Marcello Junior Dino

How do you write a blue caption?


Model · Daphne Simons at Platform
Photographer · Marcello Junior Dino at Kind Of
Fashion · Claudia Cerasuolo at Atomo Management
Casting · We Do Casting
Hair · Erisson Musella at Blend Management
Makeup · Claudia Malavasi at WM Management
Set Design · Micol Giulia Riva
Fashion Assistant · Ilaria Felici
Light Assistant · Davide Carlini
Set Designer Assistant · Claudia Desalve


  3. Top and trousers EMPORIO ARMANI, tights and shoes: A.C.9 and jewels AUGUSTINA ROS
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Jingze Du

Displacement fuels the desire to persevere until one’s art resonates with self-identity

The aura of displacement rocked the beginnings of artist Jingze Du when he first arrived in Dublin, Ireland from Yantai, China at the age of 13. With his mother’s belief in his artistry keeping him on his feet, he sought after refining his communication skills in English, a prerequisite of survival in an English-language-dominated country. As soon as he fed his mind with vocabulary, those used in the arts field as well, he set off his artistic endeavors until he gave birth to portraits and approaches that explore the extremes of his identity: strength and weakness; fast and slow; masculine and feminine; validation and rejection; external and internal; conformity and independence; and the space in between his Chinese and Irish self.

On starting out

A memory the artist dearly remembers stems from his meeting with painter Wu Xiaolin who had felt reluctant to take in the young man as his mentee. Upon seeing his drawings, a conviction compelled him to accept him, and Du learned individualism as his art style. For every stylized artwork the young artist would produce, his mentor would frown upon it and ask him to rework what he produced, to find his center and self along the way instead of infusing what the public could already see. Soon, Du developed his sense of composition, contrast, light, and shadow, and the necessity that each work must possess an immediate emotional impact.

He started investing more of his time in painting at the age of 15. His mother, his ever-devotee, would encourage him to visit museums and exhibitions, and Du would halt walking to observe the paintings’ surfaces from different angles, soaking in the techniques, emotions, and motivations of the artists on the wall.

On being distant

After his undergraduate in the National College of Art and Design in Dublin, Du flew to London to study his MA at the Royal College of Art. He admitted feeling lost during his first year, drawn from the costly tuition and living costs of the city. He sought refuge in his studio, spending most of his time holing up and toying with his newfound, tension-filled creativity. The artist felt isolated from his decision, but it soon found a new light as he visited the studio of Ellius Grace, an old friend from Ireland.

Their conversations opened up alleys for the artist as the friend had offered him a list of interesting bookstores to visit around the city. From then on, Du enjoyed the luxury and life London could offer him, hopping in and out of museums, galleries, fairs, artists’ studios, parks, dessert bars, and hotpots as often as possible. He later realized that the longer he placed himself outside of his studio – although he still thought that being inside carried a personal value too – the more he felt the power London held over him.  

When he came home one day from a city trip, he received an offer from The Royal Hibernian Academy in Dublin on a six-month residency that would start in January 2020. The prestigious proposal came with a spacious and sunlight-filled studio, a game-changer for the artist, but the new space only formed a chunk in the overall buzz that rushed in his veins. Coming back to Dublin felt like home to Du. Setting his eyes upon the landscapes, surroundings, and buildings that dotted the skyline, the scenery reminded him of some scenes from Macbeth: the weather, the wind, the mud, the rituals, the pagan forces, and the humans who kneel at the mercy of nature.

On identity

Looking back in the past, Du refrained from identifying identity in his works. He struggled with the role individuality played in his art even though he had gathered up the tools, mediums, and ideas of such roots from his mentor Wu Xiaolin. Eventually, the theme of identity rose to the surface, and the artist slowly accepted that it would often, if not always, infiltrate his works. These days, identity seems to act as a second skin for him. He feels comfortable and safe exploring his past, discovering how much of his mindset echoed the philosophy of existentialism before his move to London in 2017.

From a technical perspective, he began tinkering with linen instead of canvas as the finer grain conferred on him the ease to improve the quality of his paintings over a surface. He also started using much thinner oil paint which enabled him to better control his subtle, tonal differences. The shifting shades of warmer and colder grays resonated well with him, an element that now nudges him to aim for simplicity that yields the tunes of soulfulness. 

He confesses that whenever he lives in a new environment, his former identity meets the foreign one, a resurgence within him commencing. Since his former identity may sometimes, if not oftentimes, face defeat, he retreats and becomes an outsider, which he shares his learning mechanism to observe the new and the old, the contrast and the complement in the facets of his life.

Returning to Ireland meant returning to a familiar place, and Du believes it enabled him to explore the extremes of his identity, giving birth to his series In between where various extremes interact: strength and weakness; fast and slow; masculine and feminine; validation and rejection; external and internal; conformity and independence as well as the space in between his Chinese and Irish self.

On creative process

When Du introduces additional elements, colors, or forms into his works, it carves a path of experimentation for him on how the newer figures interact with the existing ones. He hopes for a reaction to come out, perhaps a revision of his current style, but he never forces anything. He welcomes his results with open arms and values organic growth more than anything else. His penchant lies in embracing joy from the inability to foresee the direction his artworks lead him to, enjoying the journey as he moves forward with every stroke, emotion, and material he anchors. Heart wins over the head, and his logic surrenders to his intuition. Each work informs future works and projects.

The subjects and themes he accumulates before diving into his creative work involve a plethora of identity and influences rooting from the East and West. Aside from this, he seeks knowledge on history to help him comprehend the context of his practice and support the statements he will include in the backstories of his works.

His viewers have asked him if globalization affects his work, and while he responds positively when inquired, he reiterates not going beyond his means to create a series or piece that concentrates on globalization. Its nuances penetrate the subtlety of his drawings and mediums, but more than anything else, he invites his viewers to view each of his works with an open heart, to feel it rather than reason out with or explain it.

On changes

Somehow, Du has learned to start as many projects as he can, boundless from any structures or systems. A free-flowing thinking that asks him to develop and further each work whenever he can, stripping himself bare from any pressure to finish it on time or as soon as he can. These works may evolve and transform into products of his mind that steer away from his original ideas, but for the artist, that has always been the plan. For Du, time changes and so do his artworks, so does his identity.


Images · Jingze Du

Arthur Delloye


Photography · ARTHUR DELLOYE
Photography · Assistant KLEBER DE QUAY

Pan Daijing

“I don’t feel like I’m just choreographing the movement; I’m also choreographing the space.”

Pan Daijing is an artist and composer whose work defies easy categorisation. Earlier this year, Daijing released her third album, Tissues – an hour-long record taken from the artist’s performance piece of the same name that was shown at the Tate Modern back in 2019. The work was conceived as an opera in five acts, combining Daijing’s long-standing exploration of electronic music. In a Zoom call from Berlin where Daijing lives, the artist jokes that Tissues almost predicted the pandemic – not least because of its title, but also as a performance about hopelessness and a pervading sense of despair that seems to categorise the world we live in now. As an exploration of the operatic voice, Tissues is not immediately like Daijing’s earlier albums, 2021’s Jade and Lack (2017), which are more akin to noise music – with electronic sounds evoking the eery, isolating hum of an industrial landscape, interspersed with distinctively, sometimes uncomfortably, human guttural sounds.

Daijing has performed, as a musician, at a string of Europe’s best festivals and at other venues, whilst also being commissioned, as an artist, to work with museums and art institutions – where sound and music remain central components within these pieces. Below, we discuss the boundaries of her work, drawing on the German composer Wagner’s notion of Gesamtkunstwerk, or the ‘total work of art’. It seems, to me, a term that aptly describes Daijing’s practice, without putting too much of a label on her, or her work. In fact, it is through music and art that Daijing aims to transcend categorisation in itself. By using music, sound, light, movement and design, Daijing creates work that explores a hybrid realm of what we often want to label as either ‘music’ or ‘art’, and thus allows the separate components to be interwoven and to communicate with one another.

