Frankie Pappas

House Of The Pink Spot, Non-Negotiables and Banishing Egotism

Frankie Pappas is the collective pseudonym for an international architecture and design firm based in South Africa. They describe themselves as “a collection of brilliant young minds that do away with personal egotisms to find remarkable solutions.” NR Magazine joined Ant (I’d rather you didn’t use my surname please) in conversation. Ant is a storyteller, each question revealing more about the work of Frankie Pappas and the ideals and motivations behind the firm, each more interesting and radical than the last. 

Nicola Barrett: What was the process behind the creation of House of the Pink Spot and what were some of the challenges you faced on this project? 

That building came about because a friend of mine, Alicia, heads up this thing called Digital Disruptors. It’s one of her many projects. She wanted something to do in this area, Orange Farm, Drieziek in Johannesburg. She’d gotten some money and she didn’t know what to do with it. I said, well, I would approach it from an architectural perspective. I’m fascinated by how you can make small interventions in parts of the city and see what impact they have.

There are two stories that I told Alicia. One was of Guatemala. They were having these huge drug wars. I went there maybe ten years ago, just after these drug wars had kind of been quelled a bit in the urban areas. They were trying to reinitiate the use of these public spaces. So they just put massive amounts of really fast WiFi into these public places and a lot of light. When I went there these places were so full, everyone was working in their laptops. It was quite amazing. This idea that once you initiate people into a space, it inherently becomes a little bit safer. 

Another story like this that I like, is in Kenya, there is a main road to the airport that is incredibly well-lit. The reason is that the government wanted its dignitaries to have safe passage to the airport and back. I saw this one photograph, and it just stuck in my mind. It’s of these school kids sitting along this road, miles and miles of them because this is the only light they have access to. Doing their homework.  And it was just amazing. 

These two things stuck in my mind. I said, Alicia, this is probably what I would try to do. Bring light to the space and a hell of a lot of WiFi. Let’s find a spot where this could work. When we were there with GBV survivors and activists, they chose this one spot which was a dumping ground. We got that cleaned up and in essence, built this public park. I mean, it’s very small, but that’s what we had available in terms of the fund. We worked for free on this project because the budget was so small.

The construction of it is really interesting. It’s got to be the tallest building in Drieziek. We ordered the longest telephone poles we could get our hands on, painted them pink on the ground and then hoisted them up with solar lights on top of them. The seating is all just brickwork. It’s very simple stuff. All signage is hand painted by everyone. 

The challenges are numerous. The reason why it’s the Pink Spot is because we didn’t want it to be affiliated with a political party. The ANC, which is the ruling party, their colours are green, yellow and black. We went through all the colours of the parties and we were left with purple and pink. 

Nicola Barrett: Was it built on private land or public land?

Oh, my word. You’re going to get me into trouble here. I have absolutely no idea.

Nicola Barrett: Did you not come up against opposition when you start building in unclaimed places?

Well, it’s obviously someone’s land. And by someone, I mean, it’s some state enterprise. So it’s definitely not private property. Let’s call it municipal land for the sake of this conversation. It’s municipal land that is not only being under-utilised, it’s not being maintained. It’s a dumping ground.

Surely the city’s land belongs to citizens. I would expect that to not be a controversial statement. But it is. It’s on the bottom of a street that these activists live on. It is like an inherently unsafe space because it’s not being maintained. They said we’re going to try and make it safer for ourselves. We want a way to activate it, to maintain it. All we ask is leave us alone so that we can. Because our governments are so ineffectual, it has to be done by people who care, the citizens. It is like a type of guerrilla architecture.

Nicola Barrett: There are many unused spaces, particularly in urban areas, what’s your opinion of more radical ways of reclaiming these spaces?

I can only speak to it in a South African context. But I’m always surprised at the amount of legislation in the way between what exists and what I would like the city to be like. The offices that I’m in at the moment, this is our first development, because exactly this problem that you’ve spoken about.  What we are doing is not by the book. We’ve taken an Apartheid-era house that was not being utilised and we converted it into these six tiny little offices. It goes against every single regulation. 

But there’s a market for small office spaces. The smallest office space we can get is 45 square meters. Do we need 45 square meters? No, not really. Then we still have to pay for heating, for lights, for WiFi. Why don’t we do one ourselves where we make a seven square meter spaces and we make five other office spaces for other people with a shared boardroom and we get this thing off the grid so it’s on solar? We don’t need the municipality at all. 

If you don’t have the capacity as a citizen to change the city, I mean, what are we doing? I use the word citizen very deliberately because you choose to live in a city, so truly you should be able to change it in some way. It’s liberating, I suppose, in a weird way, to live in South Africa, where the protection of the law is so bad that you can implement this thing that you want to do.

Nicola Barrett: In what ways do you think people with fewer resources could potentially reclaim under-utilised spaces? 

This is one of the problems we’re trying to solve at the moment. Providing better accommodation and still making it economically interesting. Think £250 for two-bed apartment. That must sound insane to you. But is that achievable? Can we do it? Yeah, I think we can. It means finding spaces that are under-utilised in the suburbs, that’s easy enough to do because you have garages that are not being used. You’ve got people who are 65 years old who have a four-bedroom house whose kids have all left. Utilising those unused spaces could be done very well.

But the Gherkin can never be done well. In no world is that floor plan divisional.  All it supports is big companies.  It’s revered as this great piece of architecture by Norman Foster, but it’s a piece of nonsense. But it’s one of the things that’s so frustrating about the architectural world because it’s all about houses for really wealthy people, or big office buildings or the Line. But something like the Pink Spot, I think is a far more interesting project. If you build the Line, you will never be able to change it if you have a normal salary. The way to do it is to parcel land into small enough quantities that normal human beings can create change.  

And for architects to get involved in the curation of the city. You cannot be the servant of the rich and you cannot be the barefoot philanthropist, that’s the world. The role of the architect, I think, is looking after the health of the city. And so therefore, as an architect, you should be in the role of apportioning capital to projects that you think are valuable to the future city. The city you’d like to live in, as doctors, should be responsible for looking after the health of humans. Right. But we should afford architects this opportunity or this role. But of course, it’s not done that way. The people who are producing the city are developers who are, in essence working for provident funds or some sort of big capital-allocating entity, and that’s chaos.

Nicola Barrett: House of the Big Arch was designed with not only humans but local wildlife in mind. What were some of the challenges you faced doing this? 

I learned to say what is the non-negotiable. And a non-negotiable can be so philosophical and unattainable and unachievable in the beginning and then as long as you don’t move that line, it’s achievable. Can we build this building in a forest without disturbing a tree?

When you produce this very strict problem set, which is; we can’t disturb a tree, we have to get the materials from the closest town, it has to be all be carried by humans. How do we manage these extreme temperatures of 40 degrees? All of these are these very strict parameters that you can’t ignore. And once you are clear about them, it’s almost like linear programming, except not two-dimensional. Like a multidimensional linear programming problem where the problem space is so small that the form produces itself.

This architecture is not a function of invention, it is a function of discovery. Deciding on what those parameters are, that’s the real work. The rest, it just solves itself. Be real about what the problem set is and solve for that. And then you won’t get something boring. Not possible. I’m glad to say that’s the one thing I think all our projects, whether furniture or buildings or artwork, have that in common. Wonderfully similar but beautifully different. Because nothing looks the same. You wouldn’t think House of the Big Arch and House of the Pink Spot and House of the Flying Bowtie are designed by remotely the same people. 

Nicola Barrett: So you state that your collective pseudonym challenges the status quo. How so?

This was a joke. That statement is not a joke. But this was kind of poking fun at architecture firms named after the person who owns them. There is this inherent ego in it all. And I find that laughable. For multiple reasons. First of all, like, you have an infinite choice of names and you resort to your own, which you didn’t even choose for yourself. So you are both arrogant and stupid. Obviously, I’m being a little bit facetious, but I’m also not. 

I’d read a book by Willard Manus called Mott the Hoople, which is quite a funny book. The titular character’s friend was called Frankie Pappas. And I thought, Jeez, that’s my mother’s maiden name, and I’d never seen Pappas in a book. So I was like, oh, this is funny. And Frankie is gender-neutral. And I thought, that’s interesting, maybe there’s something there. Anyone can be Frankie. But I always laugh when there’s a man that comes through asking for Mr Pappas, and then I’m like, well, that person definitely hasn’t read what we’re about.

