Chloe Cherry

One Life To Live

Every few years, an ‘it-girl’ arises and claims her throne, crowned as such by loyal fans and social media enthusiasts alike. The contemporary it-girl is not only defined by her looks, but possesses the intelligence and self-assertiveness to back it up. Chloe Cherry is all of these things. After leaving her rural hometown of Lancaster, Pennsylvania to pursue the adult film industry, she shed her inhibitions and opened herself up to the world. But it wasn’t until a few years down the line that Chloe would realise just how much that fortitude would pay off. 

Before she knew it, Chloe had landed the role of a lifetime, debuting for the first time in the mainstream entertainment industry as the beloved Faye in the viral hit sensation Euphoria. But prior to morphing into her aloof alter-ego behind the camera, Chloe lived a quintessential life — her down-to-earth, authentic disposition is undeniable. Like many of us, she grew up sourcing fashion inspiration from YouTube and discovered her favourite beauty looks by experimenting with technicolor eyeliners and iridescent glitter. Her small-town upbringing left her constantly yearning for something bigger. After speaking to her, it’s really no surprise that she struck gold — in every meaning of the sense, Chloe is a true star. 

Even as a young child, Chloe knew she was destined to be seen, but her insular surroundings didn’t often yield big-screen stars. She reflects on growing up, remarking that Lancaster was a small-town environment, that she was different. She dreamt of bursting that bubble and making a name for herself, but she knew early on that she’d face some hurdles along the way. Luckily for Chloe, she managed to topple those hurdles through a rock-solid confidence in herself.

You were born and raised in Lancaster, PA before playing Faye and your life changing forever. I’m also from Pennsylvania and I’m very familiar with the restrictions that can come along with the lifestyle many lead in that area. How did your hometown shape you as a person and dictate your path?

It was definitely a small town with a lot of small-town values. People were very gender divided — where I live in LA there’s so much gender fluidity and we didn’t have anything like that. People generally weren’t as open-minded about things and I feel like even I wasn’t as open-minded about life and people when I lived there. They also don’t really think that much bigger outside of what they were born into. It was a very close-minded community that thought religion, specifically the Christian religion, was the correct way to live, and that you were just supposed to follow a certain amount of correctness. That changed me, because it made me really want to break out and do whatever I want. I very stifled by the judgment that people had there. 

I feel like it yielded this person that is truly not afraid to show her different sides.

I’m not afraid to do anything, pretty much, if I want to. I think growing up there kind of told me that it’s okay to break a mould, do you know what I mean? It’s okay to do something outside of what is ‘normal.’

Before Euphoria, you were in the adult film industry. This is an experience that you have described as liberating. Have you always been in tune with your sexuality? What gave you the personal fortitude to shed your inhibitions and show that side of yourself to the world?

My comfort in my sexuality basically just came from really wanting to put myself out there. Being from Pennsylvania, in the middle of nowhere Pennsylvania, you don’t really have any connections, especially to Hollywood. I think that just made me want to try literally anything just to get out of that. Even though it’s totally fine to live this way, so many of the people I grew up around kind of live the same way that their parents did. I’m really grateful that I took a huge chance in life and that it got me somewhere. Where I’m from, people don’t really take chances. 

What is the most valuable lesson you learned from the adult industry that you brought with you into mainstream television? 

One of the most valuable lessons I learned is how to act, how to be on set, and how to follow directions — that’s where I learned to be an actor and a good performer in general.

What I feel radiates from you is an unbridled sense of self-assuredness. What is your advice to others who may not be as comfortable in their own skin? 

We only get one life to live. We’re all born and we all didn’t choose to be born, but we definitely didn’t choose to have to work to live. So I just really think that we really shouldn’t judge ourselves on what we do for work in order to live, because it’s all about what kind of day you can get through. You can’t really live your life based on the people around you because those people might be out of your life one day. And then what matters? At the end of your life, it’s only gonna be you, so you need to make sure that you’re happy with your choices.

I’m sure that being on a TV show and all of the amazing things you’ve experienced lately have been a big 180 for you. When you were younger, did you always aspire to have an audience-facing role? What was your dream back then?

Growing up, I always thought I would be some kind of performer or that I would be on camera. At first, I never really knew that I was that good of an actor because when I was acting as a kid, in school plays and stuff, I never really got the big roles. But I was a good enough actor for the adult industry. So it’s been actually a pretty crazy surprise to me that all this has happened, but it’s taught me that sometimes people just have natural skills. I think that’s what I have more than anything — natural skill. A lot of it, especially playing Faye, just kind of comes easily to me. It didn’t really take a ton of training or anything.

Faye became such a likeable character because I think many of us saw ourselves in her. She said the things that we were all thinking and she also acknowledged her own flaws and shortcomings — she was real. In what ways do you relate to Faye, and on the flip side, were there any qualities of the character that were difficult for you to channel? 

One quality that was hard for me to channel in Faye was just not caring about anything, but I feel like part of that is also being on drugs. So I’ve done a lot of research about being on drugs. The way that she doesn’t care what people think and will talk back to people — I feel like I don’t really relate to that. But I do relate to the way that she really likes to find a sense of community and a sense of home. I feel like that’s what she’s searching for by staying with Fez; she wants to belong. 

Your life outside of Faye underwent such a drastic transition. Have you found that sense of community yet?

I feel like I have a decent amount of community here. I’ve met a lot of people, but it’s funny — I find myself so easily becoming friends with a gaffer or a makeup artist. But I don’t as easily become friends with people that are the other actors. I know a lot of them, but I feel like a lot of my friends are people that are behind the scenes and are just really fun and easygoing. 

In some ways that makes sense because you can probably relate to those people more, given how quickly all of this picked up for you. After falling in love with your character, many fell in love with you for your genuine personality, your quirky, colourful style and infectious charisma. You’ve become a Gen Z ‘it-girl’ in your own right. So, I want to know about the ‘it-girls’ or individuals that paved the way for you — who were your icons growing up?

I loved Chloe Sevigny’s and Alexa Chung’s style for a really long time. I always loved Ryan Murphy’s shows and was inspired by the fashion on his shows. Miley Cyrus is somebody that I’ve looked up to and I also really love Claudia Sulewski’s style — I watched her videos for a while.

I can see all of those coming together to inform your style, and even Faye’s personal style in the show. I wanted to revisit your experience playing that role. I really appreciated the point where you mentioned that playing Faye feels natural — I think that’s why you and the character mesh so well and we all took a liking to her.

I don’t know if I’ve said this in an interview before, but there’s this one moment of my audition for Faye that I’ll never forget. I came in and I said the lines and I had this whole act that I would put on of being like, fucked up. I was doing the lines like that and then Sam goes, ‘No, stop. Just say it how you would say it.’ And then I just said the lines to how I would say it and then I got the role.

Which is amazing. It was effortless.

The only thing about being related to Faye — I think it’s so good. I just hope it’s not the McLovin effect where I’m typecast for the rest of my life. But I mean, I feel like it’s perfect. It comes so naturally to me. Faye is almost like a side of me. If I had kept going at my craziest and just kept going on drug and party binges, I might have ended up like Faye.

Faye is like you in another dimension. 


You brought up a really important point about wanting to avoid being boxed in. You’re at such a pivotal moment now; it’s only the beginning. I listened to you on Emily Ratajkowski’s podcast, where you reiterated that as a young girl, you always yearned to have a flashy persona. You wanted to be the ‘hot bimbo’ that everyone knew. It reminded me of a recent article that The Cut published titled, ‘The Reclamation of Bimbohood‘. Basically, it was about how our contemporary understanding of ‘bimbohood’ encompasses attractive and socially-engaged women — they are self-proclaimed bimbos who ooze confidence. Do you resonate with that at all? Especially coming from the realm of adult film, how have you managed to reclaim your own sexuality and identity?

When it comes to Faye, I feel like she’s a bimbo, but in a way that you wouldn’t always imagine. She’s kind of a low-end bimbo, you know what I mean? The trashiest version of a bimbo. But with adult films, being a bimbo was very empowering because so many people would like you when you looked like that. Part of me sometimes misses being a part of such a sex-positive environment where instead of people constantly making threads on Reddit saying my lips are so terrible, people were like, ‘Oh my God, you look so amazing.’ I kind of miss that different view. Even if it was a more perverted view, I kind of thought it was almost more positive than such a perfectionist perspective. Doing adult films actually made me a lot more confident in my looks and just everything about me. I feel very physically confident about things since doing that. I think Faye is also the same in that way. Faye is also somebody who uses her sexuality and looks to get things in life and she’s very confident. 

Totally — and there’s a profound power behind that. How has it been navigating the scrutiny now that you have opened yourself up to a whole other world?

Dude, it’s so weird now. What I don’t miss in porn, is people would call me fat all the time because I was showing my body, but now I don’t really get people calling me fat anymore because I don’t show my body as much. People now scrutinise my looks in such an interesting way. They’ll say, ‘Oh my gosh, she’s so fake. Look at her lips.’ Whereas people used to not really say that. 

It’s very intriguing to hear the difference between the two types of entertainment from your perspective. Part of what makes your character and your true persona so endearing is your affinity for making people laugh. You don’t seem to take yourself too seriously and have cited shows like Curb Your Enthusiasm and It’s Always Sunny as your go-tos. If you could be a character in any comedy, who would you choose and why? 

I personally consider Succession a comedy. I think I would make myself one of Cousin Greg’s mean girlfriends — that would be funny. I do really like Curb Your Enthusiasm. I would love to be a part of that. I feel like I could be a waiter that Larry David fucks with or something like that. 

Not only are you a multi-faceted actress, but you have modelled for Laquan Smith, GCDS, Blumarine and more. You’ve gotten to live out the experiences of any fashion enthusiast’s dreams. Have you always been into fashion?

I’ve always been really into fashion. I love looking at fashion online and it’s something that I’ve always followed on social media. It was really surreal for me to be able to walk in those shows and I really hope I get to walk in more one day.

I would describe your style as effervescent, frisky and engaging. I’ve seen you take a liking to graphic tees and Y2K-era silhouettes. How would you describe your own style and what types of pieces do you usually gravitate towards? 

I usually gravitate towards stuff that — this sounds kind of weird — but I like stuff that looks like something that I personally would’ve worn as a kid. It’s basically just because I have the same taste that I did as a kid, so I dressed very Y2K because I grew up in that time period. I’m really attracted to stuff that was ‘in’ back then; it’s just ingrained in my brain. I also like really weird stuff, stuff that looks really unique. But for the most part, I constantly wear clothes that are reminiscent of the 2000s. 

You were also the face of Urban Decay’s Bond Liquid Lipstick. Urban Decay is one of the first makeup brands that I fell in love with as a tween getting into beauty regimens. What are some of your earliest makeup memories? 

Actually, one of my earliest makeup memories involves Urban Decay. The first time I started wearing makeup, I was in sixth grade and I didn’t really wear real makeup. I would just take this glitter eyeliner and put sparkles on my eyelids every day. Then eventually I got this Urban Decay blue eyeliner and then I started doing that.

I had the exact same blue eyeliner and I loved it. How has that routine evolved as you’ve matured?

I’ve never told this to anybody, but when I was 15 years old I discovered Lily-Rose Depp; I found her Instagram and I loved her aesthetic and the way she did her makeup. It was so simple. She would literally just do a little bit of blush, mascara, and nice eyebrows and I was just obsessed with it. So I completely dropped all my crazy makeup, started doing really simple makeup and I’ve just done it like that ever since. 

You’re just getting started showing the world who Chloe Cherry really is — you’re an esteemed actress, a model, a style icon for many, and even a SoundCloud rapper. How do you hope people remember you decades from now? What’s the legacy you’d like to leave behind and what are you working on right now that you’re excited about?

A few years down the line, we’re on Euphoria season seven. I maybe have my own fashion line, maybe my own skincare line, I’m doing more beauty campaigns and just doing all sorts of high fashion campaigns. I love being on Euphoria, but if that ended, I’d love to be a regular on something else. I just want to keep continuing to do what I do because I love it.