Daijing describes a lifelong fascination with the human voice – as a child, she says, she would close her eyes and listen to someone’s voice, at school for example, and try to guess who was speaking. “It’s an interest I’ve always had,” Daijing explains, “and when you look for inspiration in life and in work, you always go to places that you’ve always felt fascinated by.” In essence, Daijing’s work is inextricably woven into the fabric of the space, the environment, the context, in which it is experienced – whether that is in a gallery setting, in a club, or alone – listening to her records in solitude. 

NR: As a starting point, you recently worked with the Tai Kwun Contemporary in Hong Kong on a series of new works, and as part of that, the piece Echo, Moss and Spill included elements of live performance. Was that your first live performance since the pandemic?

PD: Throughout the pandemic I was still working at a steady pace and Echo, Moss and Spill was my second exhibition-based work of the pandemic. Before that, I created a new work for Shanghai Biennale at the Power Station of Art. But that was a little different, it was mainly installation-based work on view for three months. Echo, Moss and Spill was a commissioned by Tai Kwun Contemporary as a performative environment in the format of a solo exhibition, alongside video work, sound and installation work. Alongside this, I was also commissioned by the institution for another work, One Hundred Nine Minus, which was a single sound installation. During the pandemic a lot of work had to be shifted because, with performance, there’s a lot of interaction that didn’t work with COVID rules, so I was quite grateful that, in Hong Kong at the time, there were almost no COVID cases. I caught a good moment when people were more relaxed about the situation; we could have more human interaction. And the performers didn’t have to wear surgical masks, we designed the costumes to have masks as part of the wardrobe. But even playing shows was strange because, right after the first lockdown when everything was still closed, there were still small things happening here and there. And when I was back in Europe in the summer last year, there was two, three, months where I was able to also make new work. I also did a few concerts myself, as well as show some of my composition work, travelling with an opera singer. Of course, COVID did influence my work significantly, but I am grateful to have been able to have continued working while so many others were forced to stop.

NR: Back in 2019, Tissues, an exhibition of performance work, took place at the Tate Modern – so just before the pandemic kicked off. Why did you release an hour-long snippet of Tissues as an album, which is obviously a different medium to how it was first performed?

PD: The idea of archiving performance work and putting pieces into different formats, to extend the lifespan, is always a part of my idea for a project. But, with Tissues, music is very prominent because this piece specifically touches on the idea of classical opera, the philosophy of making an opera, and the idea of music as an art form. The listening experience is also prominent in this piece, and I think, for me, making records is important.

“I think it’s important to have this dialogue with listeners, so they can have a piece of me that they can revisit, because in performance-based work, or ‘live art’, very often it’s just a moment.”

Of course, you can still revisit your memory, something I often call a performative relic. But sound-based work is very specific. With my first record, Lack (2017), maybe it’s a weird comparison but it’s kind of like a thesis written after a long period of research. It was a display of certain ideas I was exploring, summarised. And then, Jade (2021) was like a personal journal – sharing an intimate part of myself with strangers, which brings me closer to them. And they can listen to it without bias, without assumption, and I found that quite romantic. The performance of Tissues had limited capacity, and it was also exhibited alongside another piece, a day exhibition called The Absent Hour – so there’s this idea of seeing an operatic performance at night, and in the day, you’re coming to see the exhibition. I did feel that the experience of Tissues had its own momentum, that it could live longer. It was only really those who happened to be there for the performance who have a piece of that memory, but it’s also nice to be able to let this memory have a new life. So, the recording is a totally different piece to Tissues, as an artwork, but it’s an interesting way to have it archived. And personally, for me, I think Tissues was something I spent a really long time working on, as a chapter of my exploration of operatic vocalisation, so this is a way for me to give this a nice summary.

NR: The archiving side of what you’re saying is really interesting, and as an extension of this, how do you want your audience to engage and arrive at your work – considering that live performances are more grounded in the memory, whilst with the record you have the physical copy, or a stream on your computer? It’s a very different way of experiencing it.

PD: I think it’s also interesting that a record is very accessible. I think a lot of people know me through my music, which is natural because you can find it on the internet, and you can listen to it. It allows immediate engagement, and can be very personal, which brings a longer life to the performance work that existed in the past.

NR: How much of Wagner’s idea of the Gesamtkunstwerk also inspires your work?

PD:  I wouldn’t consider this concept an inspiration, but understandably people have often related this concept to what I do because I’m involving so many different aspects in my work, acting simultaneously as composer, choreographer, director, designer and performer. Especially at the beginning when I was exhibiting more of my art practice, people really questioned whether it is music or art, or what does this stand for? But I don’t separate my music practice or art practice; for me they are my artistic practice as a whole. That being said, it is also important to acknowledge that, even though most of my artworks have elements of sound, and are centred around the idea of music, it’s a totally different creative process and outcome, as well as scale of production, than when I make music work. So, though I’m not someone who aspires to be something or someone, or do a particular type of work, I do feel that how the idea of total art is used in Wagner’s work is in line with how I feel towards my work. The idea of total art is also quite often used in architecture, when architects make buildings and do the interior design – and later, the Dadaists talked about it too. When I’m writing, I don’t think I’m just writing with music or writing with words. I don’t feel like I’m just choreographing the movement; I’m also choreographing the space.

“I’m not just building an installation; I’m also building the environment. This just comes naturally from the beginning.”

NR: On a practical level then, how do you envision the way sound, space and movement work within a performance?

PD: In my practice all these different elements come together in an unbiased way. It’s about how sound, space, movement and visual artwork combine to create a narrative and express an idea. I’m fascinated by the musicality of space, or the rhythm of speech. But it’s the idea of music that’s usually at the beginning of making a work. And of course, after that, it becomes much wider. Over the past few years, playing concerts has become a smaller part of my practice, because creating these large-scale projects is a demanding process that requires time and focus. But I do still find that it’s important because I find the process of making music live, sharing it with an audience and having a very vulnerable moment on stage is an important way of researching certain ideas or testing materials. And it can be unpredictable; I’ve learned a lot as a musician, this understanding of certain moments of interaction and the idea of having an audience in the space. 

NR: How do you negotiate between, say, organic sounds that are made by the human body, versus the artificial or manufactured sounds?

PD: It’s interesting because I often think about it when I’m making work. I like exploring the limits of the human mind or, you know, working with the idea of the extreme, and challenging the extremes within us and the world, which also comes from a place of vulnerability and fragility. At the same time, paradoxically, it’s also about power; the human voice is magic because every person’s voice is unique. A voice reveals sensitive and detailed information about a person, and that’s something I found really fascinating and I like to collect this information. And this is why I also find opera singing to be a strong instrument because there’s a stillness and an athleticism. At the same time, it’s similar to noise music; it’s like extreme amplification but through the human lungs. There’s a kind of power to it because it’s impressive that sound is being generated by an organic being. And I found this quite interesting because I have the same relationship with the analogue synthesisers I use. It’s kind of like a dance. Of course, these are sounds made by a machine, but when I hear my own recordings, I can hear how I felt when I was touching those knobs or those wires. It reveals the language of choreography, so it is a dance with the machine; machines are cold and dead, but humans playing them give it life. So,

“I found this relationship between the voice and machine to be very intertwined and they have very natural, strong connection.”

NR: In a previous interview you discussed how noise can be therapeutic, and I wondered how you found the periods of lockdown which seemed to be characterised by silence and a lack of noise outside. Did the absence of sound affect the way you worked? 

PD: I like the idea of the absence of sound because it’s that that triggers your imagination. And it’s actually really hard to find that in everyday life; I don’t often listen to music because I can’t handle music as background noise. When I listen to a good piece of music, it gets my full attention and all of my sensors are triggered, so I’m really focused. I listen to music really quietly – so it’s funny because whenever I play music, people always ask for it to be louder, but when things are quieter you are forced to pay more attention to your senses. It’s a more concentrated form of listening. And I think, now, when we talk about noise in the world, it’s this kind of balance of the volume that is the problem. Certain sounds are too dominant and certain frequencies take over. I think the darkness of the time we’re in, and there has been darkness in every period of history, but maybe something’s overtaken too much.

You’re talking about noise in everyday life, but when it comes to what I was saying about the therapeutic nature of noise, I guess that comes down to the definition of ‘noise’. If we’re talking about the therapeutic nature of like noise as a music expression, silence, for me, is considered noise as well. It’s abstract.