And the reason we were in search for this collective pseudonym is that there was a mathematician called Nicolas Bourbaki who was releasing all these amazing papers on math, but it turned out like he was ten twenty-year-olds who had decided to collaborate under this collective pseudonym and they just changed mathematics. I think he is still, to this day, the most published mathematician. He’s multi-generational and we liked the idea of a multi-generational architectural firm in South Africa, because there aren’t that many of them. That’s why Frankie is Frankie. 

Nicola Barrett: You state on your website that almost the entire tradition of Western formal architecture has produced sculpture rather than architecture. How so? 

I think for a long time it has been the case. Formal architecture has always been something that you have to sell to someone. So whoever is the client, you have to give them drawings and models. It’s very difficult to make a drawing and make someone focus on the stuff that is inside the drawing. Like how the space solves these issues. Or you discuss the sculpture of the model and someone says, I don’t know how that looks. How do you discuss the space inside a model? It’s impossible. Informal architecture has been one of, what do I need? I need to solve this issue. I have another child. Therefore, there needs to be another bedroom. It’s a very practical thing. 

I was in a competition and one of the guys was discussing the school he had made. This thing was clad in rock from the area and then one of these rock tiles had been removed, and then they put a stainless steel tile there. And he said, because we wanted the stainless steel to reflect the sky, and so, therefore, the sky would be bursting out from between the rocks. Why clad it in rocks in the fucking first place? There’s this obsession with what the thing looks like. 

The most amazing photographs of the Pink Spot are the ones taken by Tshepiso Seleke. He does not give a shit about the architecture. He doesn’t care. He’s just like, there’s a beautiful person. There’s another beautiful person doing something. Doesn’t even look at the building. That shot that he took of those kids with those go-karts is just my favourite thing ever. That’s what I mean. There’s this obsession with what this thing looks like. That’s not the important stuff.

Nicola Barrett: What advice would you give to young creatives working in our architecture and design?

My only advice is that in the contemporary world, I think we are solving a lot of problems that are not actually problems. It’s like this artificial intelligence. This is a problem that is being solved that isn’t a necessary problem to solve. What is the actual improvement? 

I suppose the thing is to see what are real problems and identify those as real problems and then solve those real problems. To actually be honest with oneself what real problems are. That’s not easy. We all get caught up in our own world. Taking a step back and thinking, where should I spend my time… Because you’ve got finite breath, right? 

Many of us are incredibly doubtful in ourselves, stressed and worried. We think we are not big enough to contribute or to change everything, and we see these problems. But I think there are these small little things that we can get right and we can just try. The Pink Spot, just for the photos of those kids enjoying themselves, that makes it worth it. I always tear up when I see them. It’s so beautiful. 

Amnesia Scanner & Freeka Tet

21st-Century Boy Band

“Maybe this is the begging of a chapter of hope” says Ville Haimala who, alongside Martti Kalliala, makes Amnesia Scanner. For the past few years they’ve been collaborating with French artist Freeka Tet on live streams, live performances, singles and now an LP. Their latest offering, STROBE.RIP, is a kind of snapshot into what could be a new era for the group.

In our zoom conversation, an internet lag causes their voices to converge in a surreal harmony that oscillates between temporal delays and shared laughter. But they don’t let it deter them. To Amnesia Scanner & Freeka Tet, technology is a tool to be tinkered with, deconstructed and recalibrated to create familiar yet uncanny results. There’s always a twist. Their live shows plunge audiences into smoke, sound and light, forcing them to partake in a ‘roided up sensory experience that fuses observer and participant.

The Amnesia Scanner project began online as cryptic videos and enigmatic songs sung by ‘oracle’ and produced by the ‘xperienz designers’. Now after almost a decade of building their labyrinth they’re knocking down the walls to reveal a harmonious exchange of ideas where even the crustiest sample plays a part in their audiovisual puzzle. The frictions of their past LPs have given way to something more rounded and smooth. The angst has been quelled and the group even go so far to envision a whimsical future as K-pop style idols.

Raudie McLeod: For most people Amnesia Scanner & Freeka Tet exist online through special URLs, streaming platforms, discord, even a local WiFi network etc. Where are you IRL?

Martti Kalliala:  Right now I’m in Berlin.

Ville Haimala: I’m in eastern Finland.

Freeka Tet: I’m in New York.

Raudie McLeod: You’ve recently played live shows in various cities around Europe and also two shows in Australia. How do you collaborate and practise when you’re in different time zones?

(The zoom called lags and FT, MK & VH all speak in unison, stop in unison, and then chuckle in unison)

Ville Haimala: This is how we collaborate… with a huge lag! Since the beginning Amnesia Scanner has never worked so much based on a traditional band or studio session format. It was a distributed project since the beginning and we’ve always worked with different people in different places. It’s quite an online native thing. I guess this is the way we also build our live shows. A lot of the work is done online before and then we convene and start putting pieces together.

Martti Kalliala:   I can confirm that. There is a group chat. There’s several group chats actually, with different collaborators and a lot of this happens asynchronously.

Ville Haimala: and a lot of chaotic folder structures of different medias.

Freeka Tet: Time for a little sponsorship with dropbox, I think….

Raudie McLeod: STROBE.RIP is a fairly stripped back version of your previous albums. It sounds as though Amnesia Scanner have been softened by the trauma of reality post-covid and the present living crisis. It’s an emo album in a way. Did you approach the songwriting differently?

Ville Haimala: Somewhat yes and somewhat no. I don’t think the songwriting approach is different other than working on some of the material together with Freeka. Songwriting for me is more like channeling. it’s not so much deciding ‘I’m going to make a song like this or I’m going to make a song like that’ it’s more so working on material and seeing where it ends up and I guess in that sense something has become more emo or more mellow. Or maybe the two previous records were so angry or loud and it felt good to have a bit of an oasis. I think STROBE.RIP is at the same time very soft but also very intense. There are sides to it. ‘Merge’ is probably the most distorted and loud song we ever made.

Freeka Tet: When we started to do music together during covid, way before the album, it was more band oriented. We spoke a lot about our beginnings when we all teenagers and started to do music. We were all in bands when we were kids. The emo came from that, the common ground of us as teenagers, so maybe it’s stuck a little bit.

Ville Haimala: Our first ever musical collaboration was a streamed performance that we did over 3 days where we arranged some of tearless and some unreleased material into literally unplugged versions and streamed them over this campfire setting. The seed for this collaboration was sown around that time.

Raudie McLeod: I’d been an amnesia scanner listener for some time, but my first introduction to Freeka Tet was the Unplugged: Part 5 performance at Terraforma 2022. The long prosthetic arm was spellbinding. You have a knack for mangling the expected, for example your piano keyboard software. How did you arrive at this point in your work?

Freeka Tet: The prosthetic animatronics is something in common with Amnesia Scanner. This absurd, almost dadaist vibe that I grew up with. I grew up watching Cunningham and Gondry. All that stuff, all the weirdness, I always liked it. As for the piano, my work in general is more performance based. I’m not a musician per se, as in writing music. I think I have always been really into making music with daily activities. My main performance before Amnesia Scanner was making music just with my face. I needed something very universal that I could play in Japan or Berlin or wherever and the reading would be the exact same. Very universal. The piano thing, there’s a performance I started to work on where I was thinking ‘I just wanna do music based on me reading and answering my emails’. They’re very mundane tasks but they could have a musical output. As for the prosthetic, I began to work with masks and stuff like that because making them is super interesting to me, the process is cool. When Amnesia Scanner asked me to join them for this performance I thought of what I could provide them. I thought back to this performance I used to do with a microphone and a remote to control my voice and the long arm was a way to hide this weird object. Also it’s a pretty iconic shadow to have a very long arm. It’s pretty easy to spot from afar.

Raudie McLeod: Your immersive live shows employ playful twists of the status quo, for example, Freeka’s microphone has a spotlight which points at the audience instead of the performer. The large screens feature fragmented text prompts and text-to-image jpegs. In the dark rooms where you perform I’m struck by the similar feeling to scrolling my phone in bed, illuminated by the screen, being presented whatever the algorithms decides. What are your thoughts on transforming viewers into participants?

Martti Kalliala:  we’ve always been very interested in taking the basic elements of a live performance, the visuals, the effects, and using them to the maximum or to the extreme. We force the audience to participate. You’re enveloped in smoke and it’s hard to orient, or you’re bombarded with strobes which have this hallucinagenic effect. In a sense we, I don’t want to say abuse the audience, but you almost have no choice.

