “we will see what happens next” philosophy, so let us see what will happen next.

Tina Modotti

Women, Mexico and Freedom

Held at Museo delle Culture in Milan, Tina Modotti: Women, Mexico, and Freedom showcased the photographs of the Italian photographer, activist, and actress, the testament to the indelible mark she left on the history of contemporary photography. Biba Giacchetti, the exhibition’s curator, remembered Tina as an icon of photography and civil commitment. “During her short lifetime, Tina Modotti fought on the front line for freer and fairer humanity, and to bring aid to the civilian victims of conflicts like the Spanish Civil War. This exhibition illustrates the artistic phase of Tina Modotti’s life, a period that lasted barely a decade, and coincided with a historical era of extraordinary cultural, political, and social ferment. Tina succeeded in measuring up to the greatest artists of her day, and the technical and experimental research she undertook is of great interest. Tina’s activity was closely linked to the currents of Surrealism, whose boundaries it transcended, however, allowing her to steer her art towards new forms of communication. The originality in the way Tina executed her work will forever remain unsurpassed.”

Born in Udine on 16 August 1896, Tina attended the early years of elementary school but dropped out at the age of twelve to work in a spinning mill and help support her family. When her father emigrated to the United States, she joined him in 1913. She sojourned between San Francisco and Los Angeles, came into contact with the vibrant cultures of the cities, and experienced a key moment in her education: she acted in theater and cinema, modeled, painted fabric, became involved with the poet and painter Robo Richey, and met the photographer Edward Weston.

One photograph displayed a scene from a film where Tina’s acted. She was sitting on a low stool perched on hay- and dirt-covered floor and rested her chin over her right fist as she gazed far from the camera’s lens. Her sorrowful eyes and frazzled hair, which only added to her beauty, reflected the distress she felt for the character she was in. Titled The Tiger’s Coat (1920), the scene preluded the dissatisfaction Tina felt in playing roles that were solely based on her Mediterranean beauty, a reason she abandoned her acting career. “We had a good laugh over the villainous character she portrayed. The brains and imaginations of our movie directors cannot picture an Italian girl except with a knife in her teeth and blood in her eye,” from Edward Weston’s Daybooks on March 12, 1924.

Walking through the exhibit, I found a photograph of Tina and Robo de l’Abrie Richey, her then-partner, during their stay in Los Angeles. The years Tina spent with Robo gravitated her towards a group of bohemian intellectuals who discussed philosophy, psychoanalysis, art, and photography – signals of Robo’s influences over her. Tina would stay in touch with “Vocio,” Robo’s mother, even after her partner’s untimely death. When Walter Frederick Seely captured the couple in 1921, the sense and essence of home permeated the frame: Tina kneeled on a cushioned stool as she attended to a garment while Robo fixated his gaze on his painting, his paintbrush deepening its puncture over the canvas. When Robo passed away, Tina sat by the window of her home in Tacubaya. She leaned an arm on the railing, angled her face sideway, and let the sun caress her skin. Her somber look may not have only been due to grief, but also nostalgia as one may feel from her letter to Edward Weston, the person who took the photograph, in 1922: “Oh! The beauty of it all! Wine – books – pictures – music – candlelight – eyes to look into – and then darkness, kisses.”

Tina and Edward’s relationship deepened. Tina on the Azotea, a series of nude pictures taken by Edward, explored the commonalities they shared. He photographed Tina sunbathing on the floor while her eyes closed, her serene expression oblivious to Edward’s lingering gaze. In his description of Tina during the shoot: “My eyes and thoughts were heavenward indeed — until, glancing down, I saw Tina lying naked on the Azotea taking a sun-bath. My cloud ‘sitting’ was ended, my camera turned toward a more earthly theme, and a series of interesting negatives were obtained. Having just examined them again I am enthusiastic and feel that this is the best series of nudes I have done of Tina,” from Edward Weston’s Daybooks on July 9, 1924.

In 1923, Tina moved to Mexico with Edward and was acquainted with the artists of the Mexican Renaissance including Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera. For seven years she devoted herself to photography, developing her own personal process, and becoming one of the avant-garde exponents of “social photography”. Tina’s political engagement focused on supporting the freedom of the oppressed against oligarchies and the opposition to the United States’ major influence in Central America. On another front, she worked to oppose international fascism. In 1927, she joined the Mexican Communist Party, where she came into contact and became involved with Xavier Guerrero. During her time in Mexico, Tina collaborated with the magazine El Machete, which brought together artists who shared the same views and ushered Tina to introduce Frida Kahlo to Diego. In a photograph taken in 1929, Tina, Diego, and Frida were seen participating in the 1929 May Day Parade, the revolutionary spirit of Tina blossoming.

From 1926 onwards, Tina stayed in Mexico, earning her living from photography and becoming more entangled in politics. While her photography took a propagandistic turn, Tina’s lens never wavered in highlighting people, disseminating emotions, philosophies, and messages to her viewers regardless of their social class. In two photographs, In the Streets of Mexico City (1929) and Elegance and Poverty (1928), Tina’s empathetic gaze towards mankind unraveled. She found an elderly man on the street in freezing weather and spent the night trying to find a place for him to stay, leaving his side only when someone offered a home for him to stay and sleep in. Her experience fueled her political voice to take a stance for the weak through photography and social engagement.