“I think silence is as confrontational as a very strong soundwave.”

That’s what makes a great piece of noise music. And I don’t like confrontation that is forceful, but confrontational in that it feels like an encouragement. When I encounter a piece of work like that, it’s therapeutic because it helps me, it invites me to generate a certain direction. I think it’s very therapeutic because I think that’s what therapy does in general for people; no one can solve all your problems, they can only invite you to have a dialogue with yourself. I think it’s important to be honest with yourself, and this is what I want to achieve in my work as well. 

NR: That makes me want to turn back to Tissues and how, as an hour-long one-track record it demands you to listen to it in its entirety. 

PD: Music has the potential to provoke emotional, physical and imaginative responses, encouraging the listener to explore places they wouldn’t usually visit. But it takes time for this effect to surface and to feedback. I think about what I could possibly trigger through this listening experience, and when you’re talking about how you cannot go in and out of Tissues, it’s very much on purpose. Sometimes, I want the work to be a bit demanding so that it’s not so easy to digest. I don’t shy away from this kind of intensity in my work – maybe it’s not always pleasant, but that’s also fine. Tissues in its recorded form can only do so much compared to the experience of the performance. But this record does contain some of the spirit of the work, but it needs to be listened to in full to really come close to that experience. With the performance,

“it’s about the choreography, the installation, the landscape of lights – the darkness and the brightness, and all of that comes together. “

So, when you’re listening to it, it’s much denser and more compressed and, in a way, almost less distracting. When someone listens to Tissues, it’s a moment of solitude. 

NR: As a final point, then, I wanted to ask you about your live performances and how important site specificity is to you?

PD: From the very beginning, even when I was just playing concerts, I’ve always considered how architecture and space are important for me. I would turn down certain shows because it didn’t have an energy of, you know, I don’t feel inspired by the space. All of my work is site specific because

“it’s a big concern when it comes to making an experience-based work; the musicality of the space, the poetics of the space, is a very dominant element of how we encounter one another and how we encounter something.”

You cannot just hang something on the wall and think that is the only thing you’re looking at. I think, for the kind of work I do, it’s impossible. So, in this sense, I want to work with space through a 360-degree perspective to create a work that an audience can inhabit, to expand this kind of experiential process. With Tissues, the idea was to consider the Tanks as a sleeping giant, and the work is awakening it. The visual aspect of Tissues was to trigger the sensation that the space is moving, that it’s breathing, and that we are not just in an oil tank – it’s a gateway to a bigger world. Right after Tissues, I created a new work Dead Time Blue, featuring three opera singers and five dancers [in the atrium of] Martin Gropius Bau in Berlin in early 2020. The idea of the work was to make the whole space feel like a lung making sound, breathing, and singing. I think most of my sound installation work is about the operatic voice and the acoustic nature of the space as a way to make it feel like the whole building is singing. And, of course, there are the visual aspects – the movement, the dance, it all comes together into much more of a live experience. It’s important when I’m working to find a space I feel inspired by, and work to awaken the beauty in that environment.


Talent · PAN DAIJING wears BOTTEGA VENETA throughout
Photography · NINA RAASCH
Creative Direction · JADE REMOVILLE
Fashion Assistant · ALEIX ILUSA LOPEZ
Location · RAW STUDIOS

Willem Dafoe

“when you aren’t trying to accomplish something that serves your goals and you start to consider some else’s point of view, that becomes creative and that becomes fun”

Willem Dafoe connects to Zoom from Rome, where he lives with his wife, Giada Colagrande. The actor has just returned from filming in Budapest – where last week, the shoot for NR took place. For the shoot, Dafoe wore exclusively Prada, a brand he says he likes very much. “There were some crazy colours, but I like to stick out my neck a little bit. Sometimes I put on clothes I wouldn’t normally wear in life, but I enjoy doing it to shoot with.” As one of the most prolific actors in cinema for some forty years, the actor must have some familiarity with stepping into clothes he might not otherwise. “That’s the idea, and that’s the pleasure,” he says. Whether he steps into Prada attire for a magazine or spends countless hours in make-up to embody the legendary Nosferatu in 2000’s The Shadow of the Vampire, Willem Dafoe is a master of using costume and his surroundings to capture the emotional profile of a character. 

And his characters are vast and varied. The actor has played a red cap-wearing ship engineer in Wes Anderson’s The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004), a weather-beaten lighthouse keeper in The Lighthouse (2019), and as Sergeant Elias in the career-launching 1986 film, Platoon. From voicing the world-weary Gill in Finding Nemo (2003), to courting controversy through association with Lars von Trier’s provocative arthouse films Antichrist (2009) and Nymphomaniac (2014), Dafoe’s career is difficult to pin down. It’s not surprising, given the kinds of roles the actor has undertaken, that he is often asked if he has difficultly in leaving his characters behind. The answer is no, he can shut them out and return to his life, being Willem Dafoe, without problem. But are there elements of characters, perhaps some more than others, that stick with him regardless? 

“When I do a project, I have an experience. It’s part-social, part-artistic, part-life experience, and you learn things,” he explains. “When I learn things, I don’t unlearn them – unless I really make a concerted effort to. So certain things do stay with me, or certain things surprise me.” That, for Dafoe, is part of the adventure and the pleasure of stepping into the shoes of a character he hasn’t previously met. “Other possibilities occur that didn’t occur before in your life,” he adds, “like new skills or different sensibilities. “Those are the things that stay because I return to that feeling.” Besides the lasting impact that playing a role can have on Dafoe as a person, I wonder if he ever looks back to a previous character in order to shape a new role? “I hope not! You know, the idea is really to start from zero every time.”

The reverberations of previous performances can linger, but Dafoe is careful to avoid revisiting the past. His process involves “trying to steer away from that, not to repeat yourself – not that that’s a sin, but it might suggest that you aren’t going deep enough, or you’re leaning on something.” Delving into the unknown is where Dafoe finds his energy. The actor has also made a career-long effort to avoid being typecast. Despite his distinctive face and a persisting misconception amongst some that he almost exclusively plays ‘bad guys’, it’s difficult to see the same person twice across his oeuvre. 

The surface characteristics of a role are something that Dafoe specifically tries to mix up, in order to avoid repetition. “Sometimes I’ll approach a character and look for a trigger for your imagination – so I’ll change my external appearance in some way.” That might be a prosthetic or a hairstyle. It might, for example, be a moustache. “The style of that moustache, in my head, is owned by a certain character, so if I have a moustache that looks a certain way, I think ‘Oh – that’s too Bobby Peru!’” 

Dafoe has spoken previously about playing the lecherous gangster Bobby Peru in David Lynch’s Wild at Heart (1990), recalling that the director handed him the character’s costume without discussion. How much of the process of bulking out a character is a collaboration? That depends on various factors: the character, the project and the personalities involved. Part of what Dafoe calls the “beauty of working in film” – and to a degree, in theatre too – is that “one must figure out what they think their area to explore is, their area to perform in, or what their responsibilities are.” Those boundaries aren’t fixed, but perennially shifting. “Sometimes one has to support other aspects of the story to get it on its way; sometimes you are the story.” 

“And in a similar way, some directors want talent to collaborate, [while others] want their actors to inhabit what they’ve created.” In At Eternity’s Gate, the 2018 biopic of Vincent van Gogh, director and painter Julian Schnabel taught the actor how to paint in preparation for the role. Writing in The New York Times in 2020, Schnabel recalled how early scenes from filming didn’t make the final cut: “He was wearing the same clothes, had the same hairdo, but he wasn’t the guy yet. Then there was a certain moment when all of a sudden he was. He was transformed, transfigured. He was somebody else.” Dafoe says that he likes a flexibility of approach in order to not take himself too seriously or get stuck in the belief that there’s only one way to go about the acting process. “It makes me feel more fluid and energetic somehow.” Figuring out how to navigate a role or a collaboration is also where the pleasure lies. “Once I feel comfortable in that mode and I’m working with people that I trust, then the sky’s the limit.”

