Violent Magic Orchestra


NR presents Soundsights, Track Etymology’s sister column: An inquiry into the convergence between sound, its visual expressions, investigating music’s intrinsically visual narrative quality.

Hello guys, thank you for being here, it must be pretty late now in Japan. How are you feeling about the upcoming release? It is your first LP since 2016! It’s been quite a journey! Global tours, several collaborations, a lot of experimentation. There is this restless component to your work, always evolving and shifting both sonically and conceptually. Is this record your way of crystallizing what you’ve been up to these last 8 years? What made you finally settle down?

Our music has always flirted with genre-bending, but for this record in particular, we aimed to incorporate various genres into our sound more than ever. Perhaps what has changed the most is that this time, we aimed to capture what we think is the essence of our live shows, rather than focusing on a specific sound, having toured a lot since the release of our previous album —Our main inspiration for this record stems from physicality and the ways our audience interacts in a live setting with our sound. Of course, Techno and Black Metal are still our two sonic compasses, but this time we drew from a wider plethora of music genres like hardcore, noise, and industrial. It is also the first record where we have a female lead vocalist, Zastar, the last member to join us!

The experiential referentiality of your music is definitely felt in the new record, and its presence makes even more sense considering that you describe yourselves as a performance art collective. I was listening to Warp while watching the visuals Rafael Bicalho created for it, and I almost felt like I was in a 3.0 musical drama. There is a sort of lingering quality to it, those almost fading vocals mixed with the track’s physicality and the alternating moments of calm and soaring. It was as if I was listening to source music for a film. What was the concept behind it? Is it one act of a longer narrative that continues throughout the whole record?

Self-consciousness is definitely a recurrent theme throughout the record, at least in its narrative aspects. In “Warp,” we depicted Zastar swimming in an abstract, undefined space, searching for objects to anchor her sense of reality and body. The goal we had in mind was to convey the feeling of a mind and body that had been separated and are now attempting to reunite in a quest to reinstate a feeling of individual wholeness. Rafael is one of the many visual artists we collaborate with; it is very important to us working with these incredible artists who help us give a visual body to our ideas.

I am very curious about the artistic direction of the release. There is an incredible emphasis on the aesthetic component of all your projects, your live gigs, the way you communicate online —All these visual elements seem to form a unicum with your sound, and, as you said, you collaborate a lot in order to achieve it. What fuels this curatorial approach that you have?

We always check Instagram! Scrolling, exploring all the time. We usually brainstorm a lot so that very precise images of what we want form in our minds. Those will then inform our research, and down the rabbit hole we go. The same thing applies to our collaboration with other musicians; we want to keep aesthetics and sonics parallel, informed by the same general idea.

You describe VMO as a multimedia performance art project. How do you approach creation? Does music come first or Is it about feeling and aesthetic rather than songwriting?

We operate precisely as an art collective, only our media is primarily music, trying to aggregate conceptual structures to sonic palettes. Visual and music, concepts and sounds. Everything usually starts with a visual idea of what we want to portray, and then from there, we work it into a sound and choose the people to work with on that overarching concept, musically and visually.

Interesting. Considering the multitude of influences you have and the collaborative nature of VMO, how do you function as a collective?

We work, well..collectively! [they laugh.] We usually gather inspiration from a variety of sources, books, poetry, films, music, nature..anything really. K, who functions as a sort of “chief curator” explains his influences and what he wants to do to all of us and then we work together to achieve the final result we want to go for.

You mentioned movies, literature, poetry. What were some of the extra-musical references for this particular record? 

Each of us has his own individual inspiration, of course; we have a lot of different interests and media, drawing from various inspirations that manifest in our work. There are numerous histories occurring around the world all the time. For instance, Black Metal is influenced by Christianity, Afrofuturism is deeply ingrained in Detroit Techno —Different histories influence each other and are simultaneously distant yet close. Cross-pollination might very well be another of the main themes of the record. Think of “Stranger Things’ ‘; An incredibly pop show presenting a clear 80s aura, but mixing it with horror tropes in a quotational yet twisted manner.