Ville Haimala: It also seems like the music performance culture has this big pressure to be immersive and it’s fun to put it on steroids. To tweak the intensity so high that it’s like ‘Now you have the spotlight in your eyes. Now you have this bombardment of things.’

Martti Kalliala:  Amnesia Scanner started as this very online thing in the sense that we weren’t associated with it. The music only existed online. We thought it was very interesting to make the live counterpart as visceral and engaging as possible by pushing the physical impact of it to some kind of extreme. Now in some sense the live show has almost become the main medium of the project. All these different elements come together and it definitely has some primacy in our heads as the main output.

Freeka Tet: For the live shows, we’re trying to accentuate a band-feeling or a human-side of things, but when Amnesia Scanner is on stage, they have never really been in your face as people. The spotlight is pretty representative of what’s happening. It shines on the audiences’ face, and you can’t see our face. It’s not really clear what’s going on. On the other side, because it’s something that is mobile, the movement translates the human. It’s not a machine doing it. It becomes more organic, but it still anonymous. It prevents us from presenting our face.

Raudie McLeod: One of the comments in the ride film clip reads “finally, something to wake up to.” How do you feel that your new album together is giving people some reason to live in this confused post-modern society?

(silence for 5 seconds, then laughter)

Freeka Tet: We laugh about it. And all the different types of laughs you can have, the real ones, the weirder ones…

Ville Haimala: Since the previous two albums we’ve been going through some stages. There was anger, there was grief. Maybe this is the beginning of a chapter of hope.

Raudie McLeod: I read in previous interviews that creating your own music is about collecting all the sonic crumbs and making something unique from them, that your production process is kind of a secret. Is there anything you’d like to reveal about your process now that it sounds like it has changed somewhat?

Ville Haimala: It’s not that there’s some sort of secret formula. We have our ways of pushing different material through our processes and with the sausage at the other end we try to formulate something. We create sound as raw material and then sculpt something out of that. It’s always remained the same since the early days when the work was maybe a bit more collagey or less structured but I think it’s still in it’s core the same process. Now there’s maybe more of a songwriting angle to it but that’s been present since quite a long time. I personally feel it’s a natural continuum of things. As time goes by you find new tools and new ideas, but the basic process is still quite the same. There’s no secret sauce. It’s just our exchange and us bringing these different pieces to the table and planning something together.

Martti Kalliala:   All sound is equal in the process. Some crusty sample can play a part. Maybe it’s not 100% true but it’s mostly true since the beginning. In the beginning we were sampling stuff from surprising sources. I think now it’s very common. This non-hierarchy of sound is somehow the thing that has remained. 


Freeka Tet: The process is quite versatile. Sometimes a song can be really concept driven, based on the way the world around the music has been built, sometimes the music comes on its own and builds the world. It’s an eternal feedback loop. Sometimes a concept before can become music and sometimes existing music can bring more detail to the overall concept.

Ville Haimala: And that applies a lot to the project. On this album we’re working again with Jaakko Pallasvuo writing texts for us. We’ve been working together since the beginning of the project, almost 10 years. Instead of him writing particular lyrics for songs, he gave us a bunch of texts that ended up being the inspiration for a lot of visual and sonic stuff. The same with PWR studio who create a lot of our visual language, the briefs are never very clear, in that we wouldn’t go to Freeka and say ‘Hey can you build us this, or hey we need this visual’. This is maybe why the whole world can feel a bit random or incoherent at times, but that’s all really fun. A lot of stuff ends up being used in a very different way than it was intended. It’s an open project. I feel that it must be an interesting project to collaborate on contribute to because the end result is fairly open ended.

Freeka Tet: As a collaborator the way I would see it is this. Imagine walking into a teenager’s room. There’s a lot of elements. There’s visuals, there’s posters, there’s music playing. There’s a world they’ve been building. This is what Amnesia Scanner has been doing for a decade almost. You are free to look at it, take from it what you want and add to it what you want. That’s pretty much how it works. There’s a lot of freedom but the environment is set so you can’t be fully outside of it. There is already a direction.

Raudie McLeod: Back to the Ride film clip. What’s wrapped inside the black packages?

Freeka Tet: This is based on something Amnesia Scanner already did. When I started to work with them they had a lot of collaborators and a lot of details. I’m very detail oriented and there is one video they already did a long time ago which was just someone unwrapping objects and this stuck in my head. I like repurposing old stuff. I’m a big recycling guy.

Ville Haimala: Yeah it was the AS Truth mixtape video.

Raudie McLeod: I read a comment on the AS Truth video that said something like ‘this is what’s inside the ride packages’

Freeka Tet: Well I guess we will never really know what’s inside the package…

Raudie McLeod: STROBE.RIP might be the first album that lives entirely in the 21st century. Your press release states “amnesia scanner is now living in the world it built.” This world seems to possess a strange logic which sits at the limit of information and comprehension. My question is what comes next?

Ville Haimala: We have some ideas of where it’s going. Building this story with Freeka is definitely not over, there’s already quite a lot in the pipeline. As it’s been communicated somewhat, STROBE.RIP is a piece of a bigger puzzle which involves us doing a lot more performance work. We mentioned already the live streams. There are different formats which extend the project. There’s many directions.

Martti Kalliala:  Referring to the cycle of work that STROBE.RIP is part of, it’s unclear how it will end or how long it will go on.

Freeka Tet: Because we’ve been working together with the live before we recorded any music, one of the conceptual directions we had with this album was that usually you release music and then go on tour to defend it, where here we were interested in, not so much releasing the music at first and touring but building music through the live performances. One big difference was that most of the songs were sketched as band songs first. We thought instead of sampling bands, let’s build a band for each song and then sample it. The raw material was made-up bands. This could be maybe a direction… What those made-up bands were before.

Ville Haimala: The first performance we did with this material sounded like what ended up being the samples for the album. It ends up feed backing into itself over and over again. We would love to retain some kind of freedom to continue developing the material on this album or somehow and not decide on definitive versions of things.

Martti Kalliala: One of these end games that I’ve thought about is that we might start an idol franchise. Amnesia Scanner might transform into some kind of idol operation. there will be more information later.

Freeka Tet: Franchising.

Raudie McLeod: Like how Daft Punk license their helmets to imitators around the world?

Martti Kalliala:  Yeah or more like a K-pop style idol thing.

Ville Haimala: We’ve had this long running joke but also a real fantasy of having a Las Vegas style show where we could get a hold of infrastructure and do a show that runs at the same venue for a season. Maybe now that this dome has opened in Las Vegas it seems like the fitting screen for an Amnesia Scanner performance.

Freeka Tet: We could be opening for Chris Angel.

Ville Haimala: Me and Martti are Penn and Teller and you’re Chris Angel.

Team

Photography · Kristina Nagel
Special thanks to Modern Matters

Female Pentimento

Female Pentimento conjures mystic portals that lead to personal wonder

Female Pentimento summons liminal portals to apocalyptic ecstasy, fairytale daydreams and irreversible escapism. They blast saturated white beams more powerful than a spotlight; more sacred than a burst of sunlight at the end of the rain. They draw from human experiences, seemingly projecting the artist’s personal encounters at times, and lend support to viewers by digitally opening new doors for their worries and fantasies. Female Pentimento’s nurturing principles have harvested a tight-knit community whose eyes for art are satiated, ears for wise words quenched, and minds for optimism fed. 

The New York-based visual artist positions herself as virtual holy water solidified by her purpose in this lifetime to impart beauty and hope through words, images and music. She finds her self-design in bringing positivity into the double-tap realm to be a constant spring of inspiration for her followers to lap up. Her unearthly visuals reap the seduction for optimism. Her floating palm-sized butterflies pocket luck that guides people out of their limbo thoughts and toward a deep sense of calm. Her multi-winged phoenix brings the prophecy that whoever holds their gazes at its orb of light shall be gifted with prosperity, in a way that it has never entered their lives before.

Every image she creates even comes with a short caption that offers itself as a mantra for manifestation. I protect my inner landscape from all harm, forever. I no longer scare myself with my own thoughts. The most miraculous things happen to me, and I am in awe of all the incredible experiences that enter my life.And when the sinews of my thoughts tear, the miracle I need comes gently into view.

For NR, she lets our readers in on her light-filled purpose and life that ranges from art to music.

What were your earliest memories of art?