Dafoe’s response intrigues me, in part, because of an interview he did with fellow actor and Mississippi Burning (1988) co-star, Frances McDormand for BOMB in 1996. “That’s another age!” he exclaims. It is, but there is something he says that is particularly interesting. In the interview, Dafoe refers to actors as “serving someone else’s construct,” before asking McDormand the extent to which she finds that position frustrating or liberating. In 2021, how would Dafoe respond? In order to answer, he asks what McDormand replied. I can’t remember, I confess. But going back to her answer – that “actors are in the service industry” – it is undoubtedly similar to Dafoe’s. “Part of an actor’s process is serving [the] idea and being able to articulate and inhabit what [the director] is trying to do.”

“I think I say this a lot,” Dafoe continues, “so maybe I’m getting stuck in a certain kind of idea, but I still think it’s true – it probably was true in 1996 – when you aren’t trying to accomplish something that serves your goals and you start to consider some else’s point of view, that becomes creative and that becomes fun.” In doing so, one is “let of the hook” in a way because the actor is not responsible for the film’s meaning, or its framing. “But the quality of being there, of what someone is doing, and the pretending is an actor’s responsibility – and I can do that if I’m doing that for someone else. If I’m doing it for myself, I sometimes have a little voice in the back of my head that’s always asking how I’m doing; ‘Is this what we want?’ ‘What’s this going to get me?’ And you want to get away from that.” To let the experience wash over Dafoe in this way allows him to “feel looser and more open,” and to forget himself in that moment. “You’re not there anymore, you’re someone else. And that taps you into a whole other world that’s not based just on your experiences and the things you want.” It’s in that state that allows for “something pure and intuitive – beyond your understanding,” shutting out a self-consciousness that can (dis)colour the action. “That’s usually where the most interesting things happen.”

Dafoe may be deemed one of Hollywood’s leading actors, but he rarely appears there – preferring films shot on location. In the case of Martin Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ (1988), Dafoe headed to Morocco to film, only to return to the US to encounter a backlash. The actor’s all-too-human portrayal of Jesus was deemed blasphemous by some religious groups, but it demonstrates the extent to which Dafoe seeks out real emotion during the filming process. “Shooting on location is a lot of fun because my life experience working in that place informs [and roots] what I am doing.” In a more extreme way that some of Dafoe’s other films, The Last Temptation encapsulates how the environment and emotion interact in order to shape the character that appears on screen. 

In Sean Baker’s critically acclaimed 2017 film, The Florida Project, Dafoe plays Bobby, the overstretched but unflappable manager of the Magic Kingdom motel on the periphery of Disney World, Florida. Filmed at a functioning motel, many of the film’s stars were, unlike Dafoe, non-actors. In order to master his role, Dafoe learned the ropes of management from the Magic Kingdom’s real-life manager. It catapulted Dafoe into another world, shaped by the surrounding characteristics and quirks of the location and its weather system, the lifestyles of its inhabitants, and so on. “I spent my time working with people that are actually living there, so it’s super rooted. Hollywood does not exist for these people,” he explains; “after a couple of days, they’re over the fun of the circus coming to town [and] it becomes life for them. And also, for myself.” If that made the film’s situation “easier to enter” for Dafoe, it also contributes to the uncomfortable truth portrayed in the reality of the characters and their experiences. 

Then there’s the overwhelmingly morbid The Lighthouse by Robert Eggers, in which Dafoe and Robert Pattinson feature as two nineteenth-century lighthouse keepers on a remote island in New England. Shot in black-and-white in square format (recalling the silent films of the previous century), the film is uncomfortably claustrophobic. The lack of theatrics gives The Lighthouse a terrifyingly real atmosphere – except for very brief uses of special effects that blur the realm of ‘real’ versus ‘surreal’. “The isolation was so complete,” Dafoe recalls; the film was shot in Nova Scotia under terrible conditions. “The weather was so extreme that that put us there right away. There’re certain things that are very difficult to act, you know, extreme cold, runny noses, flush skin from brutal wind. These kinds of things put us in a state that allowed us to be there in a very full way.”

The strife and struggle that burdens Dafoe and Pattinson is rendered visible by the circumstances under which they filmed. Not least, as Dafoe adds, in the moment of filming something like The Lighthouse “I’m not thinking about how the movie is going to do. I’m not thinking about my career. I’m not thinking about any of these things because I’m in it.” Shooting on set, meanwhile, is fundamentally different. “I go into make-up [and] there may be movie magazines around, which I don’t like very much because I don’t want to be reminded about those kinds of things when I’m making a movie.” Inasmuch as Dafoe seems to resist the ‘cult of the movie star’ when it comes to being an actor, though, it’s inevitable that he cannot always control how he is perceived.

Given the nature of some of the characters the actor has played, I wonder whether other’s perceptions of him, as Willem Dafoe – the person, are shaped by a particular film role. And if so, which characters tend to be referenced the most? “You know, I can tell. I can tell what films people have seen when they approach me.” Because Dafoe has undertaken so diverse a range of roles and films, it’s easy to demarcate one type of movie watcher from another. He says that he often feels that people who watch the higher-pace films have “no awareness of the European movies or the auteur movies, and vice versa. Someone will come up to me and say, ‘I’ve seen all your movies,’ and they’ve probably seen 10%.” That’s normal; it’s a reflection of different tastes. “Spider-Man, The Lighthouse or The Florida Project – those are three distinctly different movies.”

The actor has identified, for example, a middle-aged audience who watched his earlier films before getting caught up in life as they got older; “they stopped watching movies and if they did, they tend to go to the more available, the more commercial. They were less cinephile.” So, there are different camps of the Dafoe-phile (‘fandom’ does not seem to be an appropriate way to describe it). “Sometimes you see people that are stuck in another time of your career because it reflects their viewing habits. People do see you depending on the films they watch and the characters they see.” It’s curious how this then feeds into preconceptions about the kind of person Dafoe might be. “Some people think I’m, you know, some crazy nut. Some people think I’m eccentric. Some think I’m a normal guy. Some people think I’m athletic. Some people think I’m an old guy.”

Dafoe talks compassionately about the encounters people have with him. He recognises that the interaction is not always specifically to do with the actor himself, but rather the characters he plays, in order for people to make sense of themselves. “I am touched by people’s need to make some sort of connection, and when they see actors and films, it connects to some prior feeling or experience they’ve had.” In that moment, “that world in their head came together with that world that was up on the screen.” Talking to Dafoe, however, he seems to embody neither the Green Goblin who lurked in the corner of my bedroom for some time after the release of Spider-Man in 2002 (“yes he is – so behave yourself”), nor does he have the pained visage of van Gogh, battling demons in his latter days, as in At Eternity’s Gate. Instead, wearing black-rimmed glasses and Bose headphones, Dafoe appears to be, well, himself. The actor’s portrayal of van Gogh is one that, nonetheless, leaves a lasting impression.

In Vincente Minnelli’s 1956 biopic of the French painter, Lust for Life, Kirk Douglas takes on the role of the ‘tortured genius’; the artist misunderstood by his peers, only to be discovered in death. The enduring legacy that exists around van Gogh created the appetite for a depiction of the life and suffering of an artist in a film like Lust for Life. But in Dafoe’s portrayal, what is so compelling is not its ‘authentic’ depiction of ‘true’ events, but his haunting portrayal of human feeling. In one scene in which Dafoe’s van Gogh explains how he cut off his ear, it isn’t the uncanny recreation of the artist’s Self-Portrait with Bandaged Ear that makes it such an affecting scene. Rather, it’s Dafoe’s arresting ability to convey a person caught between certainty and confusion with pained restraint.

But by playing a real artist, with whom the world ‘identifies’, some criticism is inevitable. Over the course of a career defined by such a range of characters – real (a motel manager), ‘Real’ (van Gogh and Jesus Christ) and fantastical, where does Dafoe locate and connect with the essence of a character? And how does he decide whether or not to take up a role? “I read a script and I say, “What does the person do? Do I want to do those things? Am I interested in them? Will it be fun? Will I learn something?” 