All her life, Tina missed her family, whom she often could not visit because of the political persecution she suffered. In 1936, Tina learned that her mother, Assunta Mondini Modotti, had died after returning to Italy with one of her sisters. In a letter she wrote to her sister Mercedes, she expressed: “Having you close by would have made my immense sorrow more bearable, it would have filled the great and horrible void that our blessed mother has left behind…”

She turned her attention to photography with her still life images and portraits helming her modernist aesthetics and her political creed. In Hands of a Washerwoman (1928), the way she spotlighted the frailty of the hands insinuated the dignity of the work, a contrast to Hands of a Puppeteer (1929) where it personified power. She also captured sombrero, hammer, sickle, corn cob, guitar, and cartridge belt, symbols of life she lived while in Mexico. She exhibited them with pride and determination in her last show in Mexico City, before being forced to leave the country.

In the show’s narration: “In 1930, accused of an unsubstantiated ‘plot’, Tina was expelled from the country, and after a short period of time spent in Berlin, she joined Vittorio Vidali in Moscow, where she worked for international Red Aid. She then moved to Paris, and in 1934 and 1935, she conducted clandestine missions to Austria and Spain. During the Spanish Civil War, Tina was involved in the organization of military health, assistance for orphaned children, and bringing aid to the civilian population. She met artists, writers, and poets like Pablo Neruda and Antonio Machado, intellectuals and photographers who had gone to Spain to offer their support to the Republic, including Robert Cape and Gerda Taro. Severely affected by the defeat of the Republic, Tina Modotti returned to Mexico in 1939, where she died of a heart attack on 6 January 194Z after having dinner at the home of the former director of the Bauhaus, Hennes Meyer. Straight after her death, the violent attacks of the right-wing Mexican press ceased only following the publication of Pablo Neruda’s poem Tina Modotti ha muerto.

As I walked towards the exit, I looked to my left and found a red wall with the poem Pablo Neruda dedicated to Tina Modotti. Reading it under the glare of the spotlight, the stanzas reminisce the Tina visitors would never meet in this lifetime:

Tina Modotti, o sister of mine, you do not sleep, no, you do not sleep,
perhaps your heart can hear yesterday’s rose grow, 
yesterday’s last rose, the new rose.
Rest gently. o sister of mine.
Yours is the new rose, yours is the new land:
you wear a new dress made of deeply sown seeds
and your gracious silence is covered in roots.
You will never sleep in vain, o sister of mine. 
Pure is your name, pure is your fragile life
bee, shadow, fire, snow, silence, foam;
steel, line, pollen make up your
slender, iron frame.

One day they will come by your small tomb,
before yesterday’s roses wilt,
those from the past will come to see, tomorrow, 
where your silence burms.

They are yours, o sister of mine: those who today speak your name:
we who from every place, from the waters end from the land,
stay in silence and say other names with your name.
For the fire dies not.

Yoko Ono

Mend Piece for London at The Whitechapel Gallery

It’s that time of year when, regardless of what you are wearing, you will always end up a little bit sweaty with cold fingers. Arriving thus at the Whitechapel Gallery, I made my way upstairs to Yoko Ono’s MEND PIECE, shedding hand sanitiser and various masks stuffed into pockets that have yet to be transferred to the laundry basket.

Upon entering the gallery in which this particular exhibition is held I find myself instantly transported back to childhood visits to the only museum and gallery in my hometown. Back then one would often be plonked down at tables handed a pair of scissors and told to ‘get making.’ Back in the present, I can see piles of white pottery littering to two waist-high tables (also white) and scattered alongside them are scissors, string and sellotape.

I know an arts and crafts situation when I see one! Although here the emphasis is on art, more specifically fine art. Yoko Ono first created this piece in the sixties and it has been shown around the world many times since. Mending Piece 1, from which this current work originates, first appeared in 1966 at the artists first solo show at Indica Gallery in St James’s. Legend has it this was where she first met her husband, John Lennon.

On the wall is the simple instruction, “Mend carefully. / Think of mending the world at the same time.” Well, perhaps simple is the wrong word here, the last line certainly requires some deep thought. Evidence of other visitors ‘ careful mending’ is already crammed onto the white shelves which line the white walls.

In the sixties, Ono’s aim was to create art that wasn’t designed to be bought and sold but instead to create works that required “concepts, ideas and instructions.” Kintsugi, the Japanese technique of mending broken pottery with gold lacquer, also played a major role in a large number of her works. The process was designed to highlight the broken parts, thus celebrating its imperfections and has been in use for centuries.

Nothing so ornate or beautiful is going to be created today, certainly not by me that’s for sure. I reach for my tools, sellotape seems like a good option, and then I carefully select my bits of broken pottery. Fingers are still cold so there’s a lot of fumbling. Did I mend it carefully? Perhaps not by Ono’s standard, I’ve always had a habit of going a bit wild when sellotape is involved (no one can ever get into presents if I’m wrapping them), however when I’m done I feel rather proud of my humble creation. I pop it on the top shelf where there’s still some space left. Has the world been mended? Well, that remains to be seen.