Talent · Chloe Cherry
Creative Direction · Jade Removille 
Photography · Ricky Alvarez
Styling · Kathryn Typaldos at Forward Artists
Hair · Ericka Verrett at A-Frame
Makeup · Rob Rumsey at A-Frame
Styling Assistant· Nicole Grasty
Location · FD Photo Studio Los Angeles
Interview · Kayla Curtis-Evans
Special thanks to Lucy Greene at Anti Agency, Amanda Horton at ALH PR, Hannah Hardison at A-Frame


  1. Top and skirt RICK OWENS
  2. Tank TNA
  3. Tights GRETA GARMEL and shoes RICK OWENS
  4. Top from Archive Vintage, shirt and skirt ECKHAUS LATTA, socks COMME SI and shoes ARIELLE BARON from conti comm
  5.  Top and skirt ELENA VELEZ and earrings MEJURI
  6.  Hair clip SARAH APHRODITE, top PRADA from Archive Vintage, skirt POLLUX, shoes VALENTINO, bracelet MEJURI and leg warmers vintage
  7. Dress JEAN-PAUL GAULTIER from Archive Vintage

Georgina Starr

“I rebought forty of my favourite destroyed singles and had them played simultaneously on forty record players.”

It’s difficult to summarise the art of Georgina Starr. Since the early 1990s, the artist has made use of the array of tools (video, sound, written word and live performance) at her disposal to create a rich and varied body of work. In early works, Starr engaged a cast of miniature paper figures as stand-ins for real life conversations the artist would covertly record in public spaces. Later, Starr appears in her work – though the extent to which she was performing as herself is itself part of her practice. In The Party (1995), a 25-minute video installation, Starr takes on the role of Liz (a character whose advances are rejected by another character in a previous film). As Starr tells NR below, though the role was fictional, the process of making the film instils it with autobiographic elements. Characters, motifs and themes recur throughout Starr’s work, which enable the artist to rework and reimagine earlier ideas. But it isn’t just Starr’s own oeuvre that she recreates, with much of her work taking inspiration from existing film and literature. The breadth of reference points throughout Starr’s work are demonstrative of the extent to which the artist employs a process of meticulous researching to inform her practice. 

Aspects of Starr’s work recall a childhood spent watching tv; the object in the corner of the living room which, she explains in The Voices of Quarantaine (2021), became her “gateway to another world”. Indeed, the blurring of reality and imagination, autobiography and fiction are common features of her work. Starr’s film, Quarantaine (2020), is not, as you might think, a response to the pandemic. Rather, the artist began working on Quarantaine before COVID; the film’s title referring to the French word for forty, historically also the term for a period of enforced isolation over forty days. The film tells the story of strangers who are transported to an alternative universe which the two women must navigate their way through. Across the breadth of Starr’s work, the body – the female body and feminine identity in particular – are (re)investigated. In her later works, including Quarantaine, Starr is no longer in front of the camera, with a cast of performers enabling the artist to realise her practice on a larger scale. Most recently, the artist orchestrated a live performance in collaboration with French fashion house, Hermès, which in true Starr style, is a dazzling display of colour – flawlessly synchronised and splendidly surreal. 

NR: What have you been working on recently?

GS: I have been working on a new performance artwork in collaboration with Hermès to showcase their SS22 collection designed by the brilliant Nadège Vanhée-Cybulski. We performed it on 3rd February at a one-off special event titled ‘Gelato!’ at Old Sessions House in Clerkenwell. It incorporates a large set—a huge pastel coloured mountain sculpture, a new musical score for percussion which I developed together with composer, Thomas Haines, and is performed by four female percussionists, nine dancers and eight models all wearing Nadège’s designs. It was quite epic—a cross between a theatre play, a sculptural installation, opera, dance and fashion show. The collection is really joyful and screams summer, so I began by thinking about what ‘gelato’ would sound like. I imagined metallic sounds and warmer sounds of fabric on wood—glockenspiels, triangles, drums, wooden percussion, vibraphones, and I had a vision of a magic mountain which the performers, wearing these amazing clothes, would emerge from moving in synchronization with the sounds—this was my starting point.

NR: What does the process of rehearsing or being in workshops involve? 

GS: With live performance works, the rehearsal period is more intense. I always script and storyboard, and it was the same for Gelato! There are spoken word poems in this piece as well as the music and choreography. By the time we went into workshopping in mid-December we were at a really good stage with the musical composition, and I had choreography ready to show to the dancers. We were working with four incredible percussionists who were able to immediately play the working score so that the dancers could start to interpret the live instrumentation and we could adjust the score as went, which was a brilliant way to work. The music starts out very minimally and gradually builds up as the percussive mallets are handed to the musicians. Some instructional elements were built into the score, so everyone’s movement was highly choreographed, and I had constructed my own mallets using coloured threads from the collection – so these were woven into the piece. The workshopping days were crucial to figure out if the movement and vocals I had imagined alone in my studio could even work on a grander scale! I had props too, as I wanted the performers to all begin from inside a ‘mountain’ and emerge with large circles like musical notes transforming the whole picture into a giant score. There were twenty performers to direct, so it was pretty intense. We went into full-on rehearsals for six days at the end of January and had the first dress rehearsals at the venue the day before the show. I loved this collaboration with Hermès, it was wild.

NR: How does working with performers compare to playing the role of other performers (alongside) yourself? 

GS: The casting process is always really complex as I have a very clear idea of how I want the performers to look and what voices they bring. For both the Hermès piece and my last film Quarantaine (2020), it took a long time to find the right people, months of searching and meeting people. When I perform inside my work it’s a very insular and personal process, often just me and the camera. For my film THEDA (2007), I built all the sets in my studio and worked for a year filming myself in the various Theda Bara inspired roles, so became totally absorbed into the character. The way I work with a bigger cast definitely has some connection to this, I feel the need to demonstrate rather than just describe, it’s quite mediumistic, transferring my movement and voice into them. I like to work with a mix of professional and non-professional performers as the non-pros bring something magical and otherworldly. It often feels like the less experienced person is a stand-in for me in some way—I relate to them more strongly as they are working things out on their feet and negotiating this strange environment they find themselves in. 

NR: There are characters, themes and motifs – the brain, the bubble – that reoccur in your work; did you always attend to develop your practice in this way? Or did it just occur over time? 

GS: All the pieces I’ve made from the very beginning are completely interlinked. It happens naturally that one work leads to the next, so the themes and motifs overlap and merge. Sometimes an element in a work I made twenty-five years ago might suddenly appear in something new. A performance work I made at the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam in 1995 called The Hungry Brain suddenly started to inform a work I was developing in 2013 which eventually became Before Le Cerveau Affamé a new performance and installation piece. In this work I created an illustrated set of predictive cards (Le Cerveau Affamé), the suits were the bubble, the hand, the brain and the cat. These cards found their way into my film Quarantaine. The cards appear in a critical scene in ‘The Grey Room’ where a group of waiting women are chosen for a card reading—the cards selected guide them to the next level of the journey in the film’s narrative. Sometimes it seems like one big Gesamtkunstwerk!

NR: As an extension of that, in The Voices of Quarantaine you make reference to De Quincey’s The Palimpsest of the Human Brain which seemed to be an apt description of your work. Would you say that your work is palimpsestic?

GS: I think my last answer definitely describes a very palimpsestic way of working. I enjoyed making the performance lecture, The Voices of Quarantaine (2021), as I got to reveal some hidden details at the heart of my film Quarantaine. There are so many layers of meaning in my work it can baffle some people, so it’s useful to be able to unpeel these for the viewer. Although the lecture itself was something of a palimpsest too. While I was reading De Quincey, I realised that his essays had directly inspired Dario Argento’s 1977 masterwork Suspiria which in turn had inspired the forest wall-mural I had painted in a scene in Quarantaine. At the very beginning of Quarantaine we follow two women through an arboreal portal in a city park which leads them into a school of instruction—the first room they encounter has the eerie wall painting. The mural in Suspiria had always haunted me so it became an ominous character within my film—it holds another portal to take the initiates onto the next stage of the voyage.

NR: How much of your work is grounded in the idea of autobiography, and to what extent does the notion of autobiography become a way to introduce (fictional) narrative?

GS: There is quite an even mix of the fictional and factual, but it’s so integrated that I often lose track of which is which. I made fictional works in the past which I performed in and people presumed they were autobiographical. An early video The Party (1995), for example, was a piece about a lonely female character who throws the perfect party for one. It began as a fictional narrative, but I did spend two days alone having a party in my studio—constructing a bar, making food, dancing, drinking elaborate cocktails. When I look back at this work it’s part of my history and feels almost autobiographical, it’s a perfect merging of the two. There are personal stories within Quarantaine, which I discuss in the lecture, these stories begin from a ‘real’ place or at least a memory of something real and gradually become so entwinned within the world I’m creating that they drift away from reality and become something totally new. 

NR: How do different mediums lend themselves to a particular work? What informs whether you use audio, film or a live performance?

GS: The idea usually informs what the piece will be.

“A memory I had about my parents burning all my records when I left home for example ended up transforming into a live sound performance piece called Top 40 on Fire (2010).”

I rebought forty of my favourite destroyed singles and had them played simultaneously on forty record players. It created a cacophonous sound at first that sounded like fire, but as each track petered out you started to hear the voices of the singers coming through and the final vocal lyric was quite profound. If I’m commissioned to make a work then it’s slightly different, although sound always plays a huge part of every work. Live works are the most difficult for me as it’s impossible to control exactly what will happen on the night. I’m pretty controlling about all the details so this can drive me insane; the uncertainty—at some point you have to let a performance live without you. When I made Androgynous Egg (2017), a live piece for Frieze a few years ago, it took me ages to let the performers just own the piece. It was performed four times a day for the whole of Frieze and it was only on day two when I realized that I didn’t need to sit in all the performances—they had it, it belonged to them now and I had to set it free, like releasing a child into the world. Quarantaine was really borne out of Androgynous Egg. I knew that I wasn’t finished with some of the subjects—the eggs, the Pink Ursula Material, the instructional poetry, even the choreography, and that I needed to make a film. Writing and making the film was my way of taking back the control I had relinquished with the performance. It meant I could close-in on the action and focus on the important details. Filmmaking is more my natural medium. I love editing with image and sound, it’s where the magic happens.

NR: In relationship to the magazine’s theme – celebration – how does your work celebrate, and explore, womanhood?

GS: I would say that it does this in every sense. I began in the early ‘90s by working with my own body and voice to create video and sound works. These works gave me an actual voice. I was suddenly able to articulate something within the work in a way that I felt I couldn’t in real life. It was a celebration of my inner world. Over the years I’ve gained the experience and confidence to transfer this and to share the ideas with performers, musicians, singers and composers so that the world becomes bigger, more complex and intense. THEDA was the last work I performed in front of the camera. It was a very physical work where I was on screen the whole time for forty minutes. Each time I screened the work at a cinema I invited different musicians to accompany it and perform a live soundtrack. I had done it a few times in London and New York when I realised that it was predominantly men that were playing the music; by some strange fluke it had worked out this way. I was invited to screen it in Berlin at an old silent movie theatre and decided that this time it should be a woman accompanying it. I tracked down this amazing soprano Sigune von Osten—diva der neuen musik, who had worked with John Cage and Luigi Nono, and she agreed to compose a new soundtrack and perform live to the film. There was something incredible about the combination of a woman (me) attempting to dissect and enact the lost films of another woman (silent movie star Theda Bara) while being interpreted and accompanied by the extraordinary vocals of a third woman (Sigune von Osten), it was a metaphysical experience—a total celebration and exploration of the female body and voice.