The pandemic allowed Dafoe the chance to stop temporarily and spend time with his wife, Colagrande, who as a filmmaker and musician has a schedule to rival his own. Dafoe scrambled back to Rome from New York and recalls how volatile and scary those early days of the pandemic were. There was the aggressive jockeying in the run-up to the US election, misinformation surrounding COVID and the point of view that Italy was, besides China, the “worst place in the world to go”. By July, however, Dafoe was able to get back to work, something that he says he is grateful for. The circumstances, though, were different. “The idea before Nightmare Alley [director Guillermo del Toro’s forthcoming carnival-based thriller] of spending two weeks on entering Canada in an apartment unable to leave, having your food delivered to you, was basically like prison – actors’ prison.” 

If the pandemic slowed down Dafoe’s usually busy schedule, the actor is now regathering pace. And Poor Things, based on the 1992 novel of the same name by Alasdair Gray, is one project that is worth keeping an eye out for. “Listen, it was a great experience and Yorgos Lanthimos is a real talent. It’s got a beautiful cast, and you get self-conscious. I don’t want to blow my own horn by association saying how great things are, but it’s very special.” Given the nature of the story, it will be fascinating to see how it is realised on the big screen. Dafoe is, equally, intrigued – but shuts himself up before sharing any potentially revealing details. “Since I just finished, I’m still high off the experience. I’m excited about many things, but this one is high up on the list.” I don’t ask Dafoe whether the rumours are true that he will be resurrecting the Green Goblin for this year’s highly anticipated Spider-Man: No Way Home; he certainly wouldn’t tell, and, for the sake of my younger self, I don’t really want to know. 



Creative Directors · NIMA HABIBZADEH AND JADE REMOVILLE          
Photographer · LUC COIFFAIT          
Fashion Stylist · SAM CARDER          
Interview · ELLIE BROWN


“I think you can get so stuck in trying to sell something, that you forget you can have fun and play around with it”

Chef and photographer Alex Paganelli has carved himself a unique position in the industry, operating with ease across the realms of food styling, film direction, menu designing and product development. Uniting the culinary, art and fashion worlds, Paganelli injects a vibrant energy into his creations, and has established himself as one to watch, having already worked on campaigns for brands like Skims and Bottega Veneta – but this is only one level of his flourishing food empire.

Growing up in the French Alps, Paganelli picked up his interest in French cuisine and cultural diversity, which came natural with Italian-British parents. Moving to London at 18, Paganelli took the techniques he learned from home with him to the kitchen and discovered a yearning for a creative process detached from tradition, and began shaping his own signature style, creating things that were stunning to behold, but also wonderful to eat.

Since establishing DeadHungry in 2015 – a studio, kitchen and creative hub for his food ideas, Paganelli has catered for specially-curated events and has built a strong reputation for daring menu design and serving eclectic, modern and experimental dishes.

Paganelli continues to subvert the conventions of food photography and conjures up scenes and dishes that are optical feasts, including life-size jelly shoes and handbags, cartoonish pies and mind-bendingly visceral table settings.

NR Magazine touches base with Paganelli in London to learn more about his visual language and creative evolution.

Growing up in France – a culinary capital of the world, how did this influence you when you first started as a chef?

France influenced me a lot. I grew up there and I lived there until I was 18. My mum is from London, so I used to come and spend my summers here with my family. My dad is from Italy, but the whole family moved to France when I was a child and we used to live close to them. They were a typical southern Italian family, so I think I’ve been influenced by all three if that makes sense- my dad’s Italian family, my mum’s British family, and then of course me growing up in France. I think all three really had an impact on my work, what I cook with and what I like to eat.

I grew up more or less with a Mediterranean diet, but then moving to London I discovered so many different types of cuisine. I met and worked with people and chefs from all over the world, so later in life I realised that even if I’m drawn to more traditional food, London has added an element of modern cooking, in a way that I don’t think I experienced growing up in France.

When did you start to shape your own signature style?

It was something that happened over time. I think my style grew after I became a photographer, but that happened a little bit later. At the beginning of my career, I was just focussing on food, but then I started documenting my work and eventually started getting hired as a photographer. Eventually it all melded together and formed what is today my style. It took a little while though. At the start, when I was only working with food and wasn’t really photographing as much, I hadn’t really figured out what my style was, and I didn’t really understand fully what it was that I was trying to do.

Eventually I started using different techniques, like I stopped using animal products and started to create more vegan dishes. That defined it a lot more, and I think that’s what made me grow in a way that was quite unexpected. Up until then I was cooking in a more traditional way, using very traditional ingredients, and when I decided I was going to use more plant-based ingredients, I realised there weren’t really any rules for that because it’s such a new way of cooking. I think that’s what really influenced the way that I cook. I realised that it was this exciting, new territory, where I didn’t have to stick to such a specific and traditional way of doing things. I think that’s when I realised my career was starting to grow in a different direction.

Are you vegan yourself then, or is that just what you happen to cook?

I cook and eat more or less the same stuff. There are a lot of chefs that will cook very differently to how they eat at home, but for me it’s more about blending it together. I don’t really believe in cooking something that I wouldn’t want to eat myself. In London I would consider myself mostly vegan, but if I’m in a place somewhere in the world where it makes sense to eat a certain food, then I can easily be influenced by those local ingredients – I have no problem doing that. I was in Nice for quite a while, and I did eat quite a bit of fish there.

For me, it’s more about blending into the environment you’re in and eating what makes sense in that location.

Yeah, that makes sense. I’ve got a lot of family in Greece, and obviously their cuisine is based a lot around things like cheese and fish, so when you travel there, it’s hard not to eat those things.

Exactly, and I also think the quality is and important part of it. I think eating a packaged piece of cheese from the supermarket is different to eating some that has been made on a really amazing farm. It’s part of the culture there which makes a big difference.

What inspired you to create DeadHungry in 2015? 

I’d been working in restaurants for quite a few years, and I realised that the restaurant pace was quite draining. I couldn’t see myself doing that full time for the rest of my life. There was an aspect of photography that I’ve always loved, which started off as a hobby rather than a career. But from the beginning I decided I was going to pursue a career in food and with that and I knew there was an element of creating visuals that I was really drawn to.

I really love creating imagery with cooking, so I found a way of blending the two together. But I never thought I was going to become a photographer – it was never a goal, it just happened.

Your work explores the different textural potential of food and objects, and your film direction, particularly with Bottega Veneta employs similar aesthetics and sensory techniques to ASMR videos. Do you draw inspiration from things like that? It seems like exploring different colours and forms is a key part of your work.

I’m not specifically influenced by things like ASMR. I would say it’s more a case of me liking anything detail oriented. I like anything that focusses on a great depth of colours and textures in general, and I think that’s something that we don’t really see much in food photography, apart from real close-ups of food that I think feel quite commercial.

I was always interested in things that were odd and almost a little bit repulsive. That part of food photography is something that I don’t think a lot of food photographers touch on. That’s become my point of view over time. It’s more about photographing things that we’re not used to seeing, for example I love to photograph things that are rotting, but as a food photographer, that’s not really something that you’re going to focus on, but it’s something that I personally find really visually appealing.

Your work has a very playful feel to it and at times, a darker sense of humour that shows off a different side to food photography. What inspires you to combine the worlds of gastronomy with art and fashion in this way? 

Again, that wasn’t something that I specifically thought I wanted to do. Those were just the type of clients that started coming my way, and I realised I had to adapt my work to fit the fashion world and its products in that way.

I think I’m inspired more by fashion photographers than food photographers – like more art photographers and still life photographers. That’s where my references come from. It wasn’t a conscious effort of combining the worlds of food and fashion, but over time, working with a lot of fashion brands and clients, it evolved into that.

I also noticed that some of your photographs are reminiscent of classic still lifes, but with a modern twist. Some of your tables are set in the style of the 60s and 70s, and have a nostalgic feel to them, particularly with the colourful jellies. Do you draw much inspiration from these eras?

I think I’m inspired by those eras for sure. It’s embedded into my work somehow. It’s not necessarily something I’m specifically drawn to, but there’s definitely a nostalgic feel to what I do.

I’m just attracted to anything beautiful, and perhaps a little romantic at times. I think that’s just a product of my taste.

What’s your usual working process – how do you approach developing new ideas?

I approach new ideas in lots of different ways, it just depends on what I’m doing. If I’m thinking of a photoshoot, then it’s more about understanding the product. If I’m working with a brand, I try to understand what their idea is and how I can then integrate that into what I do.