Yoko Ono: MEND PIECE for London at the Whitechapel Gallery is open from the 25th of August 2021 to the 2nd of January 2022. For more information visit


  1. Yoko Ono Mend Piece 1966/2018 You and I, A4 Arts Foundation, Cape Town, South Africa Photo by: Kyle Morland
  2. Indica Gallery, 6 Mason’s Yard (off Duke Street), St James’s, London, England – Yoko Ono setting up for her first European show. November 1966 Graham Keen / TopFoto
  3. Indica Gallery, 6 Mason’s Yard (off Duke Street), St James’s, London, England – Yoko Ono setting up for her first European show. November 1966 Graham Keen / TopFoto


“We human beings have emotions and we also have something we can’t explain with words – it’s cool, it’s beautiful and it’s fun”

Brightly coloured flora paints itself across the heads of gallery visitors while children, and sometimes adults, chase otherworldly fauna as they dance across the walls of the space. You might walk into one room and find yourself knee-deep in water, projections of vibrant carp swimming around your legs. Walk into another and you are surrounded by green lily pads, some as tall as your head. One thing for sure is nothing is ever the same, and you never quite know what you can expect to find in each room, in each exhibition.

Make no mistake, while teamLab was first formed in Japan in 2001 by Toshiyuki Inoko and a group of his friends, it is now an international art collective made up of “an interdisciplinary group of various specialists such as artists, programmers, engineers, CG animators, mathematicians and architects whose collaborative practice seeks to navigate the confluence of art, science, technology, and the natural world.”

Transcending boundaries is a key concept for teamLab as it states that “in order to understand the world around them, people separate it into independent entities with perceived boundaries between them.” Digital technology allows people to express themselves creatively in a way that is free from physical constraint and the boundary between the viewer and artwork can become blurred. NR Magazine joined teamLab in conversation.

Do you consider teamLab’s work as a form of therapy and a way for visitors to navigate the collective trauma of living in a post-capitalist society that imposes a number of boundaries on us?

A: We are not sure what our output is classified as – we only seek to create what we believe in, regardless of the genre it turns out to be.

Art is something we can’t explain with words and history will decide whether our output qualifies as art. If we can change people’s minds, then it’s art. Art raises questions and design provides answers. We human beings have emotions and we also have something we can’t explain with words – it’s cool, it’s beautiful and it’s fun. What our exhibitions do is underpin the impossibility to “have.” None of our visitors can own the artworks: they can’t “have” but they can “be” (following Shakespeare’s immortal quote, “To be or not to be”). Today’s society drives us to “have” which imposes limits and division. This simple structure of capitalism binds us, but the internet and the digital world beyond have no limitations. At the same time, you don’t technically own anything on Google or Facebook, but you are part of the community. Therefore, you can’t “have” but you can “be.” Our artwork is shared the same way. We wanted to make something that will reach people’s hearts.

teamLab encourages visitors to interact with the artworks and capture their experiences for social media. However, do you think there is a danger of people focusing too much on getting the ‘perfect shot’ and not truly experiencing the work?

A: We don’t “encourage” people to use social media.

But at the same time, we think that the act of expressing oneself is not a bad thing.

Shooting photos or videos and even sharing those with people all over the world is also one mode of self expression, right?

It is a natural human desire to share emotions or something that is moving and inspiring. However, the “experience” cannot be cut out.

Through smartphones or TVs, people can understand only with their heads. Knowledge may be gained, but the sense of values and perceptions cannot be changed or broadened. Only through the actual, physical experience of the world or artworks, people can start to recognise things differently. Even if people look at teamLab’s works on Instagram, their values will not be broadened.

teamLab wants to continue creating experiences that cannot be shared with just photos or videos.

Our interest is not the technology itself, but instead, we’re trying to explore the concept of “digital” and how it can enhance art.

Most of the Silicon Valley-originated technology is an extension of someone’s mind. Facebook, Twitter, these digital domains see the “self” as the principle. These are meant to be used personally.

What teamLab wants to do is to enhance the physical space itself using art. It doesn’t necessarily have to be yourself that intervenes with it. It can be other people or a group of people that vaguely includes you. And instead of a personal use, we want to make it usable by multiple people.

By digitising the space, we can indirectly change the relationships between people inside. If the presence of others can trigger the space to change, they’d become a part of the artwork. And if that change is beautiful, the presence of others can be something beautiful as well. By connecting digital technology and art, we think the presence of others can be made more positive.

How has the pandemic affected the collective and has it changed how teamLab approaches exhibiting art?

A: Right now, we are isolated due to our fear of the virus. But in order to overcome that, whether you are in lockdown or not, we hope to encourage you to realise that there never are and never were boundaries, that we are connected to the world just by existing in it, and that we don’t have to try to connect with others by rejecting them.

The fact that we can connect with each other, regardless of where we live or anything else, is a message that affirms human existence from the ground up. We would be happy if humans could accidentally connect with others and derive positive value from that.

Humanity has faced many problems over its history, but we do not believe that these problems have ever been solved by division.

The birth of civilised nations and the spread of infectious diseases were both the result of globalisation and the loss of world boundaries, but humanity has solved this problem not by dividing people, but by working together to develop drugs and vaccines, advance medical technology, and improve sanitation.

We believe that people need to remember the benefits of history and science because if we only look superficially at the immediate events of the current coronavirus pandemic, we promote emotional division.

Art and culture have expanded humanity’s “standards of beauty.” Art presents a new standard of beauty that has changed the way people see the world and, to put it plainly, has allowed them to see flowers as beautiful. teamLab’s artworks are also designed to help people experience the beauty of a world without boundaries and the beauty of anti-division.