Images · Georgina Starr

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



Neels Castillon

Film director and photographer Neels Castillon on cinematic visuals

For Neels Castillon, authenticity is integral to his role as a film director and photographer, especially, as he explains on the phone from Paris, in an age of fake news. The dissemination of falsified and fabricated news reportage may not have a direct connection to Castillon, whose clients include Lacoste, Hermès and the French singer, Angèle, but his contention lies with the prevalence of artifice. He sees his role as navigating a balance between capturing the feeling that cinematic visuals can provoke, whilst simultaneously resisting the artificiality those same visuals can carry. There is perhaps no better example of how Castillon meets this feat than in his production company, Motion Palace’s, advertising campaign for kitchen manufacturer, Schmidt. The premise of the advertisement was to have one of Schmidt’s kitchens appearing on a cliff face, demonstrating the brand’s functionality and adaptability. On seeing that the brief was to shoot in a studio with a green screen, Castillon responded that it should be shot for real in the Alps. The ensuing advertisement, and supplementary documentary about the process, are jaw-dropping to watch, as mountaineer Kenton Cool makes himself breakfast in a fully-working kitchen, 6500ft above ground. Castillon refers to the experience as a ‘cool adventure’; the team involved stayed in tents for fifteen days, hiking their way up to the cliffside, and creating an entirely new structure to support the camera from above.

It is through commercial work, like the advertisement for Schmidt, that Motion Palace is able to pursue its more artistic endeavours; ‘It’s in the DNA of my company to produce art stuff with the money we make,’ Castillon explains. As a result, Castillon was able to realise the F Major music video for the neo-classical pianist, Hania Rani, in Iceland earlier this year. 

Filmed in a remote location, Hania is seen playing an open-front upright piano – an approach which visually encapsulates the artist’s fascination with the mechanical, organic possibilities that the instrument affords. For the video, Castillon worked with the choreographer, Fanny Sage, and the dancers Mellina Boubetra and Janina Sarantšina, whose interpretations of Hania’s ethereal performance is captured in a single sequence shot. The camera work signals Castillon’s commitment to striving for authenticity; ‘The concept was, how can we translate music that never stops, and keep up this pace?’ So, the camera doesn’t stop either. It was important, too, to translate the sensation of freedom that comes both with Hania’s music and the dancers’ movements – something that the film’s location allowed for. ‘I want to celebrate nature,’ Castillon explains, adding that he strives to capture how a landscape can be inspirational, whilst resisting the urge to just create picture postcards of the scenery. The backdrop of mountains and black sand in F Major have the potential to be just that; awe-inspiring and spectacular in itself. But, as the chilling wind that entraps Hania and the dancers in the video confirms, the logistics of F Major were anything but straightforward. ‘As you can see, there was an ice storm,’ Castillon points out; ‘It was very cold, like minus seven degrees. We rehearsed a lot before but, on set on the beach we only had three takes because of the light and the weather.’ Not only was the filming testament to Castillon’s approach to taking on a challenge, but also his dedication to fully realising the potential of the performers he works with. 

Castillon discovered Hania Rani through her record label, Gondwana Records: ‘I like pretty much all the artists they have in their roster, so when I listened to her first album (2019’s Esja) I was totally in love.’ At the time Castillon reached out to Hania, she was writing her second album, Home, but she had seen Castillon’s 2017 film, Isola with the dancer Léo Walk, and wanted to work together. Their collaboration was postponed to allow time for Castillon to raise money and for Hania to complete the album. This time also gave Castillon the chance to work out the concept for their work; ‘I listened to [F Major] maybe 200 times before coming up with the idea.’ He was also keen to ensure he attended every rehearsal and discuss the concept with the dancers; the process is ‘almost a co-creation,’ Castillon explains, like ‘ping-pong.’ It’s a constructive and collaborative process of back-and-forths to find a way that Castillon can capture the performance in the best possible way. His work with Hania may have been a while in the making, but that seems to be the case with a lot of Castillon’s collaborations. 

Stills from Hania Rani’s F Major music video

There is a sense, talking to Castillon, that he uses his films to capture the creative endeavours of those he knows and admires – and in turn, to introduce them to one another in the name of collaboration. That was the case for last year’s short film, Parce Que, featuring the painter, Inès Longevial, and Léo Walk. Inès, like Hania after her, had seen Isola and was keen to work with Léo who, similarly, loved the painter’s work. Castillon had known Inès for a number of years previously and was waiting for the perfect opportunity to work together, which Parce Que would be – but it took ‘almost a year to find a time when [Léo and Inès] were both available.’ The idea was to combine painting and dance together, but Castillon was wary of avoiding the pitfalls of an ‘arty cliché’. With Serge Gainsbourg’s song Parce Que as the film’s soundtrack, the dangers of doing something cliché could be high, but Castillon managed to pull it off. That success is demonstrative of the director’s integrity when it comes to understanding the performers he works with. It was important that the location choice for Parce Que would be able to accommodate Léo’s dancing, which, as he explains in reference to Isola, requires a smooth enough surface to allow for some of the breakdancing moves. As the film, which tells the story of love and, eventually heartbreak, progresses, Léo dances on a six by four metre painting that Inès is depicted as working on; Castillon’s way of combining the creative skill of both collaborators, and avoiding the cliché of something ‘that has already been seen before’. 

Léo Walk on the set of Parce Que

Inès Longevial on the set of Parce Que

As with the Schimdt advertisement and the F Major video, Parce Que shows that Castillon is a master at pulling of impressive operations. ‘It’s what I love,’ he enthuses, ‘sometimes you have a crazy idea like, “What if Léo dances on a big painting?” And one year later, you are shooting it. Like, okay – it’s worth it.’ A special frame was made for Inès’s painting, which was kept in four parts in a friend’s shop in Paris because, as Castillon explains, ‘the apartments are very tiny’, before being transported to a secret location in the South of France for filming. A delipidated castle near Biarritz was chosen in part because the location reminded Inès of her childhood and also because Castillon liked its uniqueness. It had been designed by a woman at the turn of the twentieth century, who had taken inspiration from far and wide including, amongst other references, Versailles. Castillon is careful not to disclose the exact location of the castle because of the fragile state that the building is now in; the team spent two days clearing the site of detritus before filming and filmed quickly to cause as little damage as possible. There is, then, a sense of nostalgia that infuses Parce Que – a longing for lost love, a reminder of childhood and memory of times gone by. 

Personal connections prove important to Castillon, perhaps another explanation for how he avoids clichés. During the location scouts for Isola, it occurred to Castillon that he knew exactly the place to film. Castillon grew up in Sardinia; he remembers a deserted building near a beach he used to frequent with his grandmother, which would become the ‘perfect place’ to film. He describes the place as surreal, the light there reminding him of an Edward Hopper painting. The experience of watching Isola feels similar to viewing a painting by Edward Hopper, too. To see Léo perform, at first refracting the haze of the summer sun and, later, his movements lit up by the warm glow of sundown, it is possible to feel connected to him in his solitude. Isola grants the opportunity to be close to Léo precisely because Castillon is conscientiously aware of the viewer. One of the director’s earlier videos, La République du Skateboard, came from the desire to capture a scene close to Castillon’s heart. As a skateboarder from the age of ten, Castillon started making skate videos using filming techniques common to the scene, ‘fisheyes, long lens – pretty dirty stuff.’ But, he decided to make a film that was more cinematic, taking influence from the classic movies that helped him learn the filming techniques he employs today. The film, about skateboarding and, skateboarding in Paris in particular, was envisioned as something that anyone could watch. The result is an ode to the scene and the city, beautifully shot, as would be expected from Castillon’s work, and accessible too. ‘I didn’t want to make something that only speaks to experts,’ the director explains. ‘I wanted to translate it in a way that is universal so that everyone can watch and understand why it’s beautiful.’ That same philosophy is applied to dance; ‘I’m not interested in making dance videos that only a few people can understand’, Castillon says of his approach. Rather, he wants to ‘find a perfect balance between the popular and the artistic.’  

At its core, Castillon’s role as a director could be understood as transforming his fascination for performers into nuanced films that combine a highly cinematic approach with a deep respect for artistic craft. He says that he is fascinated by artists like Léo Walk and Fanny Sage, and this fascination inspires him to tell their stories. It’s somewhat telling that Castillon describes himself as someone who ‘cannot create a whole universe from nothing’. Rather, he thrives on the collaborative process that comes with the way he instinctively works. Just as he brings up fakes news as the anthesis of his search for authenticity, Castillon describes a ‘kind of boredom’ that comes with the saturation of content on platforms like Instagram and Netflix. He is resolutely not interested in making films that have been done before. That said, Castillon’s upcoming release sees the director return to Iceland with Fanny Sage for a second film; the music is by the French artist, Awir Leon, who, not surprisingly, Castillon claims to love. He describes the short film, called 間 (Ma), as ‘mind-blowing’ – and it’s a project that he seems immensely proud of. When it premieres on June 29th on Nowness, it’s more than likely worth watching.  

Sigurdur Gudjonsson

“Too much analyzation can kill the work, there has to be some mystique and some danger or risk you take along the way”

An old glasshouse stands but continues to shatter as the wind runs through it. From its corroding rafters hang hair-like strands of organic matter, draped in entangled troughs that no longer grow but choose to speak in muffled rustles, envious of the birds that idle overhead, they are filled with longing. They are like exposed roots, barefaced and all out of tears, they sway in the breeze and pretend that they are flying. Gravity hums, its vibrations oscillate between remembering and forgetting what it is to be defied.

The Glasshouse sits at the edge of each of our individual ideals. Sometimes waves crash beneath it and within its walls we are surrounded but not safe. Others remark at its fragility but when I reach out to touch it and slide my palms down the old wood, I say that it is strong. I wrap my arms around myself and say that it will hold me like you used to, pulling at my shoulders for a tighter embrace. Defiance doesn’t always look like a lie. I learned to protect myself from within these walls, I tell you that I trust you but speak through them. I want to build a home with you but I don’t know how to leave this house without burning it down.

These sentiments are presumed, coaxed out of my subconscious as I press “Play” on a video that displays the work, 

Glasshouse created a decade ago by the Icelandic artist, Sigurdur Gudjonsson. I was watching a screen, from my computer screen, with no tangible distance between perception and reality. This is Sigurdur’s strength. As the recipient of the 2018 Icelandic Art Prize as Visual Artist of the Year for his 2017 exhibition, Inlight, and the selected artist who will represent Iceland at the 59th Venice Biennale to be held in 2022, Sigurdur is a master of the senses. Utilizing moving imagery, synchronized soundscapes and installation, the viewer is dropped into an emotional fragment, engineered through layers and loops that create an immersive world numbed by specificity where feeling is not a derivative of direct experience. Having installed his projections in locations like morgues and churches, Sigurdur first sets the scene by taking the viewer out of his or her respectively normal settings and then transports them into his projections where the metaphysical becomes an invitation to surrender. Whether it is the innards of the Glasshouse, a lone pillar erect in the sea, or an electron-microscope’s magnification of carbon, the contours of these incongruous visuals become hyper-narratives that the viewer projects meaning onto as if reaching to reclaim a shard of something broken and without genesis, like a memory evading recall. 

The footnotes of our innermost psyche are lured to the fore as viewers ascribe meaning to Sigurdur’s often poetically abstract works.

You’ve said about yourself that you’re often “quick to come home” when you find yourself abroad, what does home mean to you and how has it shaped your work?

I have been lucky enough to both travel, live, study, and work abroad and that has been very important for me. I currently live in Iceland so you could say that it is my home now, although I might choose to live elsewhere temporarily later. There has always been fascinating energy in the Icelandic art scene which has always fascinated and inspired me, both in visual arts and music and I think I can say that it has shaped my works in many ways. However, I think it’s incredibly healthy for every artist to stay abroad for some time and broaden their perspective and build new relationships. This is something I try to do every year, whether it be in connection to working or exhibiting.

What does Iceland provide that has made it a place that you have decided to stay and find success in your work?

Reykjavík is a small city when it comes to population and you are quite close to the sea with a view over to the mountains, it’s also only a short drive into the wilderness which I count as a blessing. I guess you always take some inspiration from the environment and the people you meet on the way and all of it somehow weasels its way into the subconscious, which I guess must be reflected in the works I make. At the moment, Iceland suits me well as I am focusing on a large-scale project for the Venice Bienniale in 2022. I work with a great gallery here in Reykjavík named BERG Contemporary and I have a nice studio close to where I live with my family.