If I’m testing and developing a new dish or certain flavours, then it starts with a couple of ingredients that I want to work with – usually something seasonal that’s just become available. In that case, it’s more a matter of just testing it in my kitchen until I have something that I like.

I follow quite simple guidelines with the way that I shoot – I’m either shooting a beautiful dish as it is, or I photograph the process of it, as sometimes that looks even better than the final product. There are certain things I’ll make that are delicious to eat but that might not necessarily look very good on camera.

In terms of pure photography when it doesn’t have anything to do with a really tasty dish, then it’s more about getting the right elements in the studio on that day and getting my team to do the things they are good at, and honestly just having fun and not overthinking too much.

I think the best ideas come when you have a solid idea in your head, you don’t overthink every shot and you just have an overall idea of what the mood is going to be. The rest just falls into place.

What artists and chefs inspire you at the moment?

There are some pastry chefs that I love like Cédric Grolet in Paris. He’s very famous now but I’ve been following him for quite a while. There’s also this amazing artist called Craig Boagey that I discovered who does these incredible paintings of mushrooms but I’m also a huge fan of Sam Youkilis who does lots of moving images of mountains and stunning landscapes (amongst other things including lots of food) which remind me of home. Things come and go. I get really obsessed with people over a few weeks or a few months at a time and then I’ll move on to something else.

Do you feel like your identity as a chef and as a creative is rooted more in France or London? 

I’ve lived in London my whole adult life, so I think everything that I’ve ever created with DeadHungry has been created here, so I’d say that my work is deeply rooted here. In terms of my inspiration, that definitely comes from other places. I grew up in the Alps and spent most of my childhood there, so that’s a very special place for me. Every time I go back, I feel really inspired.

It’s funny though, because I eat very differently when I’m there compared to how I eat here, and I think of food in a completely different way. I think London has this immense pressure – there’s this stress to deliver things that are exciting and different all the time, whereas in other places you don’t think of it like that. Instead, you think of food more as a necessity rather than an artform. I think they’re both very important and they’re both part of how I work. They’re two very different approaches but I don’t think I could do what I do without them both.

What do you find most interesting about the intersections of the culinary and fashion worlds?

When you work for a food client that wants to sell a product and wants to focus on what that food is for a restaurant or a hotel etc, I think you can get so stuck in trying to sell something, that you forget you can have fun and play around with it. What I really love about shooting food for a fashion brand is that it doesn’t really matter what the food is, as long as the overall image looks good or has an energy or an emotion attached to it that is interesting and visually appealing.

If you were just focussing on food clients, all you really want to do is make something look delicious, and that’s not always the best way of taking an amazing image. Sometimes trying to be too realistic takes away from the magic of creating an image. That’s what I really like doing with brands that aren’t necessarily always about food – you can have more fun with them without having to worry about what every element looks like. As soon as you start to do that you lose the sense of a really interesting image, and it just becomes more about the product.

With the theme of this issue being Identity, I thought it would be interesting to hear about your signature dishes or any favourite recipes from your childhood. 

Honestly, the thing I love to cook the most is pizza. I know it sounds really basic, but it’s what I love to make the most. It’s so simple and it’s something that everyone loves, but its also something that is a lot more difficult than people think – it took me years to perfect a really good dough.

I also love pastries, and I love to cook with seaweed. I don’t really have a specific recipe that I go back to, but there are certain kinds of food that I seem to always go back to, and then maybe new flavour combinations will come out of that.

I’m really into cooking vegetable skewers at the moment, but things come and go depending on the season. Since I’ve been vegan, I find the versatility of an ingredient like seaweed to be really interesting.

What stands out to you most about the London food scene?

The level of the food industry is really high in London. When I go back to places like France, people always ask me ‘don’t you miss French food and French ingredients?’ and in Italy it’s the same. People say the food is disgusting in London, but I’ve had some of the best food in the world here. There are so many people from all over the world, and so many different communities – you can go east and see the Vietnamese community, you can go a little bit more north and see the Caribbean community, and every community has some stand out places that are incredible.

Something I miss when I go away is that idea that I can have food from all over the world. If you know where you’re going, you can find things that are incredibly special, and I love that.

The downsides are that it’s a very fast-paced city, and a lot of restaurants open and close really quickly, because its very expensive and its not necessarily financially viable to run a restaurant. I think in general, it’s a very hard city to break into. The food industry is one of the most difficult industries to get into. It’s very challenging to own a restaurant and I admire people who can actually run a restaurant 24/7, because it’s so demanding and such hard work. But I think it’s also a very special place for food.

I love it. It’s so diverse, and we have some of the best chefs in the world here. So many chefs come through London just to open a restaurant because they know the clientele is here.

Do you think you would ever live anywhere else?

That’s the question I’m asking myself! I’ve been here for 14 years, and I love it, it’s an exciting city, but I think the older I get, the more I realise I’m ready to live a life that’s a little bit more relaxed.

I think as long as I have a foot in London then that’s fine. I’d still want to be in the city, because it’s an exciting place to be, and I think you learn so much from other people here and get so easily inspired. I don’t think the level of creativity would be the same in a smaller city, and I think I would miss that if I left. But I’m definitely drawn to a more relaxed lifestyle with a bit of sun.

Is sustainability important to you and your work?

Yes, its really important! It wasn’t something I thought was that important when I started working, but now I think every chef in the world has some level of responsibility and should understand that we can’t really be cooking in the same way that we were 50 years ago. I think if we want to move to a more sustainable food chain in general, and we want to really improve our systems, whether that’s the way we farm and fish or the way that we eat – I think it’s a collective effort.

I think chefs have a responsibility to show people options and to make good examples. I take it quite seriously, that’s why I don’t cook with meat and fish anymore. Especially in a big city, you hear lots of people say, ‘what if we all bought meat and fish from sustainable farms?’ and that’s great if you have the money to do that. I don’t disagree with the idea that we should still be eating meat every once in a while, I just don’t think it should be part of our diets in the way that it is now – I think it should be something we do extremely rarely.

The problem is that it’s cheaper to buy a kilo of chicken wings in a supermarket than it is to buy really good quality vegetables. I think that’s where the responsibility for chefs lies, in breaking away from that broken system.

How would you define your visual language?

It’s quite dynamic and has a touch of camp to it. There’s something very raw and vibrant to it as well. The idea of photographing things that are very realistic doesn’t appeal to me. I like things that are a bit surreal. That’s what’s fun with photography – being able to replicate something that you don’t always see with your own eyes. I don’t understand the point of photographing things the way that you see them in real life. Why not have fun with it?

There are amazing photographers that do documentary and journalistic work. Some people are very good at that, but for me, it’s more about being able to capture something that is a little bit surreal.

What’s been the most daring or challenging thing you’ve done in your career so far?

I think generally, opening the studio a couple of years ago – that was very challenging. So far, it’s been trying to establish myself as a chef and a photographer on the same level. That was something that before I had the studio, I was really struggling to do, and my career was moving more towards creating imagery and less towards cooking, so being able to establish that has been very important. It has been challenging but also very rewarding, because I realised how important they both are, and how I couldn’t really be doing one without the other.

I think the most challenging things are yet to come. I’m looking at opening a new studio – something a bit more stable and solid, that could be running a more regularly than what I’m doing now. At the moment my studio is here, but I only open it every once in a while for dinners, so I’m looking to open something that could be a bit more permanent.

Chiron Duong

“All things come from nothing and their presence in the present is a miracle of creation”

Magnetism towards nature, bodies, materials, and phenomena from their ancestry to their hazy, visual forms. When Vietnamese photographer and artist Chiron Duong narrates his artistry and where it springs from, he touches on the spiritualism and benevolence he finds in photography, fashion, and art, fusing the three to concoct a visual vision associated with the law of life. All images blurred, his model dances in a butterfly costume, his flowers tremble sideways, his water sloshes from gentle to rapid rapids, and his concepts of garments over bodies mean to flow, sway, and never settle.