I think on some level I’ve always wanted to do something with the arts. As a child, I was mesmerised by the piano, and later down the line, painting. I didn’t truthfully grow up with a ton of art influence around me though, outside some of the obvious avenues, like cartoons and anime. 

My earliest memory of encountering fine art is when I was in 6th grade and my mom brought home prints of Ansel Adam’s work. I didn’t think much of it at the time, but that was likely the gateway to me dialoguing with artwork in a more critical and meaningful way. 

How did you come up with the moniker ‘Female Pentimento’?

For me, the power of having a stage name is that it gives me permission to explore a new heart dimension without being constrained to what I already think I know about myself. My ultimate intention is for the name to touch on this idea of revealing hidden aspects of oneself, just as a pentimento in art refers to the reappearance of earlier layers of paint.

In this context, the female’ aspect of the name emphasises the idea of a feminine presence, revealing parts of the self that were previously hidden. I hope to others ‘female pentimento’ suggests a sense of uncovering and reemergence with a focus on the experiences and perspectives of a feminine energy. 

As for the history behind it, I was brainstorming ideas of what I wanted my moniker to be and I kept returning to Picasso’s ‘The Old Guitarist’. In the work we know today, we see the iconic, downtrodden figure of a man in anguish — however, underneath the image is an original underpainting of an unnamed woman breastfeeding a child in a much more lush, idyllic scene.

«I always thought that relationship made for an interesting metaphor around my own gender identity and mental environment.»

Tell me about your journey to light becoming your source of visual inspiration. 

Over time, light has just become an instinctive element I’ve been drawn to. Since I started focusing on photography, I’ve been interested in all sorts of different natural phenomena including sunlight, lightning and rainbows.

I love how symbolically loaded these elements are throughout cultures and art history. I find light (and nature) a universally understood language that doesn’t have all the conceptual red tape that other subject matters have. One could look at a photograph of a wildfire stretched across a landscape, teeming with wildlife, and know instinctively how to feel about it.

Many, many creatives have influenced my present work, and the lots of visionary artists that come immediately to mind are Agnes Pelton, Hilma af Klint, Belkis Ayon — the list goes on and on. 

How was your environment growing up?

Growing up, my environment was a bit chaotic. I was raised in a single-parent household in a small southern town in Virginia. We moved around a decent amount as my mother was a minister, and the church relocated us regionally every couple of years.

I imagine anywhere I grew up would have been a challenge for me. When I was young, I was a very sensitive and shy child. I used to see those attributes as more of a liability, but as I get older I revere the tender and reserved parts of me the most.

Do you see your works as touching upon religion, faith, or both?

I think the first part of the question is for the viewer to decide. What I can tell you though is that when I’m creating, I borrow a great deal of inspiration from different religions and spiritual practices like, but not limited to, interconnectedness, spreading kindness and advocating for mindfulness.

As for my personal practice, I’ve been describing myself recently as a biospiritualist, which is an ideology that posits that the biological is inherently intertwined with the metaphysical. 

How does nature empower you as an artist?

It’s the catalyst, the subject, and the artist in my mind. I don’t think I’ve created any recent work that doesn’t bow deeply to the natural world.

«I see our earth as the ultimate wellspring of inspiration.»

What’s your inspiration for making portals that seem to be passages to unearthly worlds?

Portals are probably one of the most magical elements I experiment with in my images. Sometimes, they border on the fantastical (or unbelievable) end of the spectrum, but I think living in a para-reality is often the job of an artist. That is, thinking beyond what you know to exist and imagining a world of what could be. I like the idea of living in that space of potentiality full-time; it keeps me curious. 

Do these portals symbolise a form of escape from reality?

Certainly. In some instances, portals convey the idea of transitioning from one realm to another, offering a way out of the physical world. In others, I find it fascinating to reimagine myself as the light source or portal, and to consider what it would be like to exist in a non-corporeal form. 

How do you come up with the often inspirational and reflective captions behind your visual works?

The captions I attach to my images often stem from phrases and ideas that I feel compelled to remind myself of. They are often direct affirmations that I use to uplift and empower myself. Through these words, I hope to offer others a similar source of comfort, hope, and inspiration.

I’d also add that I’ve been deeply influenced by authors such as Jack Kornfield, Louise Hay, and Marianne Williamson to name a few, who have shaped my understanding of the power of affirmations and positive thinking. They have inspired me to craft mantras that not only accompany my visuals but also uplift and empower those who encounter them.

Do you see yourself as a guardian of light, both visually and linguistically?

Over the last few years, I’ve felt strongly that my calling in this lifetime is to impart beauty and hope to the world.

I trust in my ability to live up to that goal. I know I can do it.

«Whether through words, images, or music, I think my greatest purpose may be to bring positivity into the lives of others and be a source of ongoing inspiration.»

Credits

Artworks · Courtesy of female pentimento

Bianca Fields

Bianca Fields, Got something for You, 2022

«What inspires me to create at this time is finding a way to articulate the nature of noise in America;»

Bianca Fields (born 1995, Cleveland, Ohio) is a contemporary artist, currently based in Kansas City, Missouri. Fields is one to watch in the contemporary at world scene as she strikes with her highly charged paintings. NR had the pleasure of conversing with Fields, delving further into the influences behind her deeply-emotional body of work, the process supporting her craft as well as her future endeavours in Seoul and London. 

When did you start creating? When did you realise this was something you wanted to purse? 

I have always been musically inclined, since about 6 years old. Once I learned the transcendental process of painting/mixing colours in high school, I  became interested in painting — practically obsessed. I never had the intention of pursuing it as my career. I started off at a community college with high hopes of weakening this idea of pursing art, but shortly after was confronted by my painting professor, saying “he suggest I not come back next semester,” following that I should apply to the Cleveland Institute of Art, using the computers on the floor above us. 

You are originally from Cleveland, Ohio but moved to Kansas, Missouri after graduating in painting at the Cleveland Institute of Art College in 2019. Why the relocation and how does your background inform your practice? 

I met my partner who is also native to Cleveland, in art school. He is also an artist; a product designer. Prior to me graduating, he moved around a bit with designer jobs. By the time I received my BFA, he had settled at Garmin International in Kansas City. I love the midwest. Being from the midwest and living even closer to the center of America is very odd. It’s also very wholesome. The culture is like a big bowl of warm, wholesome soup. I spent a lot of time in art school hanging out with my friends who didn’t attend art school. I still would consider them some of the most creative, complex and innovative artists i have ever met. Because I’ve spent the vast majority of the pandemic in Kansas city, I’d still consider it an offbeat, yet fulfilling journey. I think it has forced me to turn within a bit in my work — it’s become a bit more introspective. 

Bianca Fields, I told you, you wasn’t gone b in the mood, 2022

One thing that is striking at first sight in your artworks is their powerful yet youthful energy within the colours, lines, text and texture. How did you discover and fine tune your craft?

As a young girl, I spent countless hours watching the American Animated TV show, Tom and Jerry. “Tom,” the fictional character from Tom and Jerry, has become a protagonist in my work that contribute to this series of highly charged paintings.

«I always think about how his character was limited to words, practically mute. It remained up to me as a viewer, as a young girl, to put sound, color and imagination in order to make sense of this anxiety-inducing show.»

What was the first piece of art you saw that left an impression on you?

The works of Allison Shulnik. It seemed like something funny or absurd to do, but when I found myself working in this fashion, I couldn’t imagine painting in any other way. 

Although your body of work bursts with vibrant colours and is almost cartoon-ish (with ‘Soul Tap’, ‘Rejected Rep’) I find myself exposed to artworks presenting a deep palette of emotions. It may also be because of a certain way I feel in this present moment whilst looking at your artworks, but there is a particular mirror effect to them. As the artist, how is your relationship with your work? 

I refer to a vast majority of the 36” x 24,” (medium to small sized pieces) as my “Mirror” pieces. These paintings particularly recall being a 6 year old girl and simultaneously looking at/through myself. The copper-chrome works are also that of my complexion — bringing damage, curiosity and vulnerability into the indestructible space that holds my world of paintings together. It also brings the metaphysical power and urge to come closer to the glistening; unusual but captivating. An overwhelming presence that I often experience as a black female artist. 

I also like to think of the palettes for my paintings as a subconscious strive for a “bruise” quality. bruises are beautiful, but I find it very frustrating to replicate the palette in an almost artificial way; challenging this idea with electrifying colors. I will always take risks in my palette and will continue to fearlessly allow the decayed rotten colors to seep through the cracks of the work. 