Humans are driven by beauty. Corporate organisations seem to be driven by logic and language, but when we look at individuals, they often determine their actions based on their sense of beauty. For example, a person’s choice of a profession is heavily influenced by aesthetics, not rationality. The way in which “standards of beauty” are applied changes a person.

Everything in the world is built on a borderless, interconnected continuity. We believe that human beings should be celebrated for being connected to others and to the world and that experiencing a “world without boundaries” can change our values and behaviours and help us to move humanity in a positive direction.

This is a fundamental affirmation of human life.

We have created an artwork that allows people to experience being connected to others and the world, even in the comfort of their homes. Flowers Bombing Home is an artwork that transforms the television in your home into an artwork. The novel coronavirus has forced the world to become more isolated, causing people to become confined to their homes. This project was created to help us realise that our existence is connected to the world and to celebrate the fact that the world is connected.

However, as we mentioned, we believe that our art is meant to be experienced in person in a shared, physical space. So as the world opens up again, we are excited to welcome visitors back into our exhibitions, where they can explore the continuity of life and time.

Are there any new technologies that teamLab is particularly excited about and is planning on incorporating into the artwork?

A: Technology is just a tool, like paint.

Although it’s a tool, it does greatly affect the creation, just like how the Western landscape painting developed because it became possible to bring paints outdoors.

What really makes teamLab unique is not the technological advancement, but rather the fact that teamLab has become able to do truly massive art projects simultaneously worldwide in-house at a high speed – to the extent that no one has been able to do before.

We could say that technology is the core of our work, but it is not the most important part. It is still just a material or a tool for creating art.

We have been creating art using digital technology since the year 2001 with the aim of changing people’s values and contributing to societal progress. Although we initially had no idea where we could exhibit our art or how we could support the team financially, we also strongly believed in and were genuinely interested in the power of digital technology and creativity. We wanted to keep creating new things regardless of genre limitations, and we did.

Digital technology allows artistic expression to be released from the material world, gaining the ability to change form freely. The environments where viewers and artworks are placed together allow us to decide how to express those changes.

In art installations with the viewers on one side and interactive artworks on the other, the artworks themselves undergo changes caused by the presence and behaviour of the viewers. This has the effect of blurring the boundary lines between the two sides. The viewers actually become part of the artworks themselves. The relationship between the artwork and the individual then becomes a relationship between the artwork and the group. Whether or not another viewer was present within that space five minutes before, or the particular behaviour exhibited by the person next to you, suddenly becomes an element of great importance. At the very least, compared to traditional art viewing, people will become more aware of those around them. Art now has the ability to influence the relationship between the people standing in front of the artworks.

You have created an interactive at-home art installation, that people can access around the world, can you tell us more about that work?

A: The novel coronavirus has forced the world to become more isolated, causing people to become confined to their homes. This project was created to help us realise that our existence is connected to the world and to celebrate the fact that the world is connected.

The television in your home becomes art. Watch at home, participate at home, and connect with the world. People from around the world draw flowers, creating a single artwork that blooms in homes around the world.

Draw a flower on a piece of paper, your smartphone, or computer, and upload it. The flowers you draw and the flowers drawn by others bloom and scatter in real time on the YouTube Live Stream. If you connect your home television to YouTube, your television turns into art. As the petals scatter, the various flowers form a single new artwork together.

When a new flower is born, the name of the town where the flower was drawn is shown.

You can also download Your Flower Art, which combines the flowers you draw with those drawn by people around the world.

The flowers that people draw around the world will bloom until the end of the coronavirus. When the coronavirus ends, they will bloom and scatter all at once in various places all over the world. And, in the future, perhaps the flowers will continue to bloom forever as an artwork for people to remember this era.

It is stated that teamLabs work fuses together art and science but can you ever really have one without the other?

A: We have always liked science and art. We want to know the world, want to know humans, and want to know what the world is for humans.

Science raises the resolution of the world. When humans want to know the world, they recognise it by separating things. In order to understand the phenomena of this world, people separate things one after another.

For example, the universe and the earth are continuous, however, humans recognise the earth by separating it from the universe. To understand the forest, humans break it down into trees, separating the tree from the whole. Humans then cut the tree into cells to recognise the tree, cut the cells into molecules to recognise the cells, and cut the molecules into atoms to understand the molecules, and so on. That is science, and that is how science increases the resolution of the world.

But in the end, no matter how much humans divide things into pieces, they cannot understand the entirety. Even though what people really want to know is the world, the more they separate, the farther they become from the overall perception.

Humans, if left alone, recognise what is essentially continuous as separate and independent. Everything exists in a long, fragile yet miraculous continuity over an extremely long period of time, but human beings cannot recognise it without separating it into parts. People try to grasp the entirety by making each thing separate and independent.

Even though we are nothing but part of the world, we feel as if there is a boundary between the world and ourselves, as if we are living independently. We have always been interested in finding out why humans feel this way.

The continuity of life and death has been repeated for more than 4 billion years. However, for humans, even 100 years ago is a fictional world. I was interested in why humans have this perception.

How can we go beyond the boundaries of recognition? Through art, we wanted to transcend the boundaries of our own recognition. We wanted to transcend human characteristics or tendencies in order to recognise the continuity.