There’s an almost reassembled-collage quality to how you operate, exploring sonic dichotomies, musical and visual tropes, featuring elements  that are at the same time disorienting but familiar —Yours is an almost unheimlich sound. How do you manage to keep all these different inputs together in a coherent result?

In a sense, it’s almost complete experimentation, and there’s a lot of trial and error. We take the time that we need to create something we believe its worthwhile, mixing focused work and abstraction. We try to convey abstract idea in precise sonic and visual coordinates, mixing the two up from time to time.

Another very important element in your work is saturation, both musically and visually. Your music challenges the listener, and I mean this in the best possible way. What made you gravitate towards such a confrontational sound?

We always were drawn to the physicality of certain music genres. Metal, gabber, techno: It’s kind of a natural thing for us to seek abstract ideas expressed through “violent” music. It is what we have always liked as listeners and artists. 

Before we say goodbye, I wanted to ask: What’s a VMO live experience? Prepare us for the upcoming world tour!

We aim to create an environment that everyone can enjoy, almost like a theme park. However, we also improvise a lot, as every crowd is different and reacts differently, and we always try to go with the flow. It’s curious that we have this very, at times, complicated sound. However, what we want is to present and offer our performances to audiences in the most accommodating way possible. We aim to provide people with the easiest way possible for them to enjoy the experience itself.

Interview · Andrea Bratta
Photography (in order of appearance) · Genki Arata and Tatsuya Higuchi
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After the release of her EP Circulus Vitiosus, the London-based artist has proved one thing: never let them know your next move!

‘I guess I’m ready to get married,’ Martyna Maja, better known as VTSS, jokes over video call after she fell down the stairs of her apartment last night. No cause for concern — it takes more than a stiff neck to get her worked up. As a matter of fact, the Polish techno misfit has been taking care of herself lately. She took a one month break and now takes life one existential crisis after another. Frankly, Maja has never been feeling better. ‘I finally like where I am and who I am,’ she says of a stellar career since her breakthrough in 2018. 

Ever since her EP Circulus Vitiosus was released at the end of last year on Ninja Tunes, the Polish-born artist showed the world that VTSS is more than just your favourite DJ. It’s an exploration of different alter egos –– never the same, always surprising. Not only for herself but also for her loyal stans, who are rightfully obsessed with her virtuosity and the way she feels utterly relatable, cracking jokes while constantly refining her very own take on techno music. ‘The idea of not pleasing anyone and not pleasing older generations was a bit of a breakthrough for me,’ she admits, knowing perfectly well what she’s doing behind the decks and not taking any hate from some internet troll hiding within the cracks of anonymity. 

VTSS has been growing up — she found her superpower and the answers that have been inside her all these years. 

Let’s start with some self-reflection. What’s something you learned about yourself recently?

That I’m not invincible. I learned how fragile we are as humans, how this nightclub lifestyle I’ve been living for almost half of my life really takes a toll on my health. With this career path, it’s normalised to tour 52 weeks a year. I feel like I’ve been lying to myself, telling myself, ‘it’s just one more week, and then you get a break’, but you can’t fix yourself when you’re physically exhausted. That’s why I called January off, which was the first time I ever had a holiday in 5 years. Now, I’m trying to figure out a balance of living this hedonistic lifestyle and not making myself feel worse. 

You’re hugely inspired by the process of becoming and self-healing. Could you share a bit of your journey? Where did you start, and how did you end up where you are now?

As a kid, I was quite good at everything, so I never really found this one thing I’m exceptional at. When you put all your eggs in different baskets, you’re kind of a social butterfly. As a result, I never really found myself until I found my purpose, and my purpose turned out to be work. That was probably when I was 20. Until then, I have been doing random shit I felt I was supposed to do. I went to law school and economics school just because I had a bit of interest, but back then I didn’t know what I really wanted to do. I fell in love with clubs, and music turned out to be the answer to missing some part of my identity. It has been a bumpy ride, we all know how careers in music are. Now, after almost 15 years since I started clubbing, I’m trying to find a purpose outside of work.

“It feels great to also be a person outside of being a musician and my work.”

I imagine it to be quite difficult when people put you in a box and expect you to be that one thing, no in-betweens.