Would you consider your pieces therapeutic? How do you engage with your work and vice versa?

«Even though these works may appear as haywire or almost deafening, I experienced a paradoxical state of extreme silence and fragility when creating these paintings.»

The thick, obliterated rendering of the mouths of these yelping creatures are slow and silent. Working in a more (expressionistic/intuitive fashion) the mouths are where I slow down the process of rendering. ‘Pressed out like Peanut Butter’ and ‘Smeary Eyed’ were made pretty close in time to each other. I think this is when I started examining the process of what the depiction of the yelping mouths meant to me. I started to see them as portraits of myself; laying within the screams of these creatures.

«I started to feel like I could truly see myself during that era of making. «

Bianca Fields, Hold My Purse, 2022

You have also done some sculpture work such as ’Five and Below’, in foam, resin and papier maché, with a weaving comb on top. It reminds me of how the afro comb was worn in the hair as a symbol of union against oppression during the Civil Rights Movement. Was it something you had in mind when creating this piece? Could you talk about its significance? 

This idea certainly came to mind. I very much view this specific character within the realm of my work, as a caricature/symbol of black femininity. Pairing this sculpture work with the painting, “rejected rep,” had me thinking about the representation of the athletic black female body and the process of stripping femininity away. I consider myself a very active person who works out on a daily basis. Adding elements like the comb and wig feel like “ornaments” to the subject; signifiers of non conformity.

What is your favorite part of your practice?

I would probably say when i reach the end of the painting; where i start to slow down. There is a lot of chaotic, fast mark making in the process of making these works, but I think the viewer is actually left with more of my slowed down, brutal process of covering it all up. I will usually take a large brush and completely close the subject in with thick walls of paint. I will also take whatever leftover paint on my palette, scrape it into one large wad, and intricately place it somewhere inside the work.

The theme of this issue is IN OUR WORLD. What is it in our world that inspire you to create? Who/What are your influences? 

I think what inspires me to create at this time is finding a way to articulate the nature of noise in America; essentially operating in a regimented social environment.

«The tropes of the internet world also inspire me and affect the way that I see/process. I find it a challenge to think about the spaces between language, images and culture— and where representation of the black female body fits in between.»

I’ve recently started to reread Julia Kristeva’s essay on abjection, ‘Powers of Horror.’ The last time I’ve thoroughly read it was in undergrad. Her writings inspire me to unpack a bit of tension that I’ve yet to bring to the surface in my work. Actualizing different pieces and part of my body that I have once neglected. It also helps me compartmentalise my symbolic realm of thought when making these paintings. In other terms, things that are very close and fragile to me. 

You have had your first solo exhibition with Steve Turner, Los Angeles. What did this mean to you and what can we expect from you in the forthcoming months?

It has been a pleasure working with Steve Turner; they truly have great trust and faith in my visions and processes. We have such a great system. The turnout of my most recent solo show has me super eager to flesh out further ideas within this realm. Next I have untitled art fair Miami (Steve Turner), KIAF art fair Seoul, Korea (Steve Turner), and Frieze London (Carl Freedman gallery) . 

Credits

Artworks · Courtesy of Bianca Fields and Steve Turner LA

Veronica Fernandez

Veronica Fernandez, Before I’ve Existed, Now I’ve Lived

Collective intimacy  and the impermanence of emotions

Veronica Fernandez (b. 1998) is a mixed media artist from New Jersey, who is currently working in Los Angeles, California. 

Fernandez’s work investigates relationships between people and their environments: drawing from her own memories, she attempts to illustrate the complexities of domestic life, giving space to intimate moments of the everyday. Pulling from a variety of source material – from images of family members taken from photo albums to art historical references – Fernandez blurs personal recollections into emotive scenes that evoke a shared nostalgia, or a sense of  colelctive recognition. She purposely reworks aspects that feel familiar into unfamiliar territory, taking what is hers and morphing it to better relate to a general consciousness. Drawing attention to the impermanence of emotions, Fernandez imbues her work with a sense of unfinishedness, allowing the narratives to remain open-ended for the viewer to make their own. This sharing of experience allows her to speak to a community and discuss our foundations as human beings: where we come from, what shapes us, and how we interact with one another. 

Veronica Fernandez, Trustfall

If you had to describe your body of work and what drives you to paint, what would you say?

«My body of work I would say is a form of storytelling about people and the places their bodies live through, depicting the impermanence of emotions.»

My initial drive to paint came from unpacking my own experiences growing up and spiraled really into these conversations about the human experience and how we adapt to change and the different moments in our lives, in the attempt to capture a fragment of intimacy and explore how it engages with others.

When looking at your work from a first glance two things hit immediately: size and color. Going back to this idea of intimacy and its actual space, could you tell me whether there is a link between the size of your works and this concept of entering one’s world?

I have always been in love with large scales. I started working on large scales in my New Jersey bedroom in 2019, testing wether I could transpose smaller sketches into larger surfaces. The intimacy that comes with a larger piece is different as opposed to when I work on my sketches and smaller pieces, which serve more as a form of  personal release, like a page in a diary.

«My larger paintings deliver a sense of intimacy, of acceptance, that I feel absorbs people, almost as if it were a portal.»

Space is something that I never had growing up, it was never something set in stone, so for me, it was exciting to create art that could take up actual space when I finally had a little to take advantage of. I want others to become absorbed in these works about people that want to be heard, understood, and seen, so they can also see themselves and feel to some extent that they’re taking up space too.

Take me through your working process: how do you select a moment in time that you want to depict? Does it always start from a family album or is it also a moment you experienced, or the impression of someone you recently met?

My paintings primarily stem from my experiences, then most of the time I’ll find which photographs I think work best that I can deconstruct or pull from. When I think about starting a painting, there’s usually an essence, a general sense I want it to have,  which then drives me to search for poses, gestures, facial expressions, colors, shapes, or objects from my references. The paintings usually consist of the combination of a few photographs (around 4-5), which shape the ground for a new sketch. It’s not until I get into the actual canvas that I can step back and see how to truly alter the first draft. As I work on different layers I usually incorporate different moments in time that I think will really bring a special element to the painting or change the original direction for the better.

Veronica Fernandez, Watch A Leader Cry

The only moment where my process is more directly linked to a physical photographs is when I find a picture that I think is absolutely stunning, whether it be the colors within the image, the facial expressions or the composition. Then I start from that singular element and work around it.

The role of memory and recollection is thus pivotal to your work. How is your relationship with the past, and how do you transform it to something you engage with in the present?

Throughout my work process, I try to alter the familiar into unfamiliar territory. To create the works, I do reflect on my own experiences and engage with my personal memories, captured in photographs. The final idea I work with comes from stripping down these photographs and really reconstructing them and see what they transform into in the final imagery on canvas. When I work with my personal reference material and find myself altering the original picture  I feel like I can see it at a distance and really step back and comprehend it.

«What once was a memory from my past can become a person from that memory in a new environment, with a new expression or new overall depiction, possibly surrounded by new figures I’ve created.»

The original story becomes thus a new idea that can be universally absorbed. On a formal level, I love using color, texture, and other techniques to bring a new contemporary palette to the soft pastel undertones of the older photographs I have.

I have noticed that the subject matter in many of your works are children. In relation to what you talked about before, the impermanence of emotions, do you think that childhood is key in this research towards change and possibility? Because youth is change in its purest form I guess – the openness to the future in both temporal and conceptual ways.

Children are definitely representative of openness to the future and have this kind of unpredictability hovering over them in relation to what can become of them in my work. The early years of our lives shape who we become. This sort of tabula rasa at one point everyone starts off with that slowly but shortly accumulates all these perceptions is very interesting to me. Everyone has their own specific stories, experiences, struggles, wins, losses, and even when we are too young to fully grasp the totality of every situation, we still feel and live through them. 

«This whirlwind of emotions that come from the earliest point of our lives really tie into how human beings can adapt to their experiences later on in their lives, and reflect the layers that make up each and everyone.»

The child’s mind creates that first layer, and I think that incorporating them in my works  llows me to play with these innate curiosities human beings have and how they navigate themselves in the world over time.

Titles are always very specific in your paintings. Contrary to many contemporary artists, you always seem to describe a work with precise accuracy of words. Could you tell me more about this particular attention?