Art is a search for what the world is for humans. Art expands and enhances “beauty.” Art has changed the way people perceive the world.

Groups move by logic, but individuals decide their actions by beauty. Individuals’ behaviours are determined not by rationality but by aesthetics. In other words, “beauty” is the fundamental root of human behaviour. Art expands the notion of “beauty”. Art is what expands people’s aesthetics, that is, changes people’s behaviour.

It may be the whole world or only a part of the entirety, but it is art that captures and expresses it without dividing it. Art is a process to approach the whole. And by sharing it with others, the way people perceive the world changes. Through the enjoyment of art, the notion of “beautiful” expands and spreads, which in turn changes people’s perceptions of the world.

Everything exists in a long, fragile yet miraculous continuity over an extremely long period of time. teamLab’s exhibitions aim to create an experience through which visitors recognise this continuity itself as beautiful, hence changing or increasing the way humans perceive the world.

So we can say that there is no boundary between science and art in our activity. Both of them are ways in which to recognise the world, and both are important to our aim.

Is there a specific teamLab work that stands out from the rest and if so why?

A: Our most recent works often stand out because our output is a result of accumulated knowledge and experiences.

But of our many exhibitions worldwide, one that holds a special place in our hearts is the annual outdoor exhibition teamLab: A Forest Where Gods Live in Mifuneyama Rakuen in Kyushu.

The 500,000 square meter Mifuneyama Rakuen Park was created in 1845, during the end of the Edo period. Sitting on the borderline of the park is the famous 3,000-year-old sacred Okusu tree of Takeo Shrine. Also in the heart of the garden is another 300-year-old sacred tree. Knowing the significance of this, our forebears turned a portion of this forest into a garden, utilising the trees of the natural forest. The border between the garden and the wild forest is ambiguous, and when wandering through the garden, before they know it, people will find themselves entering the woods and animal trails. Enshrined in the forest is the Inari Daimyojin deity surrounded by a collection of boulders almost supernatural in their formation. 1,300 years ago, the famous priest Gyoki came to Mifuneyama and carved 500 Arhats. Within the forest caves, there are Buddha Figures that Gyoki directly carved into the rock face that still remain today.

The forest, rocks, and caves of Mifuneyama Rakuen have formed over a long time, and people in every age have sought meaning in them over the millennia. The park that we know today sits on top of this history. It is the ongoing relationship between nature and humans that has made the border between the forest and garden ambiguous, keeping this cultural heritage beautiful and pleasing.

Lost in nature, where the boundaries between man-made gardens and forests are unclear, we are able to feel like we exist in a continuous, borderless relationship between nature and humans. It is for this reason that teamLab decided to create an exhibition in this vast, labyrinthine space so that people will become lost and immersed in the exhibition and in nature.

We exist as a part of an eternal continuity of life and death, a process that has been continuing for an overwhelmingly long time. It is hard for us, however, to sense this in our everyday lives, perhaps because humans cannot easily conceptualise time for periods longer than their own lives. There is a boundary in our understanding of the continuity of time.

When exploring the forest, the shapes of the giant rocks, caves, and the forest allow us to better perceive and understand that overwhelmingly long time over which it all was formed. These forms can transcend the boundaries of our understanding of the continuity of time.

teamLab’s project, Digitized Nature, explores how nature can become art. The concept of the project is that non-material digital technology can turn nature into art without harming it.

These artworks explore how the forms of the forest and garden can be used as they are to create artworks that make it possible to create a place where we can transcend the boundary in our understanding of the continuity of time and feel the long, long continuity of life. Even in the present day, we can experiment with expressing this “Continuous Life” and continue to accumulate meaning in Mifuneyama Rakuen.

Have you found that digital interactive work has become more popular in recent years and if so why do you think that is the case?

A: To be honest, we do not know.

All we can say is that teamLab believes digital technology can expand art and that art made in this way can create new relationships between people.

Digital technology enables complex detail and freedom for change. Before people started accepting digital technology, information and artistic expression had to be presented in some physical form. Creative expression has existed through static media for most of human history, often using physical objects such as canvas and paint. The advent of digital technology allows human expression to become free from these physical constraints, enabling it to exist independently and evolve freely.

No longer limited to physical media, digital technology has made it possible for artworks to expand physically. Since art created using digital technology can easily expand, it provides us with a greater degree of autonomy within the space. We are now able to manipulate and use much larger spaces, and viewers are able to experience the artwork more directly.

The characteristics of digital technology allow artworks to express the capacity for change much more freely. Viewers, in interaction with their environment, can instigate perpetual change in an artwork. Through an interactive relationship between the viewers and the artwork, viewers become an intrinsic part of that artwork.

In interactive artworks that teamLab creates, because viewers’ movement or even their presence transforms the artwork, the boundaries between the work and viewers become ambiguous. Viewers become a part of the work. This changes the relationship between an artwork and an individual into a relationship between an artwork and a group of individuals. A viewer who was present 5 minutes ago, or how the person next to you is behaving now, suddenly becomes important. Unlike a viewer who stands in front of a conventional painting, a viewer immersed in an interactive artwork becomes more aware of other people’s presence.