How were you and your community in Iceland affected by COVID19? In a place like New York for instance I think it really altered the ways in which we were actually connecting with people. We’re always moving at lightspeed, often with a set of priorities that aren’t our own and it was a way to be forced into introspection.

COVID19 has been handled quite well over here. In March almost everyone stayed mainly at home for a few weeks and then we managed to get rid of COVID19 during a large part of the summer so people could enjoy each other’s company without worrying too much for a while. But now we are facing the third outbreak over here and I really hope for an international solution soon. If we look at Iceland specifically it has been affected by so many things, apart from the obvious and most serious effect on those that became ill. Iceland has been a popular destination for travelers over the past few years, so the travel industry is struggling. Theatres just opened again for the first time since March, but there are only half or one-third of the usual numbers allowed into the auditorium. Musicians haven’t been performing and of course, art exhibitions have been postponed as well. But I am lucky as I’m working in my studio all day at the moment so it doesn’t affect my everyday life too much at the time being.

The perceptive experience is an anchor in your work where emotional fragments can be strung together to mirror something whole in its potential for universality. What do you want people to experience when they come across your work? Is the desired result always a certain emotional response and do you want that response to be singular?

I’m interested in creating a surrounding experience for people, multiple layers of perception, a world you can immerse yourself in, not only an emotional one; it can also be strong visually or physically and hopefully it moves something within the audience.

It’s interesting because we all experience life as individuals, but when you put us in this context where the individual is surrounded, their perception is controlled in a way that almost forces them to confront something more subconscious. Are the frames you build mirrors for humanity almost?

I hope so. That would be amazing. I guess it’s easier for an outside viewer or audience to answer these questions, it’s rather difficult to know what impact one’s work has on others.

For me, it’s created from within but often also it’s a way to express what my eyes have caught when I walk through life.

So my work stems from an inner drive and sometimes a need to put focus on things that have caught my attention, which can be anything from machinery, man-made construction, or technical relics for instance. I hope that the audience experiences their read of the different layers of the narrative within each piece and that the whole space comes together simultaneously, combining different elements

You use the word narrative, do you consider yourself a storyteller?

No, I think I’m always trying to hide the story.

In what way?

I like it when a narrative becomes more of an undercurrent.

You mean it’s something that you want your viewers to bring out of themselves to fill the piece?

Exactly. It’s always a pleasure when that happens. Perhaps we could say hyper-narrative.

The creation of a narrative through perception is interesting. You often work with musical composers and sometimes there are inherent narratives present within sound, especially when things are instrumental and there are no lyrics to guide you in terms of emotionality. Where do you find those nuances?

When I’m in the process of doing work, it’s sometimes a very unspoken process because it’s not a specific path that I’m following. It’s almost like wandering around until I feel that I have reached an area of interest. Then I start to make different implementations and play around with it. This process is sometimes like tuning an old radio back and forth until you catch the frequency you like.

Normally I think we assume that the ways of working are like, okay here’s a video and we need to engineer a sound for it, but how is it working in the inverse, like making videos for sound? What is the dialogue that you’re having, not only with yourself, but with the other artists that you’re collaborating with?

It’s a different process with different artists. 

Like with Anna Thorvaldsdottir, a composer I worked with on my latest work, Enigma, it’s a very intuitive process. We almost don’t have to speak. I know her quite well and she knows my aesthetic, and vice versa and the outcome is somehow always interesting. We throw ideas back and forth for a while and then they start to take form.

A lot of your work is time-based and in tandem, it seems that the relationships you’re cultivating with your collaborators also work on this scale. Do you feel like the collaborations themselves are also like time-based projects?

In a way, yes. Some of these projects are unique and created in the moment, while others have evolved further and manifested themselves into longer partnerships. But it can be said that the works themselves take care of how they develop, whether they grow or not. If that happens, it’s always a pleasure.

Right and inherently there is a level of intuition that comes with relationships that allows for a deeper level of empathy and perceptiveness that becomes activated through collaboration. What do you think is the connection between creativity and intuition and to what extent are both tools for society?

I think the process of all artists is a combination of intuition and knowledge and it is important to trust it and follow it.

When I look at a piece, the experience engendered seems quite universal and that’s a rare thing because it signifies that you as the artist, have been able to trigger someone’s emotional response without knowing anything about their experiences or their personal narrative. It’s like the work is looking outwards somehow and sees us individually, is this your intent?

Thank you. Those are big words. My answer is maybe.

How do you know when a work is completed per se? Is it because you feel a certain way after you look at it or how do you know?

You never know. It’s usually defined by the moment when the piece goes away, you have to stop at one point. I like when the piece gains its own life somehow and starts to grow inside a space; when it becomes possible to play with the video in a performative way where its surroundings activate the video somehow and the reading of the work becomes completely different due to its placement.

Locations are so interesting for you. You’ve done exhibitions in a morgue and church and when you take your pieces out of these settings and into a museum for instance, how do you think that changes the piece? Is its intent or means of communication ever impacted in a negative way?

I am very inspired by the space I work in each time. So very often the environment influences my work.

Fuser was deeply influenced by the old chapel in Hafnarfjörður which I found when I worked a project for ASÍ Art Museum in Iceland and later the work was also screened in an old barn in a farm in the North of Iceland. Even though it was created in a chapel it works well within a gallery, so that’s not to say that even if a work can be created and inspired from a house or a raw space, there’s always a new layer that is added to it when it enters a gallery or even a museum.

Do you think you lose anything though when you take it into the museum space or a space other than what you created a piece in?

It can happen, but at the same time the focus on the work can become clearer, which sometimes makes it better.

Do you think a work should always be malleable? You’re actively having to change a piece that you thought was “complete” so is that exciting for you as an artist to have to rethink something that you thought was finished?

No, I don’t really change pieces after they ́ve been performed unless it ́s another score that I write for it. It can be interesting to reflect on an exhibition in two different locations and reshape it.

Do you consider your work to be accessible? Is this something that is important to you?

It’s hard for me to say. I’m rather in search of nuance or something that clicks rather than thinking too much about what happens when the work is ready. I guess it would be risky to think too much about how people receive the work. For me, it’s about taking on the journey of creating the piece and challenging myself in the process. It has to be risky somehow otherwise it would be boring. You have to take a risk and make the most of the ride, the rest is up to the receiver.

We think that people exist outside of their work as if it could be separated, but for you, do you think your work is a reflection of your inner psyche?

I guess it’s influenced by what I see and explore and what I choose to show to others and in that way, it’s very much so related to who I am. Some videos I create from images that I have imagined or an idea that comes from within but in other cases, I choose to show to others what has caught my attention. I guess art can have its own soul or psyche as well. It becomes its own character. My work is fuelled by my inner psyche without me being able to explain that further or analyze it. I’m not aware of how. Too much analyzation can kill the work, there has to be some mystique and some danger or risk you take along the way.

How does your work make you feel? How has it changed who you are?

I ́ve never thought about that. It’s more about expressing an idea in my mind and finding the right form for it. I tend to be thinking and focusing on the next project rather than dwelling on the ones that have already been produced.

The names of your pieces are rather poetic. Ranging from the idea of a veil, connection, even a deathbed, are your titles meant to guide the viewer?

For me, the title is always a kind of trigger that possibly poetically expands the work.

Sigurður Guðjónsson is an Icelandic visual artist based in Reykjavík. Working with moving imagery and installations, his works carry carefully constructed synchronized soundscapes, and provide organic synergy between sound, vision, and space. His works often investigate man-made construction, machinery and the infrastructure of technical relics, in conjunction with natural elements, set within the form of complex loops and rhythmic schemes. His all-immersive multi-faceted compositions allow for the viewer to be engaged in a synaesthetic experience, that seems to extend one’s perceptual experience beyond new measures. Sigurður has often collaborated with musical composers, resulting in intricate work, allowing the visual compositions, to enchantingly merge with the musical ones in a single rhythmic and tonal whole. His newest work, Enigma (2019), is produced in partnership with Anna Thorvaldsdottir (composer) and comprises of a string quartet and video. Created for an immersive, full-dome theatre experience, Guðjonsson broadens a fragment seen through an electron microscope into an extensive 360-degree video, exploring scale, perception and the poetic notions of the-in-between. Recently on tour with four-time Grammy nominees, TheSpektralQuartet, it is due to be presented at The Adler Planetarium, IL, Carnegie Hall, NY, Kennedy Center, DC, The Reykjavík Arts Festival and among other exhibition places in 2020. In 2019, it was announced that Guðjónsson had been selected to represent Iceland at the 59th Venice Bienniale, to be held in 2022. The artist was awarded the 2018 Icelandic Art Prize as Visual Artist of the Year for his 2017 exhibition Inlight, which featured video installations set within the defunct St. Joseph’s Hospital in Hafnarfjörður, Iceland and commissioned by Listasafn ASÍ. His work has been featured in numerous solo and group exhibitions around the world, in such institutions as the National Gallery ofIceland, Reykjavik Art Museum, Scandinavia House, New York, BERG Contemporary, Frankfurter Kunstverein, Germany, Arario Gallery, Beijing, Liverpool Biennial, Tromsø Center for Contemporary Art, Norway, Hamburger Bahnhof, Berlin, and Bergen Kunsthall Norway.


  1. Enigma, 2019 4k video, 27 minutes 49 secondsImage courtesy of the artist and BERG Contemporary
  2. Lightroom, 2018 HD video, stereo sound, 9 minutes 27 second Image courtesy of the artist and BERG Contemporary
  3. Mirror Projector, 2017 HD video, stereo sound, 16 minutes 10 secondsImage courtesy of the artist and BERG Contemporary
  4. Scanner, 2017 HD video, stereo sound, 40 minutesInstallation view: ASI Art Museum, exhibition in the outbuildings of Kleifar farm, Iceland Image courtesy of the artist and BERG Contemporary
  5. Fuser, 2017HD video, stereo sound, 38 minutes 45 seconds Installation view: ASI Art Museum, exhibition in the chapel and morgue of the former St. Joseph’s Hospital in Hafnarfjörður Image courtesy of the artist and BERG Contemporary

Eric Gottesman

For Freedoms

By definition, a super PAC is a political action committee that is able to raise an unlimited amount of money to influence the outcome of political elections in the United States. Yet, For Freedoms, a super PAC registered back in January 2016, is somewhat unconventional in its intentions and approach. As the first artist-led super PAC, For Freedoms was created by Eric Gottesman and Hank Willis Thomas to encourage greater political engagement through art – and to engage people in complex conversations that have become simplified into binary concepts.

For Freedoms has made an impression on both the world of politics and art since it was registered. In 2016, the super PAC opened their ‘headquarters’ at the Jack Shainman Gallery for a takeover exhibition there – and have since been hosted by MoMA PS1 for an artist residency in 2017 to coincide with the first 100 days of the Trump administration. Their exhibition at the Jack Shainman Gallery provoked a national discussion about police brutality after Dread Scott hung a flag at the exhibition headquarters, whilst their ‘Make America Great Again’ billboard in Pearl, Mississippi caused controversy for its depiction of Trump’s election catchphrase imposed on an image from the Bloody Sunday march of 1965.

Through their use of advertising as a super PAC, their background as artists, and their commitment to creating change, this project by Gottesman and Willis Thomas hopes to open up necessary political and cultural conversations. Speaking over the phone, Eric Gottesman talks through the motives of For Freedoms, the role of advertising, art and propaganda, and why we should come together, regardless of political agenda. 

NR: Where did the idea of forming a super PAC originate?

Eric Gottesman: Over the course of several years, my friend Hank [Willis Thomas] and I, had these conversations about art and politics. Both of us are artists, we both address politics through our work in various ways – I should say, other people talk about the politics of our work. But both of us are interested in the overlap of art and society, and so over the course of those conversations, we often talked about doing something that directly engaged with systems of politics. We talked about maybe having an artist run for office, but eventually, decided to start the super PAC in the fall of 2015, after talking to a number of lawyers about how to do go about it – so we did really before the 2016 election started in earnest. 