The titles of the pieces stem from many places, sometimes I’ll hear my family members say phrases as forms of life lessons that I think are special, and I’ll remember them and think about how I can alter them to make them stronger, more accurate. Recently I’ve gotten into poetry, and will take a line or two I think can really stand on their own and apply it to paintings that I am already planning on making.

I think it’s important to utilize everything I can to get closer to the viewer, I want people who see my work to be able to envision themselves in it and allow it to touch them in some way or another. I think it’s interesting that very often titles are left out in gallery displays, and sometimes it isnt until you get the information written somewhere else that you can see another side to the work. I want people to be able to experience my work right away, not simply through just a title, but through what the title is to me, which is in fact poetry. I think this purposefulness can be a tool I can offer them as a chance to express that as an artist I am trying to have a conversation about people, and I am actively reaching out beyond the image.

Veronica Fernandez, Superheroes

Talking about the viewer and ways to reach put to him/her,  in which way do you try to combine the autobiographical source in your works with the outside world, in the attempt to leave space to the audience’s own gaze?

Sometimes the stories are represented through the imagery, and other times the painting evokes just the underlying emotions that come from those experiences, even though the actual source is not as recognizable. The figures in my work are depicted in different ways, some are more realistically rendered, others are recreated in odd colors, like full red, or many are altered to be irrecognizable through painterly gesture.

«Altering the identity of the figures helps me to create the distance from it that is so pivotal to its reconstruction, enough for me to continue it as anew.»

I also throw in a lot of made up elements into the paintings, to the point where the original ideas that inspired the painting become just a starting point, a vague compass, leaving the openness necessary for the viewer to incorporate his/her own elements into the story. 

Veronica Fernandez, Through Steam (Lay Your Burdens Down)

In relation to the magazine’s theme –in our world – how do you think your work translates the sense of being in this time – from this current sociopolitical climate to this specific creative dimension?

We live in a strange world, where so many people feel that they are not being seen, heard, and overall understood. As I mentioned before, many of the figures in my work are asking to be understood or acknowledged in their positions too.

«I try to create an opportunity for compassion, curiosity and most importantly for conversation.»

Regardless of the way the paintings are received, I always try to make them accessible, to leave space for the other, to aknowledge the viewer and telling him/her that they are welcome, and their experiences matter.

Credits

Artworks · Courtesy of Veronica Fernandez

Alexandra Von Fuerst

«whenever there is a human, I approach them as if they were a sculpture. And whenever there is an object, I approach it as if it was living.»

For Alexandra Von Fuerst, photography is a way to explore the relationships between the human body and nature, and how the two are more inextricably bound than we may think. As she explains to NR, her work celebrates the ways in which nature communicates with us. And as the title of her series, Dialogue with Nature (2021) suggests, Von Fuerst uses her practice to share these conversations with her audience. But how does she define this voice that the natural world uses? It is fundamentally feminine, in the sense that it simultaneously conveys empathy and strength. The idea of femininity is another recurring theme in Von Fuerst’s work, but the ‘feminine’, it should be stated, does not necessarily imply gender. In Godification of Intimacy (2021) – Von Fuerst’s first foray into shooting male nudity – the photographer investigates how the body can be elevated beyond what we see anatomically. Von Fuerst explores this idea through the form of a triptych, where the same image is reproduced in different colours – the ‘real’ image positioned alongside two inverted interpretations. In this way, Von Fuerst shows the viewer the ethereal, otherworldly side of her subjects – literally, the ‘Godification’ of the body. 

In her work, the photographer’s vivid use of colour is not just an artistic device; it is a crucial element in her investigation into the human form and nature. Explaining below how she came to develop her practice, Von Fuerst speaks of the emotional qualities that colour can have. The photographer is interested in how colours can make her feel, and how the colours themselves feel; and this is a question that she extends to the viewer. Just as Von Fuerst’s work is a conversation with nature, colour, and form, it’s also about creating a dialogue with her audience.

Across her art series, personal and commissioned editorial work, Von Fuerst is not afraid to shy away from subjects and images that some might find difficult. The ‘taboo’, as she calls it, is another of Von Fuerst’s interests; crucially, how can we make the taboo beautiful, and will that allow us to confront and overcome unspoken fears? The photographer handles this with extreme delicacy (even if, as she says, she can be full-on), creating work that is gorgeously rich, without exploiting the difficult conversations that she hopes we can have. 

NR: First of all, how does the idea of ‘celebration’ tie into your work?

AVF: Honestly, all my work is about celebration because it’s about elevating everything that I shoot, that I see, and that I’m trying to empower. In particular, I want to celebrate the things that we don’t want to look at, like imperfections. Not only skin imperfections, but things that are much more deeply hidden that we don’t really want to look at because it’s a little bit uncomfortable. For example, this could be blood, or waste, or death. And I think, for me, this is very important, because celebrating and elevating something that feels taboo, or that you don’t feel comfortable about, is giving more meaning to live itself. At least, that’s how I see it. I think that, for me, this is my celebration: a celebration of the imperfections, of everything that is a little bit hidden, and it’s also a celebration of life.

«I think that’s what I care about, making the uncomfortable beautiful, so that it really elevates it to the same as everything else.»

NR: What really strikes me about your work is your distinctive use of colour, and the way you compose your work. How did you go about honing that style? 

AVF: I think in terms of the visual style, I knew I couldn’t do it any different. It’s funny, because when I started, I felt differently – I was trying to emulate the photographers I really liked. For example, I always had big respect for Mapplethorpe and his study of the body, or Guy Bourdin’s use of colour.  And the photographer duo, Hart Lëshkina, were working a lot while I was at university, so I was looking at them too. And I was trying to [recreate that] but it didn’t happen, and I was like, “goddammit, it doesn’t come out that way – it always comes out bright, pop, a lot of shapes.” So, I was like, “why isn’t it working out? Why isn’t it working that way? Why does it come out completely different from what I want?” And so, at that point, I wanted something else, but I decided to go with the things that actually came out which was very colourful and very bright. So, I learned how to convey that and dived more into shape and colour and tried to dig deeper into how to make it more honest to myself. From something that was initially very pop at the beginning, it became more grounded. Instead of being just colours, it became more about what colour could represent. If you use colour in a certain way, you can really feel it. And I like the idea that people can feel the colour and feel the image. Rather than just the form, I was really trying to feel that emotion, you know; colour for me is this emotional response about how I see reality, in a sense. So, it became a very instinctual, finding the emotional side of myself, which I would also say is a more feminine side.

«Instead of trying to give it a shape, I allowed the shape to show itself.»

NR: That’s really fascinating to hear. Actually, one of the series that I wanted to ask you about is Godification of Intimacy and the striking use of colour there. When you talk about how colour can capture emotion, is that what you’re talking about when you look at this series?

AVF: Yes. I think in general, I don’t say “this is going to be pink.” I really go with if it feels pink, or it feels another way. Godification of Intimacy was my first time shooting male nudity. It was just me and two models in an empty space, and I really wanted them to just interact and to move and to have that sensation of dancing and comfort. And it was something very new for me because it wasn’t how I would usually work, and so it was really about allowing it to grow and to move and it was such a beautiful experience; it was such an intense experience as well. There was a connection between the three of us and there was nothing else – it was just that moment and that sharing. So, I think the colours somehow are very elevated because that moment was also very elevating, which is what I wanted, in the sense that ‘Godification’ is about the higher state of ourselves, rather than just seeing the body. I’m not talking about the body, I’m talking what is behind the body, what is beyond the body. So, the colours are almost as if I’m diving into a spiritual expression of the body, depicting the energy around it, rather than just what I see. And the triptych, for example, is an evolution from how seeing it plainly to an expanded point of view where it’s not about the body anymore. It’s not about the nudity, it’s really about whatever comes beyond that.

NR: That’s really interesting, especially your point about moving beyond the body. Again, something I’d like to ask is that, as well as the body, objects with an anthropomorphic quality often feature in your work. Do you approach the body and objects differently as your subjects? 

AVF: Not really. I mean, whenever there is a human, I approach them as if they were a sculpture. And whenever there is an object, I approach it as if it was living. So, for me it’s kind of the same. It’s different in that you enter differently because you’re trying to give more movement to one and less to the other, right? And you want to bring them to being on the same level; I don’t want to give more, or less, life to one of them, I’m just trying to make them equal.

NR: Your work explores the notion of femininity in different ways. How does your use of the natural world allow you to convey a sense of femininity?