Unlike a physical painting on a canvas, the non-material digital technology can liberate art from the physical. Furthermore, because of its ability to transform itself freely, it can transcend boundaries. By using such digital technology, we believe art can expand the beautiful. And by making interactive art, you and others’ presence becomes an element to transform an artwork, hence creating a new relationship between people within the same space. By applying such art to the unique environment, we wanted to create a space where you can feel that you are connected with other people in the world.

All we do is create what we believe in – our hope is that our output reaches people’s hearts and changes their ways of thinking or behaviour. Popularity is just a byproduct of that. We never consider popularity when working, all we focus on is creating something we believe in.

What advice do you have for young creatives who are interested in working with digital and interactive works?

A: teamLab was started by a group of friends who simply enjoyed spending time together, and it has continued to grow and change. If you only think in practical terms, logically, you will fail. It is good to start with the things you enjoy in life.

We aim to create artworks and experiences that allow people to experience the beauty of the world with their hearts and their bodies. In the 20th century, we were taught to only understand the world through our “heads,” but it is important to experience things with our hearts and our bodies. Do not think you can understand the world just through the internet.

Is teamLab working on anything at the moment and what plans does the collective have for the future?

A: You can find the information about upcoming exhibitions worldwide on our website – please check there for the latest updates!


Images · teamLAB

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

Kensuke Koike

“Single Image Processing”

Born in Japan and now based in Venice, Kensuke Koike works with a surrealist playfulness to challenge the possibility of creating images. In deconstructing and re-forming vintage and archival photographs into carefully distorted pieces, Koike breathes a new life into found photography. There is a sculptural quality to Koike’s work, and his reconfigured photographs and postcards have a humorous, yet perplexing energy instilled in them. 

Koike’s practice focusses on the possibility of reinvention within an image and involves using analogue collage techniques and working solely with the existing elements of an image. The result is an impressive body of work with unique and contemporary visual narratives that the artist has defined as ‘single image processing’. In using found objects and reviving vintage photographs in this way, Koike creates a dynamic way of working, with each piece exposing different facets of the culture and truth of image making.

Koike seeks to create meaning from an existing object, and his use of found images in combination with the handmade formation of each piece feels incredibly nostalgic and gives a surrealist twist to a vintage era. Koike is more than a just a collage artist – he is as much a videographer, a sculptor, and a puzzle maker – and the videos he makes and shares digitally show his interest in contemporary creative methods. Koike also includes performative elements in his work. It is in this variation of his practice that and understanding of both the humour and reverence with which Koike creates his vision can be found.



Discover more here
Kensuke Koike’s work can be found here

The Photographers’ Gallery in London presents ‘Re-composed’ until 27th June, where a unique selection of Koike’s work is available to purchase.

Alec Soth

“Alec Soth does wander but he does it in a territory that he knows best”

When you think of an exhibition from a world-famous photographer, it would not be unusual to assume it would be located in a big city known for its rich cultural heritage such as London, Tokyo or New York. Certainly, your mind would not immediately go to a tiny green island between England and France. But Guernsey, which is part of the Channel Islands, is where you can find photographer Alec Soth’s exhibition Looking For Love.

Of course, this is not the first time a big name has been associated with the island, it was the home of exiled Victor Hugo and inspiration for his book The Toilers of the Sea. There are several paintings by Renoir of the rocky coves and caves of the southern cliffs. In addition to this, the Channel Islands were the only part of Great Britain that was occupied by German forces during World War II and this history inspired the best selling novel and subsequent film adaptation The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society. 

In recent years the island has also become known for its photography festival involving well-known photographers such as Martin Parr CBE and Mark Power. Now the Guernsey Photography Festival welcomes Alec Soth to that list for its ten year (plus one due to delays caused by the pandemic) anniversary.

Alec Soth is an American photographer who was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota. He gained fame for his colour photographs which he takes on a large-format camera. His work has been described as being based in the ‘documentary style’ and much of it consists of the people and landscapes in the rural and suburban American Midwest and South.

This particular exhibition of Soth’s work ‘Looking for Love’ consists of earlier works of his, taken before the projects which propelled him into the spotlight of the art world. NR Magazine was joined by Jean-Christophe Godet who is the Artistic Director of the Guernsey Photography Festival and the curator of ‘Looking for Love’ at Guernsey Museum at Candie.

Upon entering the gallery one is greeted by a sea of black and white photographs of people with a few landscapes dotted in here and there. The introduction on the wall tells us, in Soth’s own words, about the time in his life that the pictures were taken. Jean-Christophe Godet expands on that text. “People think this exhibition is one project but it isn’t, it’s a collection of projects. This was a time when he was quite young and feeling miserable, as we all do when we are young. He didn’t know what he wanted to do with his future but was still interested in photography. His job at that time was to work in a photo lab where he processed all the films. In the evening he would go to bars, and meet people and take their photographs. At this stage, he was in a learning process. That’s why we were interested in this exhibition because we wanted people to know where Alec Soth came from.”

The photographs in this exhibition were not taken on a large-format camera like much of Soth’s work, Godet explains, but on medium-format. “The next projects he did, which is what he became famous for, that’s when he started shooting on large-format with the big camera. He likes taking his time when he shoots people, so setting up the camera gives him a chance to meet and talk with the people. It helps him relax as well because he’s an introverted person. He’s the type of guy, if you sit next to him on a plane, he won’t talk to you. He learned how to be more social from doing this exhibition.”