NR: Something I was actually going to ask is whether the political climate in the run up to the election was a factor in forming the super PAC. 

EG: No, not really – it came before that. It was less about any specific candidate or campaign, than it was about the way political discourse happens in the United States.

“The oversimplification of complicated situations and political solutions often leads to the factionalization, and people retreat to notions of nationalism that are extremely simple but not necessarily the best.”

So we wanted to see if we could expand the political discourse to encourage or allow people to talk with more nuance about complex issues. 

NR: Do you think that the culture of politics today reflects advertising, because of this simplification?

EG: Very much so. This was something we were very interested in, as a super PAC is basically a political advertising agency. We decided to take on the most egregious part of the problem – which is that money filters through organisations and into our politics, in order to create extremely simplified forms of advertising that is supposed to shape how to think and how to vote. We wanted to shift that up and play with that idea. 

NR: By buying advertising space for billboards, newspaper, and online, can your political advertising be interpreted as a form of propaganda? 

EG: I think it can be, it usually is. Advertising has got much more complex and savvy – often times, you’re being advertised to without knowing it. It doesn’t just take the form of propaganda; it now also takes on the form of ‘culture’ in certain ways. But I also think there’s a pedagogical difference between propaganda and art.

“Propaganda works behind an argument, whilst art offers dialogue. Propaganda has a certain kind of insistence that advertising also has, as opposed to art’s openness.”

NR: How can For Freedoms stimulate critical engagement when political discourse is reduced to this culture of advertising?

EG: That’s exactly what we’re trying to figure out! So far, this has involved trying to merge artistic and political discourse, bringing political content and conversations into art spaces, using our access to these spaces as artists – and vice versa: we’re trying to find ways to bring content out into the public, that we produce as artists. So, we’re bringing politics into art and art into politics through various means. We are also holding a series of town hall meetings and conversations, often in conjunction with exhibitions that we curate. And then, for next year, we’ve got our 50 state initiative, where we’re going to have a presence in all 50 states in the lead up to the 2018 election. 

NR: The idea of town hall-style meetings, feels as if it is taking communication back to a pre-internet era, back to before everyone interacted online, to having that physical meeting with your community. In that sense, are you trying to bring people back together?

EG: That’s an interesting point, I hadn’t really thought about it like that. One of the things we thought a lot about was to try to ‘make dialogue great again’. I don’t think we’re doing it out of nostalgia, but we are trying to inject a form of humanism into the modes of dialogue that we use now. I think the way in which we communicate on social media is fantastic, as we are much more connected in a certain way – but the trade off is that it demands that we use short hand to encapsulate messages and conversations we want to have.  There’s nothing wrong with that form necessarily, but I do think that we need to be able to have deeper, broader conversations about things that go beyond 140 characters.

NR: And there is the danger of communicating with only those who share what you want to see.

EG: That too – and we see that a lot right now, which is one of the things we’re really trying to work on. The art world also has that echo chamber effect, so we’re trying to figure out how to access all parts of society. How do we reach a wide range of people that might be interested in helping us build a movement around building a better political conversation, even if we don’t share the same political agenda?

NR: What is the incentive for people to come together in public spaces despite opposing views, in the interest of shaping the future?

EG: We already do this: we’re consuming the same culture, and as a result of that culture, we form our (political) identities. I think there’s this notion that, only certain people will be interested in art, and only certain people will come to a museum and participate in something like what we’re doing. The assumption is that cultural production only lends itself to one set of opinions – that you agree/disagree, you’re a democrat/a republican, etc. A lot of these binary concepts are much more complicated, so when you ask why somebody with a different set of ideals would want to have that dialogue, I think it would be because we want to better understand, and hopefully to encourage an atmosphere that allows people to appreciate those different views.

NR: Whilst we’re consuming the same culture, places like art institutions can be off-putting to people who feel alienated from them. If there is a way to make these places appeal to a broader range of people, can that instigate better dialogue and a sense of community between different groups of people?

EG: Absolutely. I’m one of those people that feels very alienated by art, and I do think For Freedoms is as much a rebuke of the art culture and the art world, as it is to the world of politics. Art institutions are already political: they make decisions about who they include and exclude. In order to address that, we need to insert conversations about who’s included, and who’s excluded. These are essentially political questions that are at the centre of our political structure. If we insert these questions into the museum, hopefully we can shift what is defined as art, and what is not – and change who is defined as the art viewer. 

NR: Do you think the problems with the financing of super PACs in a political context, are issues that also need to be addressed within the art world?

EG: As an artist, I look at the art world as being this enormous archive of capital that determines what has social value in our culture and so, there are two ways to respond to that. The first, which is how I have responded for much of my career, is to think: “fuck that! I don’t care about that, and I don’t care about those rich people! I’m just gonna do my thing and work in my way, and hopefully at some point after I die somebody will recognise my brilliance and that will change the world.” That’s one way, and the other way would be what we’ve done with For Freedoms, which is pretty new to me to be honest. The way we have done it with our super PAC is to confront the art world, and to claim a space by participating in this world of extreme wealth that governs and shapes how art is valued. For me, the real issue is figuring out how to shift the system so that wealth doesn’t necessarily determine culture, and so that artists are recognised for their power, and are able to utilise the power they possess. Art is used in every society, whether it’s through propaganda or commercial wealth, and so what we’re trying to push for is for our society to value the role that artists play in shaping, not just culture, but how our society works. 


  1. Mass Actionwith Nari Ward – Lexington, Kentucky
  2. Not Voting Is Actually Voting with Eric Gottesman – Flint, Michigan
  3. A Man Was Lynched By Police Yesterday with Dread Scott
  4. With Democracy In The Balance There Is Only One Choice with Carrie Mae Weems – Cleveland, Ohio

Yoann Bourgeois

“The relationship with physical forces has an eloquent capacity that can be very big; it has the kind of expression that is universal.”

Online footage of performances choreographed by Yoann Bourgeois, such as the 2014 piece, Celui qui Tombe, can be disorientating to watch. Six performers navigate a suspended platform which moves and tilts at varying, and at times, uncompromising, angles. At first, the six are disengaged from one another but, as they become increasingly restricted in their movements, begin to interact as a group. At moments, members of the group fracture off, only to realise that they cannot go it alone; at one point, the six appear increasingly discombobulated as Frank Sinatra’s My Way plays eerily in the distance. Celui qui Tombe becomes, like many of Bourgeois’ performances, the universe – society as a whole – in a microcosm. There is something quite fantastical about Bourgeois’ work, as is the case in La mécanique de l’Histoire, an instalment at the Panthéon in Paris in the Autumn of 2017 – the third edition of the annual ‘Monuments en mouvement’ event organised by the Centre des Monuments Nationaux. Within the interior of the Panthéon, a series of separate performances take place simultaneously; like the dancers in Celui qui Tombe, these performances are detached, but not unconnected. In front of François-Léon Sicard’s monument to The National Convention, four performers, clad in grey, climb a spiral staircase, each taking turns to fall off the steps onto a trampoline enclosed below within the rotating structure; which, in turn, springs the fallen performer back onto the staircase. Ad Infinitum. 

Nothing is left to chance in Bourgeois’ work – not the choice of the four figures in grey who, from, from a certain angle, seem indistinguishable from Sicard’s figures, nor the precision of each movement. For Bourgeois, who was trained in circus art at the prestigious Centre national des arts du cirque, it is our relationship with time, space and the physical forces that is central to his practice. His performances unsettle the equilibrium and, often, induce a sense of vertigo, but it is through this process of exploring the constraints of the physical forces that our humanity is brought to the fore. Though it can be almost reassuringly soothing to watch as a figure repeatedly falls and rises on a rotating structure, it also brings to mind an endless stream of questions.

Namely, given the importance of site specificity in Bourgeois’ work, can watching footage of performances of La mécanique de l’Histoire come close to capturing the overall experience? The question of recording presents its own set of rules, Bourgeois believes, as different mediums present different possibilities; ‘I think, if we try to transfer living art into video, we will only be disappointed, but that goes both ways; things can appear in the video that aren’t possible to see in real life.’

How did you develop your practice?

It starts with where my practice came from, as a child who had this desire to never stop playing. There’s a moment when a child chooses a direction, as part of growing up, and that is a step that I never managed to take. Fortunately, I found the circus, which allowed me to remain undisciplined. Within circus, I realised that what really resonated with me was the relationship between physical forces. Of course, circus isn’t just about this but, personally, I wanted to be able to make closer contact with these forces. So, I worked with a team to build structures that would enable me to research the interactions that we have with the physical forces. 

What is the relationship between the body of the performer and the structure of the set? 

I would call it a device rather than a set; it’s through this device that the individual becomes a subject. The devices amplify specific physical phenomenon. In science, we’d call them models – they’re simplifications of our world that enable me to amplify one particular force at a time. So, the individuals, when they become the subject of these particular model worlds, they are able to engage with forces in a new context. Together, this ensemble of devices, this constellation of constructed devices, tentatively approaches the point of suspension. And so, this makes up a body of research; it’s a life’s research that doesn’t have an end in itself. 

Is the space that surrounds a device important to the overall performance? 

Yes it is; all the performances are site specific, so when I talk about ‘suspension’, that also involves the relationship that the device has with the environment. As such, the art work is poetically enhancing the environment, and vice versa; the environment is poetically enhancing the device. I’m looking for something that works both ways, and it’s also through this that I’m looking for the point of suspension. 

La mécanique de l’Histoire, performed at the Panthéon in Paris, embodies that relationship between the device and the environment – would you be able to explain the concept behind that work? 

So, it was following the same line of enquiry as global research into the point of suspension. The Panthéon is emblematic of our history, and so I wanted to make something that would be appropriate to that space. It’s a place that embodies the footprints of our history, a history that is both eventful and full of conflict. So I presented a series of devices which could be seen in 360 degrees; the audience could move around the devices because they were all placed in spaces that would allow for that circular movement. In the centre of the space, there was Foucault’s Pendulum, a device which, in the nineteenth century, provided tangible and visible proof that the earth turns.  At the heart of this work was this fascination with movement. 

What is the relationship between physics and performance?

The relationship with physical forces has an eloquent capacity that can be very big; it has the kind of expression that is universal. This is something I look for through my work, because the physical phenomenon is something that happens across cultures. 

Are the costumes of performers important or secondary in a performance? 

No, the costumes are actually quite important for exploring the relationship with the physical phenomenon. The costumes help to create something concrete. I’m trying to make our humanity visible, it’s not about being a specialist acrobat or a dancer. I’m playing with the most elementary gestures of our daily lives – like, just standing up, for example. The costumes work to enhance this elementary simplicity that I’m looking for.  

How do you want viewers to engage with your work?

I think it links a bit to the previous question, in the sense that I’m trying to generate empathy from the audience. The essential question is one of relationships, I’m considering the idea that, as beings, we are about relationships. A performance is something that only exists through the relationships of the present; it exists only here and now. Something that is extremely important to me is seeing our relationship with the universe, in times of ecological catastrophes, looking at our relationship to the earth. And it’s here that the poets have their role to play. 


  1. La mécanique de l’Histoire (All photos)

C. Fitz

“sometimes, it’s really not reinventing yourself, it’s just finally coming into what you’ve always been”

As a filmmaker, director and producer, C. Fitz has built up a wealth of experience working within the industry. Starting out working on the commercial side, Fitz worked on the pilot of Queer Eye for the Straight Guy back in 2003 – a gig that introduced her to TV work. Yet, documentaries and short films have always been a passion for Fitz, something that is clearly apparent in the way that ShowGirls, Provincetown, MA (2009) and Jewel’s Catch One (2016) are shot. Whilst ShowGirls, a documentary about the showgirls of Provincetown’s legendary talent show, has become something of a cult hit, Jewel’s Catch One was picked up for release by Ava DuVernay’s distribution company, ARRAY, in 2018. The documentary tells the story of Jewel Thais-Williams, whose nightclub, the Catch One in LA, provided a safe space for LGBTQ, Black and Aids-affected communities over the four decades it was open. During its tenure, the Catch became a haven from the outside world for many, as rare footage of Madonna at the club in Fitz’s film demonstrates. With interviews from Thelma Houston, who heard her hit song Don’t Leave Me This Way for the first time at the Catch, Sharon Stone and Evelyn “Champagne” King, Jewel’s Catch One is a loyal and endearing tribute to the legacy of Thais-Williams. In the time since the documentary’s release, Fitz has been working on other projects; a few days prior to our phone call, Fitz enjoyed her TV scripted directorial debut for an episode of the fourth series of Ava DuVernay’s TV show, Queen Sugar. Speaking to Fitz, it is clear that the opportunity to watch this debut alongside Ava at Array’s Amanda Theatre, LA, is as valuable as the opportunity to tell important stories and create thought-provoking content.