AVF: I’ve always felt that there was such a feminine voice within every aspect of reality; it’s the organic, nature, and the body. Even shooting male nudity, for more it’s about this female voice, or softer side. It’s not necessarily soft because being a woman can mean very strong and empowering. But it’s much more fluid, more empathic and understanding – but it’s also direct, too. A big part of what I’m trying to get into is really giving a voice to the organic because I feel like there is so much depth there. It’s just a different sort of communication in a way – that’s why A Dialogue with Nature (2021) was born. Because for me, it’s the natural, organic aspects of the everyday. Nature talks to us – it is trying to communicate something to us. It’s just that the way they do it is very different – but I find it very feminine. You can stand in front of a tree, a plant, a rock or a mineral and see how complex it is. When you look at how many shapes it has – you could stay there for a day just looking at it. And I think all of these aspects of this organic material, they are actually talking even though they’re not speaking; they don’t have a voice as we would perceive it. 

NR: In our correspondence, you mentioned that you prefer doing interviews over Zoom rather than email because it feels more personal. I read that during the [2020] lockdown you made yourself available for people, strangers, to call you. Why was that important for you? 

AVF: When lockdown came – I’m a person who is happy being alone, but I realised how even for me at that point, it was stressful. All of a sudden, nobody wanted to communicate with anybody else because there was so much fear. I think it became so important to just try to go the other way like, let’s keep it open, let’s keep a dialogue. I thought to do the best with what we have and stay in a more positive space. I said to myself, I have time I don’t have like any rush, and I can consecrate some time to someone who was having a bad day or is having a good day.

«I think communication enables you to let go of fear because all of a sudden, [you realise that] I’m not alone or, it wasn’t that hard to talk or, it wasn’t that scary. And it also brings a human perspective.»

NR: You mention there about how communication can allow you to let go of fear, and I wanted to tie that back in with what you said earlier about celebrating the taboo. Do you see your work as shining a light on things that people might fear in a beautiful way, so that we can breakdown the fear of the taboo?

AVF: I really hope so – that’s the sense of it, which is that I’d like people to try to look at fear and not reject it. To actually look at it with more love and more joy. I know that, sometimes, it’s very direct; as my mother would say, you need to be a little bit more delicate in the way you’re dealing with things. Sometimes, I’m being direct, but my intentions are to make [the taboo] more accessible and more discussed. I mean, my work is not just about the picture; it’s about being able to start a discussion or create dialogue, to create accessibility. I think, for now, I’m really just at the beginning of this process, but I’d really like it to become a window for people to really have a discussion to start seeing things with more acceptance. And I think the moment that discussions are open, the moment communication is open, ignorance [towards the taboo and fear] disappear because all of a sudden, you’re facing it. You’re talking about it, you’re solving it. So, I think communication is very, very important.

Credits

Images · Alexandra Von Fuerst
https://www.alexandravonfuerst.com/

FormaFantasma

«we position ourselves to be real ignorant but in turn this motivates us to get out of this ignorance»

Formafantasma, led by Andrea Trimarchi and Simone Farresin, is an Amsterdam-based design studio that focuses on investigating the ecological and political responsibilities of their discipline. By placing research at the core of their practice, they create a holistic approach that aims to reach back into the historical context of material used by humans, and outwards to the patterns of supply chains that have been constructed to support and expand its use. Formafantasma’s work often investigates material’s effects on the biosphere and their survival in relation to human consumption.

NR had the pleasure to speak to Andrea and Simone for this issue. The conversation explored their practice’s journey thus far, the processes behind the research and commercial sides of their practice, and what they’re looking forward to in the future. They spoke in depth about designers responsibilities to understand the impact of the materials they use, and that they should be more transparent about the impact of their work. The duo placed emphasis how the lack of communication between practices, corporations and consumers often prevents meaningful large-scale changes to shift the industry towards a more sustainable future, and highlighted the role that designers can play in facilitating better communication in this process. Our talk also covered the Geo-Design masters course the pair currently lead at the Design Academy Eindhoven, which started its first academic year this year.

Andrea and Simone it’s a pleasure to have you with us today and thank you for this opportunity to have this conversation with you. I want to start by asking you about how you met and your journey together as Formafantasma so far.

Simone Farresin: Me and Andrea met in Florence during our bachelors studies. Andrea is younger than me and he really cares to say that. I was in my final year and I was starting to lose interest in design in terms of product design and object based design. When we started to hang out we were looking at many other things. We were going to art exhibitions together, we were traveling around in Italy checking out things we were both interested in. We started living together and realized most of our conversations were design related.

Andrea Trimarchi: And he was helping me throughout my projects. So we started to work together on projects, starting mostly with ones related to graphic rather than product design, which was quite fun because it was something we were doing in our free time. We decided to make this into a more programmatic experience, and while this process was happening we decided to apply to Eindhoven together. Strangely enough we applied with one portfolio for both of us, so the only way to take us was as a duo. And of course we were really interested in what was happening in design in the Netherlands, specially at Eindhoven, because there was an entire generation that were our generation that had studios there, and had created a community around the design field.

SF: It was different in Italy were although there was a fantastic history in design that continues till today, nevertheless the heritage from the past felt extremely heavy. And the Dutch have a tendency of looking forward instead of looking back. This was a reason were we wanted to come here, and its been an extremely informative period. Specially our time in the Design Academy (Eindhoven) were we always say that we received just the questions we needed. We were full of energy and potentiality, but we didn’t know were to channel that, and in the design academy the questions were raised were extremely critical, and in Dutch fashion quite brutal at times. Nevertheless it was invaluable experience because we were asked existential questions for designers rather than focusing just on how something is produced. For example “Why would you produce this in this moment in time?”, “How does it relate to the past development of the design discipline?” and “Where do you position yourself in the world as a designer?”. Although these questions can be overpowering for some, we felt that they were empowering us and encouraged us to establish an agency, and therefore became quite formative for us.

AT: And it really prepared us to the extent that the day after we graduated we opened our studio, and we started Formafantasma and so on.

I realize that its the 11th year anniversary of your studio so congratulations on that. As an aspiring designer it’s quite informative to look at your progression throughout these years, and how you’ve managed to position the research and commercial sides of your practice in a way that they inform each other. My most recent experience of your work was Cambio (Serpentine Galleries, London), and the project focuses on the use of wood as a material in the industry, and the impact it has on the environment. To me this project highlights the emphasis you place on reaching across different disciplines, and engaging with a variety of practitioners in your research development process. Can you explain why this outreach is vital to this process, and what quality it brings to your research driven work?

SF: I think it’s because when we look at the macro picture within which design preforms it becomes inevitably vital to reach out to other practitioners outside of our field to understand that macro view better. We are more and more interested in looking at design as not only a means to deliver services and products, but rather looking at design in a much bigger infrastructure. Which in relation to materials includes resourcing, distribution, refinement, transformation, recycling and so on. When you start to look at design within this broader system you can begin to question what design can do and cannot do, and in this process reaching out to other practitioners is a way to better understand the implication and consequences of design.

AT: Also because there is this big narrative that design can solve problems, and in a way it can. But it is important to acknowledge that it’s also true that it can’t simply because we don’t know a lot of things, and the only way of acting on this is to reach out to people that are much more informed than us. So in a way we position ourselves to be real ignorant but in turn this motivates us to get out of this ignorance.

While going through Cambio and the series of interviews you conducted, one of the things that resonated with me is that it was felt in some way that your interest in these ecological issues is driven by the consequences of being designers. This idea that a sense of responsibility transcends into establishing a holistic approach throughout your practice. To further understand this dynamic, what outcomes do you aim to achieve from your research driven work? and what is your process of reaching out to your partnerships to input this research into practice?

AT: Firstly I want to say something, I believe a problem within design is that it is complicit in a way in the disaster we are witnessing. This in turn makes the discipline quite interesting, and whatever we do that is not perfect it can’t be perfect because it sits between exploitation and the destruction of the world. It is in this liminal position were we see all things happening.

AT & ST: Potentiality and also disaster.

SF: Some of the projects we’ve done recently, for example Cambio and Ore Streams, are good models to display our way of operating when we do research. For us it is a way to present ourselves with an expertise that not necessarily people think we have. What I mean by this is that in a way these projects are responses to the questions we never receive from our partners. 