Godet walks over to a pair of photographs, “There’s no story in this exhibition. Soth liked that, it’s up to you to decide the story of the characters you are going to meet. From a curatorial aspect, I wanted people to be able to infer their own meaning onto each picture, but also at the same time some pictures work together to tell a story.”

He points at the duologly, “For example, I decided as a curator to put these two pictures together. The two middle-aged men in one picture appear to be looking at the young girl in the other, who seems to be flirting with a boy. You question who the girl is and if that’s her boyfriend? Then when you put the two pictures together you question if the two old guys are at the same party? Are they perverts or are they nostalgic about the time when they are younger?”

Godet gestures to the rest of the exhibition enthusiastically “There’s no information about these images because Soth is more interested in human nature. He’s not a documentary photographer, he’s not telling the story of the people in a town in Midwest America, it’s more about understanding feelings and emotions. He wants you to decide the story behind them. He wants you to imply your own experiences onto them.”

He leads me to another image, this one of a young man in a suit, easily missed in the sea of photographs. “This is Alex Soth’s self-portrait. He took it the night before he was getting married. He looks quite relaxed, maybe half drunk and he looks like he is feeling quite satisfied with himself. There is something there that he is trying to tell us because his work is always about him as well, it’s about the way he feels and relates to the world. At the beginning of the exhibition, we are told that he is miserable and alone but now we discover that at some point during this project, looking at people looking for love, he found his love, in some way, by getting married. But it’s up to us to decide how we think he is feeling about this.”

Godet beckons me to the centre of the room. “In this central part of the exhibition, we changed the tone so it looks like it could be the inside of a bar or a club. In this section I was able to put three generations of three different women telling their own story. The young teenager clinging to her lover, the middle-aged women on her own in a bar looking strong but also a bit lonely, and finally the glamorous old lady with her cocktail. I love how, with Alec Soth, you can connect these together. This exhibition is about loneliness and searching, about feeling disappointed and neglected but also hope. Overall it’s kind of dark and lonely because that’s how he felt at the time, but there are plenty of layers. For me, I think that’s how he became famous because he reaches us with his human emotions which is universal.”

He continues walking around the exhibition. “He’s not trying to impose anything on us, by saying ‘oh look how beautiful that is’ or ‘I’m going to show you what love is’, it’s up to us to integrate the raw human emotions he has. You need to take your time to absorb the photos, it’s not like the Wildlife Photography of the Year exhibition. It’s not like ‘oh that shot is spectacular’, and then you forget it when you move onto the next one. With Soth’s work, it’s like you suddenly slow down and you really appreciate how much is in each photo. The images are so strong they stay in your mind for a very long time.”

Back near the start of the entrance, he points at one image which has been blown up to cover an entire section of the wall. Against a snowy backdrop is a billboard upon which is a personal ad titled ‘Looking for Love’. It’s one of the few texts to be found in the exhibition, a deliberate choice Godet explains. “Soth is a massive reader of poetry, but he doesn’t like associating the two because he says poetry and photography tend to reject each other and I understand why he says that, because there’s already so much poetry in his photo he doesn’t need more.”

“But what is the difference between Soth’s work and the images of everyday life you can find on social media?” I ponder.

Godet tells me that, “I would say Fine Art photography makes you think. That’s why the Guernsey Photography Festival focuses on contemporary photography and fine art photography because you reach a different level. Everybody says it’s quite easy to take a photo and that’s true. We have the technology to take a good photo readily at hand, but for example, if you take a photo of the sunset on one of Guernsey’s popular beaches like Cobo.” He gestures dismissively, “‘Wow great photo’. The problem is those photos will be distributed on the net and there will be a million photos of Cobo and the sunset and they all look the same. They all look pretty in terms of colour and they have the wow factor but then you forget them. Because we have been oversaturated by them. It’s like reading a good book, when you read a good book it stays with you for a very long time and the reason it stays is because it triggers emotions within you and makes you think about life, your own and others, and that’s where the difference lies.”

Curious, I ask Godet how Soth came to be a part of the Guernsey Photography Festival. He is only happy to tell us the story and talk more about both Soth’s art practice and personality.

“I met him in Paris seven years ago when I introduced him to the idea of coming to Guernsey. At the time I remember he said, “What?” and I said, “Guernsey…”,  “Where is that?” And I said “Oh it’s a small rock in the middle between France and England’ and he started laughing about it. I think he didn’t take me seriously because at the time we were just starting the Guernsey Photography Festival and we were not well established like we are now.

But then word started spreading internationally that there was something quite interesting developing in Guernsey for photography and also we had Martin Parkin and Mark Power come over. Mark Power is a good friend of Alec Soth and all those people were our best ambassadors and they were saying “Oh yeah I’ve been to Guernsey, I’ve met Chris and the team there and it’s been a fantastic experience, it’s a great festival” so slowly we gained a good reputation.

So I met him in Paris again for another big photography festival, and he recognised me and I told him that we were going to celebrate our ten year anniversary. And he said, “Oh yes I’ve heard about your festival now and I’ve been told good things.” He was supposed to come last year but unfortunately, because of the pandemic, he couldn’t make it.