NR MAGAZINE: Something that is striking about Jewel’s Catch One is the need to preserve the memories of the space as the club was being wound up. Did you anticipate this change when you started out filming to documentary?

C. Fitz: When I started making the film, I did not think of Catch One without Jewel as the owner because, at that time, it was all that that building and its stories had known for a little over three and a half decades. I did feel strongly about recording the history so that her story and the stories of our community’s perseverance were not lost. To me, the film was like a huge unwritten textbook that needed to be made.

NR: Would you agree that some aspects of Jewel’s Catch One, in the short time since filming, now feel bittersweet, as the political mood seems to be operating in reverse?

C.F: The political climate today; it seems like we’ve got so far to go to reach equality….one step forward, two back, three back…..I don’t think we ever imagined that we could feel like we are going in reverse. I think there is a lesson there too. Is it reverse, or do we just need to keep on fighting and not get distracted from making change happen? We need to dig in like Jewel, the patrons, and supporters of Catch One did for years to fight for our rights and our community’s rights. Change, real change, takes time and tenacity to believe it will, and can happen. This is one of the takeaways from making this film. During the four decades the Catch One operated there were many times the police tried to tear down communities  – whether it was raiding and targeting the Black and Gay clubs at hours that would hurt their businesses the most, or arresting patrons for false acquisitions. The film sheds some light on what that felt like, and what not giving up looks like…

NR: As a filmmaker, what compels you to tell someone’s story for an audience that may have little connection to, or knowledge of, their circumstances?  

C.F: Jewel’s Catch One has a very important history that I wanted to preserve in a format that would carry its message for a broader audience in, for, and outside of Los Angeles. I felt this film contained so many different histories and lessons for everyone, and everyone should know this story so they can reflect on how we got here as a country, and how we can persevere in the future towards equality.

NR: In Jewel’s Catch One and ShowGirls, there’s a real sense of community forged around the shared enjoyment and appreciation for the spaces and entertainment involved. How do you achieve the warmth in these films that can be felt as a viewer? 

C.F: I feel you need to spend as much time as you can as a filmmaker, recording what you can document, and then reflecting back on the footage in the edit room to tell the best story to your audience. With each film, I spent a lot of time with my subjects – and did whatever I could to learn about them, their environments and basically submerse myself in their worlds. In both instances, I was already a part of some of the ‘world’ but needed to learn more, to find out why they are doing what they are doing.

NR: Do you think you can tell stories if you’re not really part of that world, or do you have to have a connection to it to be able to tell it well?

C.F: I think, as a filmmaker, especially in terms of documentary, you have to have some connection to it. That doesn’t mean you have to be of that community, but you have to have that passion to tell that story. How you tell it is what you have to figure out next, and hopefully you figure out so you can tell it the right way. You have to immerse yourself, talk to people, find out all the different stories you need, and then find the ones that are the best to support the story you want to tell.

NR: Being around Jewel and the spaces she’s involved with, was there a sense of community that struck you as unique to that space? How did people react to Jewel, and respond to what she was doing?

C.F: It was amazing, it really, really was. Whether it be at the Catch or the Village Health Foundation, I got a little sense of what the soup kitchens that were held in the parking lot back in the ‘80s-‘90s would have been like. In the documentary, there are scenes from the 2016 Pride Parade in LA, which Jewel was a part of, and people were thanking her for all the work she’s done. That’s the community she built and supported – and supported when nobody else would. So the sense of community was incredible, and the sense of her being the mother of it all was incredible to watch and really feel.

NR: How did the relationship with Ava [DuVernay] come about? 

C.F: We met her at Urbanworld Film Festival, our New York debut. She was speaking there, and was our top choice of distributor. How we were going to get there, we weren’t sure. It’s a great story – how we actually, physically, met. She was leaving after giving a speech on the last day of the festival, and Jewel and I were behind trying to catch up with her. We weren’t doing so hot, but we were close. And then it was kismet and she was pushed back into me by the crowd  and I helped her back up;(It was so crowded and every one wanted to talk to her) and she turns right around and says, ‘good catch’, which was so funny considering the film’s called Jewel’s Catch One. Anyway, then she was off again, but when I had the chance, I grabbed her and said, ‘Hi! My name is Fitz, I have Jewel’s Catch One which is my documentary and this is Jewel’; she turns to Jewel and she says, ‘you’re Jewel? I’ve heard so much great stuff about you’. She told me that she definitely wanted to review my film, that she’d heard great stuff about it. These things are never instant; it took two years to distribute the film. But, Array is where the film was supposed to be. They take such great care of their filmmakers and are celebratory of their filmmakers, and that was really important to me, And it was such a gift. It was such an interesting meeting the first time, but it was meant to be.

NR: Have there been any major obstacles that you’ve had to confront over the course of your career?

C.F: In general, I think, as a filmmaker, you really hope you’re picking the right projects and the right subjects, especially when it’s a passion project. You know, Jewel’s Catch One took me six years to make, and another two to distribute. That requires perseverance, and you’re also praying that you’re choosing the right things. You also have to be connected to what you’re doing and feel strongly about it – like I felt so strongly in my bones that I wanted to tell Jewel’s story. Again, with Queer Eye, I helped develop and create the pilot, and I wanted for that to be a masterpiece and make a difference in the world. It’s the same with being assigned as a director on Queen Sugar by Ava; I wanted it to be perfect and, I don’t know if that’s an obstacle, but you’re hoping that you’re choosing the right projects.

You’re talking about reinvention, and I think that that’s also about choosing what you’re going to be passionate about and what you’re going to really have that crazy tenacity for, in order to make content in the right way. Like Jewel’s Catch One, that could have been done a million different ways; it certainly could have been done in a shorter amount of time, without the music in it, without Thelma Houston, Evelyn Champagne King, and Sharon Stone… But, all those things matter to that story around Jewel being the central figure around them all, you know? So, yeah, time is always the hardest obstacle. But you know that; that’s part of the job. If you’re going to reinvent yourself, I think you really need to know what your passions are to have the perseverance that you’re going to need to get there. And sometimes, it’s really not reinventing yourself, it’s just finally coming into what you’ve always been and people seeing it finally.

Tara Olayeye

“when I’m actually there, I’ll naturally feel aligned, because I’m not thinking myself into oblivion”

For Tara Olayeye, whose relationship with her work mirrors her relationship with herself, the practice of film-making has turned into an experience as meditative as it is creative. Her latest short film, So Natural, proves as profound in aesthetic as it is in prose & composition. The visual aspect is only a portion of the young Atlanta-based director’s crafts, as the poem she recites over the film is an adaptation of a song she wrote when she was 18 years old, which she re-appropriated from her archives for the purpose of the film. Her experience with music– singing and playing the piano– reflects in the care she has for the rhythm and pace of a narrative.

The production of this short film was a tough tango between Olayeye and the vintage 16mm camera she swears by. The texture and character of the footage shot on film is true to the attitude of the device. The level of attention and awareness required to shoot with it turned being on set into an undertaking of mindfulness.

Being drawn away from her initial inspiration and expectations, she picked up on the resonance of her own creativity. As So Natural emerged, she found her expectations exceeded by what it turned into, despite coming inches away from moving on from it. Olayeye’s latest project was the fruit of months of internal tides of inspiration which intersected between motion picture, poetry, spoken-word, and music. Patience, with herself and with her work, was of the essence. As she learns to trust her processes, she has been reminding herself not to give into doubt and fear.

Fear forms the roots of many of our expectations, as they manifest a need for security into the future. Figuring out how to let go of them becomes essential to tapping into one’s uninhibited creativity. Our apprehensions are often an architecture of our own mind, and moving forward and beyond them is the only way to embrace reality and discover the multitude of possibilities that may be, both in our work and our lives.

In constant creative expansion, the latest craft she has picked up on is knitting. Amidst the present circumstances, the therapeutic elements of art consist in much more than a practice: it becomes a philosophy and a way of life that nurtures and carries over into everything else.

Olayeye granted NR an introspective insight into her work, distilled below.

Between the visual, the musical and the poetic dimensions of your last film, So Natural, and over the course of the year during which it was shot, what was your creative process like?

I started brainstorming it in January of 2019, I had a concept that I wanted to do – I had a script and everything written out – and actually the final result of that project is not even close to what the original concept was supposed to be. Getting things set up and put together didn’t end up working out the way that I thought it was supposed to. Whenever we were shooting, there were so many mishaps and things going wrong because we shot on 16mm, and the camera that I was using, and still use, is a really old film camera, it’s – it has an attitude, so it was a little temperamental, and there were a bunch of hiccups that ended up happening. As I was trying to piece everything together, when I got the first rolls of footage back in the summer, in the way that I thought that it was supposed to go, it wasn’t working and

“I was almost about to scrap the entire thing, because I thought ‘This is not how I wanted it to be, this is a failure’.”

I walked away from it for a few months and realized “Okay, maybe this project isn’t working in the way that I initially thought, but that doesn’t mean I have to completely dispose of it, I can just re-imagine a storyline, re-imagine how I want this project to feel”. So I picked it back up again around September or October last year, I started re-shooting and I had these lyrics to a song that I wrote years and years ago, I don’t know how or why it came into my head while I was looking at this project, but as I was reciting the lyrics, I thought “wait, this could actually work really well as a poem”. It worked really well with the footage that we had shot over the past few months, so instead of the original script I had, I decided to use the words of that song that I wrote, when I was maybe 18 years old, and that’s where the poem is from. The music is one of my favourite songs of all time, and I emailed the record label that owns the rights to the song to see if I could have the permission to use the song in my project, because I just felt like it fit so perfectly. So that’s the story of the project. It was definitely a very unique experience, that’s not really how I’ve gone about making a lot of my film projects, typically I have a script, I have a very clear vision of what I’m gonna do, and even though things change and evolve, it still holds that same essence of the original concept.

“This project was literally writing itself and I was just there to be as open with it, and accepting of the path that it was taking.”

How did you feel about the way it turned out as opposed to what you initially had in mind?

I’m even more happy with what it turned into. It’s funny because as artists or creatives, whatever you wanna call it, we have– or, I’ll just speak for myself– I tend to have preconceived notions of what I want a project to look like, I’ll think “it’s going to be like this and like that” and the way the project moves, circumstances change, and the project just naturally evolves and what you thought the project was going to be– it just becomes better than you ever expected it to. So that’s always amazing to witness and experience.

It seems like you had a dynamic relationship with this project; how did that reflect with your relationship with yourself?

Last year was really interesting for me, it was a year where I really began to learn more about myself, and I began to realize a lot of negative patterns I had developed throughout my entire life. Patterns of perfectionism, feeling like I needed to control everything, feeling like I needed to know everything, and if I didn’t, I would feel like I was just missing something. It makes perfect sense that this project was my main focus last year, because I did a lot of self-reflection and flowing with myself and, like you said, surrendering a little, and not feeling like I had to control everything and I think that reflected a lot in this particular project because I went into it thinking I knew what was going to happen but then it just flowed into something completely different. It really showed me the importance of being open and not being rigid with my creativity, and understanding that art can in different ways teach a lesson and teach you about yourself, and teach you about life, so

“that project was definitely a reflection of my inner-growth and of being open.”