The mantra from nothing to create a magical existence nestles within him for his fingers to capture through photography, his eyes to scrutinize via fashion, and his lips to speak of his art. As he points his lenses to his subject, whether it is a human body or nuance of nature, Chiron Duong communicates with his audience to convey stories that penetrate beyond the mere forms of objects, a display of the relationship between these tangible materials and the phenomena of nature and the universe that recalls science and magic.

Before diving deep into your practice, how did you end up in photography? What were your studies and sets of training before this?

Before practicing photography, I was a student of landscape architecture and urban planning in Vietnam. It was because I had practiced these two fields together that I sought to apply them to my study of photography and vice-versa. Landscape architecture and urban planning have helped me form my own perspective and find the direction that I will develop in the future towards photography.

Currently, I am focusing heavily on photography, but this is not my end goal. I hope my works can educate children and young generations about love and the natural environment through programs and visuals that combine arts and education.

There’s a sense of fashion and art in your photography. Would you say that you are combining photography with fashion and art, and why? How would you describe the relationship of these three, and why?

Photography, fashion, and art are my three favorite elements, and they have a clear relationship with each other. I have always wondered how I could turn my camera into a paintbrush and use fashion as palettes in my photographs. This is why I think about blurred boundaries when capturing the motions of the models. This will create the effect of a painting. Color also plays an important role along with the material of fashion designs as each material creates a different effect when I take pictures. Besides the three elements here, I am also experimenting with the educational elements as part of my mission to convey stories through my works.

In an interview, you mentioned that your mantra is “Chân không diệu hữu,”– “from nothing to create a magical existence.” What did you mean by this? How can you create magic from nothing?

“Chân không diệu hữu,”– “from nothing to create a magical existence.” This is a saying in Buddhism. It carries the meaning of the creation of all things. The good and the bad that are present before our eyes can be an illusion and a challenge to our minds. All things come from nothing and their presence in the present is a miracle of creation and from the universe. I have applied this saying to my works.

“I want to tell stories that go beyond the mere form of an object, thereby showing the relation of that object to a phenomenon in nature and to the universe that recalls miracles and magic.”

My Reply I, II photos see the fantastical stories the plants tell us about their former existence.

Speaking of magic, your photographs are just ethereal and whimsical. What’s your creative process? How do you achieve these blurred images?

The process of doing these works as a way of meditation is that I observe things and find out their characteristic properties in terms of shape, color, inside and out, thereby looking for the connection between these objects and natural phenomena, people, animals, and society. From there, the objects in my photo will have stories out of their basic shape. This is a miracle.

Sometimes, I will use a low-speed shutter to capture movement, but sometimes I use light effects to create a sense of flight. I also apply special effects such as shooting in different environments like water and fire. This means the imagery is not limited to the form of expression but is important to the sense of magic my works create.

There’s a sense of soft power and fluidity in your photographs. What would you say your themes are in photography, and why? Do you have any advocacy that you would love to showcase through images?

The two big themes in my works are Flaming Asian and The ConnectionsFlaming Asian to me has many meanings not only in color but also in cultural, spiritual, dreamy, and soft aspects. These are the themes to show the origin of my love for fashion, photography, and painting. On the other hand, The Connection is a big topic in both still-life and fine art photography. In this topic, I seek to connect objects with nature on environmental and social issues, while infusing morality in their messages.

Talking about the blurriness in the images, there must be some movement for this to happen. What’s your opinion about movement? How essential is it for you?

I always consider the blur in the photos to ensure a balance between emotion and technique when I photograph. I do not want this blur effect to be just a visual effect that impresses the viewer without conveying the message of the photo. With movement, it becomes more effective when combined with the color and texture of the garment. Most importantly, I want to create a special space to tell my personal story through my works.

In an interview, you mentioned that you “intend to show the energy that comes from within our bodies, the mystical spirit.” Could you elaborate on this?

It is a form, a state beyond the present shape of the object.

“When I desire to express a feeling of energy from within myself, thoughts, conflicts, and movement, forms take place within the mind and body that we cannot see with our eyes.”

I want to recall those feelings as I feel the energy within me move. Usually, I will use motion capture techniques with appropriate props or photographs to create a shift in the viewer’s point of view and evoke the content I want to show.

In terms of personal philosophy, what are the beliefs that you practice that influence your photography? Could you share how these started?

I think personal perspective and direction are very important, which can affect your photography style. In my case, I have had time to try out many different types of photography including commercial, architecture, still life, and street. I find my favorite features from these genres and include them in my photography. Most importantly, I am exposed to different fields to understand what issues I care about, and how I want to present my perspective. For example, I often ask myself what I love, and what I want for society and my community. I often look back on my own origins and development to understand why I care about those issues in photography. For me, your culture and community from childhood to adulthood and your social background will greatly influence your thinking in choosing the path you want to take and creating your identity in photography.



Nina Doll

“it offers people the opportunity to sustainably express themselves”

Nina, 24, Berlin-based digital fashion designer and CGI Artist is switching the way we think of fashion.

With a manual approach to design on her back, the German artist has marked her name within the group of creatives which are trying to revolutionise our industry one step at a time. Talking through her development as a designer, Nina spoke with NR about the perks and countless possibilities of expanding fashion production onto the digital world.

Sustainability, visibility, inclusivity, these are just some of the many points that could affirm CGI creative production as the new chapter for contemporary consumerism.

Exploring emotions and how a new era of digitalised humanity would feel and look like, Nina’s work is the ultimate undermining proof that ‘a whole new culture is emerging’. Take a journey into Nina’s boundless digital world: a reality where oneself could be anything.

How has your approach to fashion design developed from manual to digital? 

During my Master Degree in Fashion design I attended a course covering digital Fashion. While at first I was sure I would have stuck with classic Fashion design, I later on got caught with the digital aspects of it and began to teach myself CLO3D.

It really was quite a natural process learning and experimenting with digital Fashion and other 3D Tools like sculpting. Over time, I started to share some of my work on Instagram, and got into it even more. After realising the huge market, and the amazing Feedback over my art and work, I simply stuck to it. For my final MA graduation Project I combined digital Fashion, Abstract sculpting, CGI visualization and real tailoring.

Talk us through your latest projects and collaborations.

One of the latest projects I took part in was an editorial story for Vogue Portugal. Although they were shooting with actual clothes on a model, Baby G – taking care of post production – and I embedded CGI Elements onto the real Image afterwards. Glass flowers, abstract swirls around the model… We also recreated the model’s face in 3D and added more elements onto it: the point was to create a mixture of her real self, with her digital identity. This is the kind of photo compositing I love the most. It demonstrates the incisive ambivalence between real and virtual. Another project I have recently been working on was a collaboration with the fashion brand A BETTER MISTAKE. Being commissioned to make a video, I redesigned their real pieces in 3D, created an Avatar model for them and placed the product in a fully digital landscape.

What are the perks of digital design? And the cons?

The ultimate perks of digital design is the absence of waste. It is also a whole new creative world. There is nothing you can’t actually do: you are completely free when it comes to your choice of material, setting, environment, model, movement… It is also an amazing opportunity for young aspiring – fashion – designers: the digital realm allows you to showcase your work without the economical effort one would face when producing a collection in real life.
On the other hand, new challenges regarding the environment such as electricity consumption, are coming up. Also think about NFTs, and the usage for the end customer: it is still very limited, as ‘body tracking’ is still evolving.

Taking into consideration the advent of NFTs and the marketing aspects related to it, where do you portray fashion within such instances?

I believe NFTs are enabling digital fashion pieces to be an art piece on their own. NFTs in general give artists the opportunity to make money out of their practice without having to depend on clients or commission work. Through such a marketplace, customers are able to own something special, a unique garment, just like it is in real life with couture pieces or limited editions.

How does technology affect the value of design?

Personally, it adds value and sets designers free from real life restrictions. Creating digital art or digital fashion is a real craftsmanship: the hours of work, the challenges and the design that goes into a digital dress should not be underestimated.
Furthermore, through the world of NFTs, technology is now able to really display the monetary value of digital art and, eventually, make it tradeable.

Can CGI technology determine the way people look at tangible products? What do you believe to be its impact in culture?