The questions we pose ourselves when we develop those projects are the questions we would wish to receive, and the challenges we would wish to be asked. But we are using this to show that we hope that the conversations we have with our more commercial partners , and partners in general, can grow in this direction. I think the more people get to know us, the more the questions we receive become sharper and pertinent for what we can do. Of course it is still a struggle because the infrastructure we were talking about before is not necessarily easy to penetrate, so even when you work with a partner, that does not mean that partner can make a change in that system even if they show willingness to. Nevertheless we always know that there is plenty that you can do as long as you accept the limitations of your own discipline.

AT: I want to add that while in Ore Streams it was much more difficult to get in contact for instance with electronic companies, with Cambio it made a complete difference because it was much more possible from a design perspective in terms of design companies. For instance, right now we are in discussion with a company that we are essentially continuing Cambio as an internal RND (Research and Development) were we are trying to apply the same ideas we discussed in Cambio within the industrial production realm. Even if a percentage of our research would be re-applied in this context we would be in any case really happy. We are beginning to see this shift in mentality.

Companies are starting to approach us because of the ways in which we work, as opposed to before were they were more interested in the more superficial side of the business and how our products were looking.

Nevertheless I think the a balance between the two needs to be established, and platforms were research is shared are definitely important. For example when we did Cambio we conducted a lot of interviews, read a lot of content and we could have kept to ourselves. But then what is the purpose? So when we put together the website we wanted to say that we’ve only represented a percentage of the topic, but it is up to the audience, if they are interested, to continue to look more in depth into the topics presented in our work. It is also a responsibility we must have to current and future generations, to be much more generous.

I think that this process of sharing was truly felt in the on- going conversations happening throughout Cambio, whether through the digital material or events taking place at the Serpentine. This seems like a good point to discuss the Geo Design masters you are currently running at Eindhoven. What a time to launch a course considering the current situation we’re living in!

SF: Tell me about it!

It would be great to further discuss your experience in Geo design thus far and your ambitions for the course. Also, to ask you how you think the pandemic has effected our relationship with ecology as designers, and shifted our approach in resourcing materials?

AT: It is unlucky to start this year, but in the Netherlands we’ve been lucky to do a lot of in person teaching considering the current situation. We had a whole first semester in person and now we are starting to do that again. Our experience of teaching has put more urgency on us on speaking of these certain issues and bring reform to the way in that we teach. 

SF: I would wish that more journalists would talk about Covid in relation to ecology and the climate crisis. I think most of us are aware that they are linked, but a great outcome of this situation is that it’s made the climate crisis physical and embodied. We are taking a virus around and because of it closing our environments, which has made it physical and this point is important. Sadly not enough discussion is going on about it. The conversations have been more about what you can do with a virus, and again compartmentalizing knowledge. It has not been about the ecosystem but it has been about the virus. But how can you look at the virus without looking at the ecosystem? It is clearer and clearer that entanglement is the way to look at things in terms of knowledge, development and so on. This is the most visible part of the pandemic.

In terms of design education the pandemic has made it very clear that design is an extremely humane discipline that needs physical interactions. Therefore, I think education online doesn’t work for design because it is not only about the passing of knowledge, but more about conversations, interactions, exchanging energies and having a connection to materials. I went back to teaching physically the other day at the design academy, and it was a joy to be able to do that again.

I think it has so much to do with human-scaled exchanges and the body language through which we communicate in a physical environment. As a student myself, these types of proxemic interactions are something I miss the most. I wanted to ask you on behalf of myself and many other aspiring designers at the early stages of their practice, what climate do you see us going into? and what insight or advise can you share with us to help shape our mindset for moving forward from this point?

SF: It is a difficult question. I think that it depends how you look at education. If you look at education in terms of forming professionals, I don’t necessarily believe in that. We don’t believe in professionalizing someone for a Job or a task. It is not the way we consider education, although there are other institutions that do that. I think as an advice it is important to keep the discipline closer to yourself.

AT: Don’t Compromise. For me this is extremely important because when you graduate you tend to gravitate towards whatever work comes into your hands because you need to survive. But most of the time this causes you to shift focus on the things that matter to you, and especially in the beginning you should never do that. I believe the most radical things you can do in design thinking should happen in the beginning because things get more sophisticated as you move forward.

SF: Some people think that you should be humble in the beginning and aim higher later, but it is the opposite way around. Because the more you grow the more you have necessities than in the beginning. When you graduate you have less compromises and responsibilities towards others than later on in your practice.

AT: It is really important to analyse with a clear focus the reality of design. When we started it was 2009, right after a huge economic crisis, and we knew that to us it wasn’t even important or interesting to work in big companies. Of course we enjoy collaborating with certain companies, but it is important to realize that system of design is more based on royalties and lower pay. I think that this has become more relevant now than even before. I think it is important to understand that design as a discipline is tough and not for everybody, and it is also quite important to say this as a teacher to your students. The ones that go to much more of a authorial side are maybe the one percent, and there is nothing wrong with being in the other 99 percent and working for others. It is totally fine. The problem with universities nowadays that they aims to fulfil this idea that everyone can be an author.

I wanted to conclude by asking you about what you’re looking forward to in the near future? And what direction do you see your practice moving towards from this point?

SF: Let’s start from what is very close by. Cambio will travel, and its expanding in the way it was mentioned before by Andrea. It is travelling to Tuscany and it will expand there, and then to Switzerland and it will expand there as well into a new section, were we will do a extended third version of the catalogue. We are hoping for it to also make it to Mexico, but with the current situation that is a bit more uncertain and difficult to plan. But there is a touring of the exhibition. In terms of our practice in a much longer term, lets say the next ten years, we wish to continue working in the way we currently are, but possibly making the research projects more radical, and the commercial projects more commercial so we can make the radical projects more radical. And in the meantime find ways to input the research that we do. So not only present them and make them available to others. But also find applications for them.

Andrea and Simone I want to thank you both for your time and for joining us for this issue. It has been such an insightful conversation, and I look forward to following the development of your work and practice.

AT & SF: Welcome! it’s been a pleasure and we look forward to the issue.

Lyndon French

The Mysteries of the Secrets

Credits

Images · LYNDON FRENCH
https://lyndonfrench.com/

Daniel Farò

The Cyclades

PAROS, Aegean Sea — The typical hot summer day only allows for laziness and refreshing plunges into the water. 

This photographic essay was shot on the island of Paros, in the Aegean Sea.  

What at moments feels like boredom, can be a great reminder of what slowing down from frantic urban centres can be like. I want to visualise the feeling my travel companions and I had during our stay. 

The recharging trip on the Cyclades now feels like a dream leaving a sense of nostalgia and excitement for the next escape to the next island.

Daniel Farò is a German–Italian Graphic Designer & Photographer based in Berlin. He works in all areas of design and photography within the cultural and commercial field focusing on editorial, travel and lifestyle work.


Credits

Photography and words · DANIEL FARÒ
www.instagram.com/daniellfaro
www.daniellucasfaro.com

Justin French

«The beauty of creating imagery is that ideas do not have to be completely finished or expertly manufactured»

When did you start taking pictures?

I began taking images professionally around 2014. A friend recommended me to a brand that needed a photographer to get imagery during NYFW and for the next two seasons I covered most of the backstage activity. From there I just continued photographing friends. 

How do you find the balance between the vision you have and the mediums you are using?

I don’t really think so much about it, I usually just have the idea and find a way to achieve it. The beauty of creating imagery is that ideas do not have to be completely finished or expertly manufactured, they simply need to be developed enough such that the image can be executed, the rest is up to viewer imagination.

What inspired your style of work?

A combination of classic and modern photography, as well as fantasy and documentary photography. Most often I’m reading, listening to music or watching films and a particular aspect about something within that content will inspire me to create.

Where do you get inspiration from? 

I draw lots of inspiration from cultural imagery and films, also lots of inspiration for me comes from music and songwriters. Helps me to imagine and develop visuals.

What is the process behind a photography, if there is one?

There is a certain emotional intensity I strive to have present in my work. Much of that is achieved by trying to establish some level of comfort between myself and those I am working with.

Would you say that there is a main thread connecting all your photographs and if so, which is it?

I believe the tie that binds the imagery together would be this aspect of aspiration to the images. I feel as though however serious or playful in tone the images appear, there is a level of strength and honour present in each.

What kind of talks would you like to hear around your photographs? 

I am really excited when I hear diverging dialogues regarding my imagery, my intent is to create impactful imagery that can conjure reactions like nostalgia, comfort, amusement, familial, imagination, and also possibility.

Subscribe to our
Newsletter