What made you inclined to shoot this project on film?

I really wanted to learn how to shoot film for the longest time, just from watching other people’s work, watching films that were shot on film, I loved the look of it and I wanted to try it out. I was fortunate enough to know someone who had a film camera sitting in their basement and they sold it to me. It’s definitely a learning curve– shooting on film when we have such instant gratification with shooting digitally– there’s so much we don’t have to think about, whether its just taking a picture on your phone or shooting with a cinema camera. Shooting on film is a humbling experience and it forces you to be very attentive and be really intentional about every shot that you make; you have to be really alert when shooting on film, which I think is a really good practice just in general

What nurture your creativity, and what inhibits it?

For me, patience is the most important thing. I tend to feel restless at times when working through a creative project because it’s easy to care more about the end result than the process. But every step you take while creating something counts for something. So staying with it and reminding myself that the pace that things are going is the pace that is meant to be helps me a lot.

I realize that fear blocks my creativity, I don’t believe [those two states can co-exist]: true creation and fear. You can’t [be fearful] when creating because what makes creating so magical is that you’re letting go of the need to know, you have to trust the process, so it’s interesting how I am a creator but at the same time I deal with a lot of fear. Wanting to create, and Create wholeheartedly, while having these underlying feelings of fears: fear of judgement, fear of failure, fear that things won’t work out, fear that you are wasting your time… It’s an interesting back and forth between creating and fearing.

The main thing is just going with it and within, not thinking too much, feeling my way around. Each creative flow is different but I guess

“the common denominator with each endeavour is being fully committed because I really do believe that as long as I Commit, I really can’t fail.”

When do you feel aligned the most?

I think I feel the most aligned when I’m not in my head. Over-thinking is so exhausting and it’s something that I have a lot of experience with. I feel like even when I’m doing something that I love, if I’m in my head about it, I don’t feel aligned. It’s really important to live outside of my head as often as possible. [While doing] anything like just walking down the street, talking to a friend or eating a meal, as long as I’m present, when I’m actually there, I’ll naturally feel aligned, because I’m not thinking myself into oblivion or panicking about something that holds no real weight. I feel the most aligned with my true nature, who I actually am, my power, all of that; I feel alive and connected to all that when I am actually within my body, doing something with full attention.

Jonas Åkerlund

Jonas Akerlund

“Sometimes a blank canvas is not always the best idea, it’s nice when it becomes about dialogue”

Like water through a closed fist, success seeps before permeating, so often we are only left with a feeling. Uncurling his wet fingers to peer down at the traces left to puddle in the creases of his fissured palms, Jonas Åkerlund yields a single flick of the wrist, scattering droplets skyward before running it through the tresses of his long, greased, black hair. It’s hot, midday in Los Angeles after all and sweat begins to bead as abstraction is traded for sensation. The Grammy-award winning director oscillates between fatherhood, soggy cereal and a full-house in the face of COVID-19 and chatty meetings surrounding the debut of Clark, a new, Netflix show he co-wrote about a Swedish libertine whose crimes forged the spine of the term Stockholm Syndrome before carving out some time to chat.

Having worked in the industry for almost 30 years now, Jonas has established himself as a prodigious, music-video director capable of wielding a colossal range spanning across genres and decades before situating himself more comfortably in writer’s rooms and director’s chairs on sets of feature-length films. “People expect me to take them out of their comfort zone, they expect me to have a voice,” says Jonas. Mind you these “people” include the likes of Beyonce, The Rolling Stones, The Prodigy, ABBA, Dior, Paul McCartney, Madonna, Givenchy and Lady Gaga. His most recent film, Lords of Chaos (2018),showcased a sublime bridging of his raw sensibilities with the creation of the kinds of omniscient visual languages he is known for. Yet as he unclenches and clenches his fists again, peering down into introspection, Jonas shies away from what we think he is looking for. Remaining wary of success because it is too often a ceiling, he is still learning to use his wings, coasting on the jetstreams of his own creativity. The legacy he is building values hindsight as vision and resilience is the only feeling he is chasing with arms outstretched, grasping, reaching.

You’ve got such a distinct style and have worked with such a wide range of clients in the entertainment industry ranging from music, to film, to fashion, garnering much awareness to your visual world but we wanted to give you more of an opportunity to talk about the experiences and perspectives that shaped your lens — more so than just your lens itself. When you were a child, where did you get your ideas about the future from? Can you think of any particularly formative experiences from your childhood that you can remember?

Growing up in the seventies and eighties was probably the best time to grow up in. I wouldn’t wish that I was born 10 years earlier or 10 years later. Everything was just perfect, especially from a cultural and musical perspective because all the best music came out of that era. This was a time when bands did an album and a tour every year and for some weird reason they always came to Stockholm. Music was a big deal in my life since my early teens I would say and it was really one of those things where people just picked up the instrument and did it. I really thought that I would work with music but I was always drawn more to the visual aspect of it. I was the guy who came up with the name, I was the guy that made the logo, I was the guy that thought about where the instruments should be on the stage. I didn’t know back then, but I realize now that I wasn’t a very good musician. I was always a film guy, always loved films and I had as many film posters on my wall as I did with music posters but it wasn’t until I did military service where for some weird reason, I ended up taking pictures for an army magazine of sorts, that I realized for the first time in my life, I had a lot of confidence. It was the most natural thing in the world for me and almost in an instant, I stopped playing music. When I discovered film editing specifically, not just photography, it was like I met God. Mt first year in production I was an assistant to a director who was very, very skilled in editing, very ahead of his time and we’re talking early nineties here. A lot of his techniques and a lot of the way he prepared for a shoot and put stories together was to always have the edit in the back of your head, that’s how I learned. I never stopped hanging with musicians and I never stopped loving music but my focus quickly became the fact that I was the guy with a camera instead of the guy banging the drums.

Right and thinking about music as a whole, there’s obviously such an emotional release or sense of catharsis that is innate to it. Examining the editing process, that’s seemingly how you shape and communicate emotions visually. I’m wondering if you can give verbal form to your own visual language and explain how editing renders the emotionality that goes into music and film as a whole.

I think what I discovered was that I was very limited when I played music because I didn’t really write songs or lyrics, but what I learned quickly with editing was that I could easily use small details to change how you looked at something. I could move a frame or two and you see the whole thing completely different. I could add a sound effect and all of a sudden it’s scary, add another sound effect and you would feel something else entirely. It was incredible, it almost made me feel like a magician to see how I could manipulate people to think and feel with my edits. I still love that and unfortunately when you make music videos and commercials as I’ve done with the bigger part of my life, you never get to see your audience and experience it with them. So when I started making movies and had the chance to be a part of the audience and to watch their reactions, I couldn’t get enough of it. It was so interesting to feel the shifts in emotions, moods and energy and how what I made would move them around.

Right and with art as a whole, some people want their art to be “understood” verbatim, they want their audience to know what the message is that they’re trying to communicate and for them to get it. When you’re in the audience watching their reactions, is this what you desire? Or are you open to having people feel what they’re going to feel and walking away with their own interpretation of your work? How in control do you need to be?

I mean we always have a vision and we always have an idea when we set out to create things. For example, I remember so clearly thinking that when I did The Prodigy’s music video Smack My Bitch Up, that it was funny. I thought it was a comedy and I showed it to some friends in Sweden and they were laughing their asses off so when it came out, I couldn’t believe the reaction and that it upset a lot of people. On the flip side of that, I remember when I premiered my movie Spun at the Arc Lightwhich I actually thought was a pretty serious movie, that during the first scene everybody was laughing and I’m like, why are people laughing? This is serious shit. It took me years before I realized that Spun is actually a comedy. But especially now when I’m writing, I always have an idea of where I want to go with it. I’m not just doing it and hoping for the best but it takes years before you learn to see stuff for what it is. Even for my video Ray of Light [with Madonna which he won a Grammy for in 1999], it took me 10 years before I was proud of that video. I thought it was way too simple and I remember coming back to Sweden after I made it and I didn’t want to show it to my friends because I thought they would say, ‘oh, so you go to America and work with Madonna and this is what you come back with?’ It took me years before I realized that that’s just the best package ever, that album, the Mario Testino pictures and when I was in that moment, I couldn’t see it, you know?

Right and is that frustrating at all or are you now resigned to the fact that some things are just better seen with hindsight? Does it mar the experience of making it?

Yeah, but it goes the other way too because sometimes I’ve done what I think is some of my best work and people didn’t really respond to it or didn’t even watch it. Timing is something you cannot plan.

Do you mean like the cultural timing of what people are going to be thinking or have references to in that moment of a project’s release?

Yeah how you release stuff, how you market stuff, it’s all so sensitive, you know? I think we all know that feeling of when we discover a movie that we’ve never seen before and we ask ourselves ‘why didn’t I ever see this movie?’ It’s not a given that just because it’s good, that it’s gonna work or be successful, you know? We also know that some really bad stuff is making it big simultaneously. We can never learn a way to control that, it’s impossible. In my point of view, all my favorite artists, my favorite directors, favorite musicians, they all fail once in a while because they’re brave and they choose to believe their gut feeling and go with it. I’m not a big fan of these smart artists who always get it right, if you know what I mean. [laughs]

Yeah because then creation is coming from a place where it’s for others instead of yourself, it becomes unhinged.

Yeah I think so. Obviously with a lot of my jobs I’m the director for hire so I always need to think about my clients and the artists I’m working with since I’m ultimately there for them.

Definitely but when you are working with clients who may not align with your aesthetic or your vision per se, what are you willing to compromise on? Where do you draw the line?

That’s a tough question. Number one, I’m really happy and blessed that I get to work with brave clients and artists who really want to make good stuff. Number two, I kind of ended up being the guy to go to if you want something special, so people expect me to take them out of their comfort zone, they expect me to have a voice. Often times with commercials, my job is to understand the DNA of the company and product and to figure out what it is they want to do and that’s half the battle. I’ve always kind of done the same with music videos and out of my 300 music videos or so, I don’t think I ever was on an ego trip. I just try not to do what they’ve done before and pull them out of their comfort zone without making them feel too far away from who they are. It’s kinda my job to push it a little bit.

Right. The idea of comfort zones is really interesting because they seemingly are the boundaries to our own identities and affinities. In taking your collaborators out of their respective comfort zones, what does that process really look like for you?

I mean, it’s so different from time to time. There’s not a manual for how it goes down but I think it’s a mixture of several different things. One of them is the fact that I don’t like to repeat things and I always try to do something that’s never been done before. Especially in music videos, if you take a specific artist, usually you can backtrack easily and see what they’ve done. It becomes about balance and you always have to stay within the DNA of what the artist is all about. You can’t just take an artist and put them in a clown outfit and say, this is something different, you know, it’s got to be within their ethos. So sometimes when I say to take them out of their comfort zone, it could be the tiniest push that could take them there, it could be as simple as a hat. Some artists have been pushed in so many different directions that it’s really hard to come up with an idea that will make your approach to them different in the sense that is illuminating. I have often found that it’s sometimes about simplifying stuff, it’s easy to hide behind what’s big and gigantic. My strength is usually to listen to the music and figure out what the timing is, what the song is about, whatever it is. From there I’ve found the best situation is when the artist has some sort of initial thought that could trigger an idea for me, it cascades from there. Sometimes a blank canvas is not always the best idea, it’s nice when it becomes about dialogue.

Especially with music videos and performance in general, you really do get to play with the idea of multiple selves as our identities because it’s always changing. Do you too feel like you get to play with the duality of performance in terms of your style and your own relationship with yourself?