When it comes to marketing campaigns, CGI technology can transport a lot of emotional storytelling. It gives you the opportunity to showcase anything you feel could fit within a specific story, it allows you to enhance the tangible product at its best.
CGI can also create products that don’t even need, nor can, tangibly exist: when it comes to face filters, or digital makeup, the asset of possibilities is countless. A great example is the work by the amazing 3D makeup creator Ines Alpha.

When it comes to face filters, especially those not intended with artistic value, the idea of ‘optimizing’ the face remains. This has definitely an impact on our culture: it manipulates how we look at ourselves, how we think of beauty.

On another note, it is clear that reality, and the virtual world with its identities, are fusing unstoppably. Our digital identity is part of ourselves, and vice versa. With the rise of our digital being and identity, there is a whole new culture emerging.

Could digital design contribute to sustainability in fashion?

Definitely! There are plenty of aspects that can contribute to sustainability in fashion. Think of production for example:

“sampling & fitting can be done digitally, design choices can be tried and decided digitally, the whole, before producing the final garment.”

Campaigns or editorials can be done digitally. Alternatively, travel could also be avoided by shooting the story in a studio, to later add a CGI background to it.

Thinking of social media presence, it offers people the opportunity to sustainably express themselves: ’the digital’ in fact reduces consumption and the impact of fast fashion.

Finally, where will your practice lead you next?

A new chapter is starting for me at the moment. I just finished my Master thesis and I can now fully focus on working and creating. I am currently working on a project with The Fabricant, which is really exciting to me. I have always dreamt of being able to join their vision and create something together with their team.


Images · Nina Doll

DGN Studio

“Light is always the starting point for all our projects”

Founded in 2016 by Daniel Goodacre and Geraldine Ng, DGN Studio crafts customized objects and spaces informed by utility and the context of their surroundings – an approach to design that is instilled with a deep sense of care and attention to detail. The architecture studio aims to enhance the everyday living experience of their clients, and advocates for a carefully considered use of materials. 

The studio’s 2020 Concrete Plinth House project is located in the London borough of Hackney, where a dark Victorian semi-detached house has been transfigured into a sleek and leisurely brutalist-inspired home. The terrace is grounded on a dense concrete base, yet feels light and serene, featuring clean, minimalist surfaces. Commissioned by a young couple to transform the house into a modern family home, the project extended and opened the property to include lighter-touch renovations that show off the beauty of the materials used, such as concrete benches and wooden beams, all working in a simple aesthetic and functional harmony.

NR Magazine speaks with DGN Studio to get a deeper insight into their design values and to discuss the details of the project.

For this project you were tasked to create a versatile and leisurely space – what initially sprung to mind when you began to conceptualise the house? 

Making a space that could accommodate gatherings of different sizes seemed to require a degree of flexibility. We had conflicting thoughts at the outset. We wanted to make a space that could be used in different configurations, but also a desire to create something with weight and mass that felt very firmly grounded in the site. 

In the end the flexibility was achieved not by moving things around, but from being able to occupy the edges of the space – the steps, perimeter walls and benches which provide lots of options for how they might be used. This allowed us to really explore the feeling of permanence created by these various concrete surfaces and plinths. 

We also had an early idea about the timber frame as a kind of screen or filter between the interior and exterior spaces which in this instance seemed a more helpful concept than that of placing windows in a wall. 

What was your approach to working with the original features of the house? 

We wanted the new addition to resonate with the existing house in a subtle way, such that it could have a definite character of its own. 

The best rooms in the existing house had a tall proportion and we liked these spaces as distinct rooms that suggested specific purposes or activities. We wanted the new spaces and layout to maintain this feeling of a series of rooms while also opening up long views throughout the house, pulling light further in and creating a better flow through the spaces. The level changes in the floor and ceiling help distinguish the different ‘rooms’ of the new space. 

We paid attention to the details of the house such as door handles, window furniture, and curtain rails and commissioned Dean Edmonds to design bespoke pieces that sat comfortably in both the new and existing parts of the house. 

The sash windows running along the side elevation are a nod to the original glazing and add to the resonance between new and old. 

Were there any influences for the project? 

There is no overarching reference point – there are loads of influences that come in at different points of the project for specific reasons. Mostly it is about identifying a particular atmosphere that is right for the space. 

Developing the project is about navigating a course through the different parameters that emerge at each stage – starting from conversations with the client about their lives and desires, to their budget, planning restrictions, and then developing the details of how the building is put together with the skilled craftspeople who actually make it. All this time we are trying to hold onto that desired atmosphere and make sure that this still emerges at the end of a very long process.

You can really sense a harmony and a celebration of materials with the project- was this something that was particularly important for you? 

Absolutely – the material palette is really the stuff that the building is made from (predominantly oak and concrete). We were keen to keep the number of finishes relatively limited, and for the different materials to contribute to the serene atmosphere of the new space. 

We generally favour a relatively subtle material palette not because we don’t love colour, but because we tend to find that colour comes best from all the life that takes place inside the space rather than from what we have designed. The building is not the main event! 

How did you go about prioritising light and space with the project, especially in an older building and a tight urban site? 

Light is always the starting point for all our projects. How the sun moves around the site and how to choreograph spaces in relation to this. 

Extending a house can create problems with light due to the resulting depth of the plan so it’s really important to consider how the existing spaces will be affected. As a result, we have opened up views through the house so that you can see the garden from a number of locations and pull in as much light in as possible. There is also a considered contrast between light and dark spaces passing through the dark snug that sits between the living room at the front and the kitchen/dining room at the rear enhances.

We were also very conscious of not overexposing the interior, and the positioning of the glazed panels in the extension was carefully considered to get the balance of lighting right and to prevent the feeling of being in a goldfish bowl.

Were there any existing structures or materials that influenced the design? 

There’s a whole library of projects floating around in our heads – the ones that rise to the surface will depend on the client, the brief and the site. We also try to resist becoming diverted by all the things we’re looking at and trust our intuitions which are of course built on all the things we’ve seen and appreciated. 

How do you get inspired when starting a new project? 

There’s so much to draw from in any new project, no matter how small it may be – every site has its own history, and every client has their own unique story – trying to get under the surface of how the clients live (or would like to live) is really important and provides lots of starting points. 

We’re also really inspired by the city we live in and how it has developed over the centuries – just a bus ride through it is enough to generate a whole raft of ideas. Of course, inspiration often comes in more oblique ways through art objects, music, books, landscapes…

What’s your usual process in developing a design concept? 

It always starts with a plan and lots of sketching to try and explore the intuitions that we have about the project. From there we like to try and get as quickly into making models as we can – often digitally first, but we always like to make physical models as well. So much is discovered and can be tested in the making of them, and they always resonate well in describing ideas to clients. 

Throughout the process we also like to have workshops with clients – sitting together around a table and discussing the ideas – the project is always a collaboration, and this is fundamental to the way projects develop.

DGN Studio is currently working on a number of residential projects across London, as well as designing and making furniture and interiors.


Images · DGN STUDIO 

Jean Dubuffet

Chaotic yet vibrant visual tumult, mirroring the hectic pace of life in the last quarter of the century

Barbican Art gallery presents ‘Jean Dubuffet: Brutal Beauty’, the first major UK exhibition in over 50 years celebrating the career of Art Brut pioneer Jean Dubuffet. The exhibition explores Dubuffet’s rejection of conventional notions of beauty in favour of more subversive forms and presents the artist as a multifaceted innovator of the immediate post-war period, adept at translating his creative vision through a vast range of artistic mediums, creating works out of mud, glass and cement.

Walking through the exhibition, visitors can track the course of Dubuffet’s career, as his practice and inspiration evolves and progresses. Abundantly inventive and playful, Dubuffet’s oeuvre includes assemblies of butterfly wings, scrawled illustrations, viscous and visceral painted landscapes and female nudes – monstrous and captivating – that all come together as a chaotic yet vibrant visual tumult, mirroring the hectic pace of life in the last quarter of the century. 

A defining feature of the exhibition is Dubuffet’s variety of technique and materiality. His work prompts a unique kind of introspection and contemplation, as he captures the sombre essence of the post-war period. Dubuffet’s scenes and caricatures rail against traditional ideas of beauty and capture the beauty of the mundane and something in a gritty and poetic way.

The exhibition is on at the Barbican until the 22nd August.  For more information visit Barbican

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