In my opinion, he is one of the biggest names you can get in the world of contemporary fine art photography so the moral of the story is never give up. But he’s a really nice guy, intelligent and modest as well. There’s nothing pretentious about his work. Everything is coherent with Alec Soth. When he takes a landscape, every single detail in that photo has some kind of significance. And it’s all about what he know’s best, which is America. Soth has never been a travel photographer, there is this myth about being a photographer that you travel a lot that you travel the world, the lifestyle of freedom and wandering the world. Alec Soth does wander but he does it in a territory that he knows best. All his personal work has been related to the midwest of America. I love that about him because what’s the point of sending a photographer to say the Middle East when they don’t know anything about the culture. It’s much better to ask someone local to take the photos and give us the reality of things.”

Speaking of keeping things local, “Do you think Guernsey has the potential to become a big cultural hub of photography and Fine Art?” I ask him.

He laughs, “I’ve been working on that for the last ten years. I do believe there is potential there, but I think to reach that there is a necessity for a political drive for cultural development. I think unless we reach an agreement on a political level there will always be a bit of a struggle. Because if you want to be a cultural hub you need to invest in it. You can’t just rely on a small amount of public funding and donation and sponsorship. I’ve worked on lots of different major projects in major cities and you need funding for it. With the Guernsey Photography Festival, we have tried our best and we have proven it is possible, but I think a political position is necessary. I think there is a tendency in Guernsey to be satisfied with what we have, and while I don’t criticise that, there is so much more in the world to discover in terms of the profile you can create. It’s important to help and support local artists, but I think if we want to attract people to come to Guernsey as a hub local artist won’t be sufficient. You need to have big names like Alec Soth. Then people hear about it and think ‘oh wow this is pretty cool place to visit and live, not only can you enjoy the beaches and wildlife and historical culture but you have names like Alec Soth as well.’”

Before he leaves I ask a final question, “What are the plans for the future of the photography festival.”

“This is just the starting exhibition for this years festival,” Godet tells me, “because on the 23rd of September we are having a big open night for the Guernsey Photography Festival with the Guernsey symphony orchestra and we will have a multitude of international artists. I think in total we have 25 exhibitions planned in celebration of our ten year (plus one) anniversary. We have some really exciting artists but I’m not going to mention any names, you will have to wait for the press release, but it’s going to be big!”

Later, as I walk away from the museum I think over Soth’s work exploring the beauty and complexity of the mundane and Godet’s thoughts on the need for local governments involvement in local culture. Lost in thought I stumble on another small outdoor exhibition of different photographers work, about ten minutes walk from the gallery. It’s concise and wonderfully accessible to the public. It reminds me that Soth’s most famous work was created in the region he was born. With the pandemic making us rethink travel, perhaps it’s time to look away from larger cities and instead demand for art and culture to also be brought to, and created in, our own tiny pockets of the world. Something the Guernsey Photography Festival has already been doing for ten (plus one) years.



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Images · ALEC SOTH

Claudia Andujar

Andujar often applied Vaseline to her camera lens, used flash devices, infrared film, and oil lamps to create visual distortions

The Barbican’s latest exhibition explores the work of Claudia Andujar, a Swiss-born Brazilian photographer and activist who has spent her life documenting and defending the Yanomami, one of Brazil’s largest indigenous peoples. Through a collection of over 200 photographs, an audio-visual installation, and a series of drawings by the Yanomami, the exhibition explores Andujar’s relationship with the Yanomami that spanned five decades, and details periods of direct activism amongst the indigenous communities.  

The exhibition is housed in The Curve, featuring powerful photographs from Andujar’s first six years living with the Yanomami and explores how the photographer used her camera as a tool to drive political change. At a time when the Yanomami’s territory and way of life is being threatened from continued illegal mining and the spread of Covid-19, the exhibition holds particular significance: it shows how Andujar dealt with visually interpreting a complex culture, and how her art serves to amplify the voices and struggles of the Yanomami.  

From the start of her career documenting the Yanomami in the 1970s, Andujar’s photographic approach differed greatly from the traditional documentary style of her contemporaries. The photographs she took during this period experiment with a range of techniques to visually translate the shamanic and ritualistic culture of the Yanomami. Andujar often applied Vaseline to her camera lens, used flash devices, infrared film, and oil lamps to create visual distortions of light streaks and saturated colours that imbue her work with an ethereal quality. The exhibition also features a series of more sober black-and-white portraits of the Yanomami that focus closely on their faces and bodies, using an intense chiaroscuro to create a strong sense of intimacy. 

By the late 1970s, Andujar had reached a pivotal point in her career. With the Amazon region opened to deforestation and invasive agricultural programs, entire Yanomami communities were destroyed. Andujar deepened her commitment to the Yanomami struggle, and in 1978 she helped found the ‘Commissão Pro-Yanomani’ and began a campaign to protect their homeland. Andujar’s artistic career at this point was abandoned in favour of using photography solely to raise awareness for the cause.

As a photojournalist and a European, Andujar’s project is still a complex one: it cannot be wholly separated from the history of the colonial gaze on indigenous people. Yet it is clear that she has been welcomed by the Yanomami – films, drawings and texts by the community leader Davi Kopenawa throughout the exhibition demonstrate. It is without a doubt that Andujar’s work powerfully captures the struggles of the indigenous peoples and delivers both a unique peek into the lives and worldview of the Yanomami and a potent condemnation of the violence enacted on them.

‘Claudia Andujar: The Yanomami Struggle’ is on at the Barbican Centre until 29th August. Discover more here  

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