Well it actually used to trouble me a little bit because I felt like I didn’t have a style. A lot of my favorite directors and photographers that I’ve always looked up to had such distinctive styles and specific things to where you could see a mile away if they had done something. Meanwhile, I felt like I was going too broad. One day I was doing an H&M commercial with children’s clothes and the next day I was doing an Ozzy Ozbourne video. It actually took me a few years to be proud of the fact that I could do that. I also realized that it fuels me, to where one thing leads to another, one thing makes me more inspired. There was also a time when I was really snobbish with music videos, I turned down stuff because I personally didn’t like it and that became such a limitation for me. I remember clearly when I said ‘yes’ to work with Christina Aguilera because I had said that I wasn’t going to work with any of those pop artists. When we did the video for Beautiful, it was such a life changing moment for me because it really made me think that I should say yes to stuff. Now I realize that 25 years into my working life that a lot of these fantastic, life changing moments have been a result of me saying yes to stuff instead of saying, no. Sometimes I joke that I built my career on saying yes. [laughs]

Right and I feel like so much of that comes from being naturally empathetic as it allows you to move easily between realms, genres and contexts while knowing what you bring to the table as a director in each scenario. I feel like it also fuels growth and ultimately longevity that hinges on a strong sense of resilience.

You wear so many different hats and I actually feel younger than ever as a director even though I’ve done it for so many years. But you do get to a point where every problem and challenge you face is kind of something you’ve encountered before. There’s a reason why a lot of big directors not only have a long career but that they also get better and better. With most professions you kind of get weaker as you get older but as a director and a writer, you get a little smarter and you begin to approach challenges in a smarter, calmer way. I still see that I definitely have the best ahead of me. I now have confidence as a writer which I never had before in my life and there’s a lot of things that happen to me as a director now that makes it easier for me to take on things. I also think it’s an addiction. It’s such a rush through your body when you’re done with a project, you get the same rush each time you get a new idea and every time you start up a new project, it’s amazing. A lot of these big directors could have stopped years ago and lived pretty good lives and then there are those who stop because they don’t have more to give. I feel like I’m spreading out my creativity over my whole life because I have always seen myself as a slow starter.

But ultimately you cannot be a filmmaker without being some sort of businessman and understand that somebody is paying you. Unfortunately, filmmaking is not something you can just do for fun because it’s so expensive to make films and it involves so many people. Sometimes you’re sitting with an idea for years that may never happen. I was thinking of Lords of Chaos for 15 years before I got to make it. It is a weird lifestyle if you try to explain what it is you’re doing to a normal person. There’s always a risk you take because you can work so hard for so long and even then it might not even happen, it’s never a safe bet.

Yeah and thinking specifically about projects like Lords of Chaos, previously you used the phrase expectation of voice in relation to your work and I think that’s something that is an interesting hallmark. You were able to essentially turn a rather harrowing account of coming of age and tarnished dreams into a story of brotherhood, vulnerability and relationships.

Lords of Chaos was a journey even for myself because it didn’t really start it off like that initially. I thought I was doing a movie about black metal, what happened in Norway and the church burnings and all of that but it actually took me all the way to the edit to realize that this story is about the relationships between these three boys. A lot of people had already decided what Lords of Chaos was gonna be about before they saw it and they were surprised when they did see it because it wasn’t what they expected. We all think we know the story better than everybody else, but nobody ever talked really about the fact that these boys were young and there was an extreme bond between these three boys. I guess the biggest lie of that movie is me thinking that I knew how they felt and the depth of the other relationships they had. I can imagine how they felt and I can imagine how horrible everything was but it’s really hard for me as a director and writer to know for sure. That’s originally why I added based on truths or lies to the opening of the film because the point is that we’re walking right into the privacy of these young boys and their families and all the relatives that are still mourning and it’s fucking sad.

Right we touched a little bit on how getting into writing was also a big deal for you. There’s a certain door to vulnerability that is opened with writing in general. Can you talk us through the process of getting to know your own writing voice and what it means to tell someone else’s story through that voice?

Historically writing has been a struggle for me because I’m very dyslexic. I grew up in a time when this dyslexia was seen more as a handicap but today the approach to it is a little different. It was my biggest nightmare when people asked me to write down my ideas but when I started to work in America and write in English, I always figured that it was okay to write a little wrong because English is not my first language. It actually gave me more confidence because I felt like the margin of error was excusable and it was like if you don’t understand, you can ask me, you know? In filmmaking, writing it’s the hardest thing in the world and so often you are starting from scratch. For so long I’ve respected it from afar but I didn’t realize that’s also actually what I do. Even if you write something that’s four minutes for a music video, or 15 minutes for a short film or even 30 seconds for a commercial, you’re still a writer, it’s still the same challenge and who knew that I had been doing it for so many years.

When I was going to write Lords of Chaos, I had to remind myself that I already had it in me so when I finally sat down to do so it came so fast, it just poured out of me. I wrote the first draft in a few weeks. I brought on Dennis Magnusson, who is a dramaturge, because sometimes it’s very lonely to write and it’s always great to have a second pair of eyes. Dennis really helped me to work through some of the story plots and we added the voiceover featured in the film together. I know exactly what my strengths and weaknesses are when it comes to writing, for instance I’m really good at adding tone, writing dialogue.

A project that I’m working on now is writing this series for Netflix with two other guys. I would say it’s one of the most fun things I’ve done in my life. It’s a six-episode, limited series but it’s basically like making three movies in a row. It’s based on Clark Oloffsson who is a very infamous criminal, bank robber and womanizer who has been called Sweden’s first “pop-gangster.” He was present at the Norrmalmstorg robbery whose events resulted in the creation of the phrase “Stockholm syndrome” to describe them.

That’s super exciting! When you’re collaborating with other writers and having to know what you bring to the table, what do you think makes you good at things like dialogue, tone, those sorts of very nuanced things?

Oh, wow. I have no idea. I just always liked to study people, listen to how people talk, walk, dress differently on all fronts. I’ve always been a student of human behavior and with some of my friends, it’s all that we talk about. I’m not very educated but I got a big portion of common sense in my life by being street savvy and a lot of the things that I pick up when I write jokes and stuff is from real life.

Right and especially being as established as you are, to have this idea where you are still learning from those around you all the time is remarkable. With that in mind, whose opinion matters to you? Where does validation come in?

I’m a pretty good listener and somebody could say something about something without not even meaning it and that could take me down a mental rabbit hole of something else entirely. Those words could come from anywhere, a comment, or a question about something I did and then suddenly I understand it or see it from another point of view. When I’m working on a music video, I’m so blessed to work with creative people and their input makes me better and takes me to places where I didn’t think I could go. Madonna being my number one example of this because we have such a history and she also caught me during a time when yeah, I had been working for almost 10 years before we met, but I didn’t know much. She brought me into scenarios that I never thought I could do and opened my eyes to the fact that you as a director have the right to change your mind or that you have the right to ask questions and that you can ask for a lot, but you always ask most out of yourself. I look at all of these amazing relationships I’ve had throughout my career and I’m always learning something from them. I never really shut anybody down and try to take everything in. I also have my crew around me, some of whom I’ve worked with for 30 years or so, I’m kind of a long relationship type of guy.

I love the longevity in terms of working relationships, there’s a respect for time and real growth. It’s interesting if you begin to look at the upcoming generation of creatives who are shaping the music scene in a totally different way today and there’s an overall feeling of transience, a constant rush to produce. Is this new generation as influential or as inspirational to you as the one you grew up in?

It’s so hard to say, I’m always kind of like that grumpy old man who thinks that everything was better before, especially in music. I try so hard to listen to new music but I always go back to the old stuff, it’s just who I am. I don’t have many references anymore, period. I’ve gone through all types of different periods of my life. There was a time when I was hugely inspired by fashion, photographers, I used to read all the magazines, watch all the movies and after a while you just stop that and you start to go back to yourself more. That’s the biggest growth creatively that I’ve ever felt, to stop feeling like I needed to know what other people were doing and to start to think about what I do. That’s a huge thing in your life. But I think creativity in general is blooming bigger than ever today. I have four children so I see what’s going on and it’s incredible. It’s so easy to be creative and do all these amazing things instantly. It’s amazing to see what everybody can do at home with their phones and they actually do it. I think it’s inspired them to do even more.

Right and I feel like why your work is so successful is because there’s this strong presence of originality and nowadays we are always grasping for another reference, always on social media looking at what other people are doing and being influenced by it. What allowed you to find peace with your own creativity, to turn inwards and to not feel the need for references despite having to produce all of these ideas and create?

I find it a good compliment and a good question all in one, but I don’t really know how it happens and when it happens. I think you’re born with a certain amount of creativity and you have to make sure that you use it well and use it smartly. I was always so insecure in my creativity up until a point where it suddenly felt easier for me. I feel like if you are insecure, it’s so easy to look around and see what other people do. I know how easy it is to be influenced by the world around you and how easy it is to want to do what other people do when it’s great. I know how easy it is to step into those traps but I can tell when I look back on my career what the different sources of inspiration have been, and where they’ve come from, I’m aware of that. It’s not like I’m not interested in what other people do anymore, or it’s not like I’m not still a student of creativity, but I’m not influenced in the same way. I don’t pick it up. I get influenced by other stuff. You know, it’s like I get influenced by a feeling or I get inspired by something someone said, I get inspired by a smile or the way something looks. I think it’s just a natural part of development and you should be really happy if you get there. The fact that I still leave the building at the end of the day, working on my confidence and see things as part of a bigger picture than I used to do, is ust a healthy thing for my work.

Yeah and where do you draw the line between influence and inspiration?

That’s a tough one. It’s a fine line between and my fear is always that if I start to analyze it too much, I’m, I’m worried I’m gonna lose it . For example, take Stephen King’s book, On Writing, I bought the audiobook and I listened to Stephen reading it himself and it’s just incredible how he speaks and how he talks about his writing process but I had to stop listening because I was worried that I was going to learn something from it that was going to ruin my own way of writing. I never went to school, I’m not technically a good writer in any way, but the ideas, scenes, the characters and the jokes, still pour out of my hands and I was just thinking, I’d rather have that than to learn how to actually write, you know? I couldn’t finish the book because I was worried that I was going to be too caught up in those things, trying to pretend that I’m Stephen King and writing the way he does, which is never gonna happen anyway, so I was like, okay, I’m not gonna do this.

Definitely and how do you define success there? What kind of emotions do you want it to leave you with, audience aside?

I mean when you do as much as I do, the hallmarks of success could come in so many different ways. It could be an extremely happy client. It could be that the product really worked and we sold a lot of stuff. It could be that we had 10 million downloads in the first three days. It could be the sense of fulfillment and desire to share. There’s not one answer for it. The one thing that keeps it all together for me is knowing that I did the best I can. The worst thing in the world for me is — even if the project was a success by another markers — feeling like I did a sloppy job. Even if I made a film that might not be that great, if I did the best I could do, that’s still a success for me because it still leaves me with a good feeling. But then again, it’s so hard to really define because when you’re in the moment you don’t really know how to gauge it outside of feeling. I can list the 10 moments in my career that took me further in life, or my 10 biggest hits and it’s easy to see them now when I’m looking back. But you don’t really know when you have success on your hands.

Right so what do you think endures and is it important for you to leave a legacy?

I’m not there yet, but it seems like the older you get, the more keen you are on these thoughts. Every artist that I’ve looked up to has some sort of book written about or by them, they’ve done work on a biopic or documentary and then if they’re lucky, there’s a movie about them. That’s what people seem to do but I’m a behind the scenes kind of guy and unfortunately my art is not meant to last. Movies don’t have the lifespan that music could potentially have or books could potentially have, movies get old, they often lean more towards entertainment and the present moment than art. I’m lucky that I have a few music videos that people remember but that’s not the purpose of them, they’re really just tools to create a moment that is now and then never again. I’m not meant to be remembered. I’m meant to entertain you now and that’s it, you know?

And is that okay with you? Is that what you want?

Yeah, I think it’s okay. Even some of the biggest filmmakers in the world are going to be forgotten unfortunately and that comes with the job. It’s more so just about telling the story and having it be understood. I can’t speak for other people, but it’s all about learning, moving forward and seeing past things to see the bigger picture. The worst fear in my life is to not be able to see beyond what’s in front of me. I always hope I’m learning. I hope I’m becoming better and I think about it every day and I think that goes for the people that are around me as well.If we understand that everything we do has an effect, and if we can see the bigger picture, that makes it easier.