Absolutely, and if this is your whole identity, it will really affect you when someone says something bad or mean. I guess that’s the case for a lot of people, and it’s a scary and dangerous place. When it’s all your life and all who you are, there’s nothing left if anything goes wrong. I’ve been working on this for the last 3 years, and it feels great to also be a person outside of being a musician and my work. It’s a process that is going to last forever, but it’s fun to go on this journey and to feel like finding this identity that I’ve been looking for, and finding the answers that have been inside me all those years. 

Your EP, Circulus Vitiosus wasreleased at the end of last year on Ninja Tune. What feels like a vicious circle in your life?

At one point, everything felt like a vicious circle. It’s been a journey to break all of them, so it doesn’t feel like that anymore. With this EP, VTSS got her voice –– it’s not just beats, there is a story behind it. I realised that VTSS is an exploration of all the versions of me if I had made different choices at some point. Some of those might hit closer to the truth than others, but I guess this really helped me to figure out what the truth is for myself. 

This issue is all about virtuosity. Have you always believed in yourself and your skills, or do you have moments when you don’t feel good enough?

It took me years and years of active practicing, touring and working every single week to be where I am and what I do the way I do it. I’m quite comfortable DJing in front of people, but last year when I started to go in the studio for the first time, I was absolutely terrified. It was the first time I started to make music with other people, not by myself at home, or sending stems back and forth. It was also my first session as a vocalist in front of strangers, which is such a new thing for me. I did my first session with Boys Noize, and we made an amazing track I’m really excited about. At the beginning I was so insecure and scared of going into these sessions that I don’t know enough, that I’m not technical enough, and that I will be so embarrassed. Afterwards, I learned that it’s actually OK to admit you don’t know stuff. It’s not like anyone is going to laugh at you, and if they do, it means they are mean people, and you never want to have anything to do with them anyway. Everyone does stuff in their own way and that’s the magic of it –– even the most DIY ‘unprofessional’ ways can be incredibly inspiring to others. 

When I think about my first Boiler Room for example, I might cringe about some technical aspects or mistakes that I hear, but skill comes with practice! Especially in creative arts, there are so many ways to do stuff. There’s no rulebook.

“Even if user10735 will tell you this is not the right way to do stuff, it doesn’t mean anything. You just have to keep going, get better and find your way.”

While we’re at it, what’s a secret skill of yours not everyone knows about?

I give amazing relationship advice. That has always been my obsession. You know, if someone says something silly, I’m holding it in — so I don’t give unsolicited advice. 

Imagine, you start all over and become a therapist…

Maybe at one point! That would be fun. Let’s see where music gets me and if I have the capacity to do it for the rest of my life, or at least for the next 20 years. But if not, this is the closest of what I probably would get into. When I speak to my therapist, I’m always like, ‘rate my coping mechanism!’

“Sometimes it’s really hard to work on yourself when your friends expect you to be who they know you are.”

You’re someone who embraces change, and not only moved from Berlin to London, but also shifted direction with your music. Do you feel like change comes easy for you, or is it a certain feeling you just have to act on? 

For me, change always felt natural. When I was a kid, I changed schools quite a lot. As I said before, I didn’t know my place and nothing really felt significant enough for me. I guess this is also my ADHD, which I didn’t know I had back then. It has always been very easy for me to move on, and I always loved the idea of starting over. That’s why London is so great because it’s so big that if I’m done with it, I can just move south and might not even run into anyone I know. I do love a little reset, getting rid of all the expectations and ideas of you, even the ideas your friends have about who you are. Sometimes it’s really hard to work on yourself when your friends expect you to be who they know you are. Sometimes it’s nice to have a clean slate, especially if you have many identity crises like I had, apparently. I had always lived by this quote from Sharpay of High School Musical fame: ‘It’s out with the old and in with the new.’ Now that I’m growing up, I don’t have the energy and time to play that game anymore. I finally like where I am and who I am, so maybe I don’t need to run away that much.

How do you manage to be your unapologetic self throughout this journey? 

It took me a long time to find out who I am, and I obviously made a lot of mistakes and burned a lot of bridges along the way. But you shouldn’t be scared of disappointing people if it’s for the greater good, and you shouldn’t let people’s expectations of you hold you back in any way.

That’s one of the most important things I learned in my whole career. Especially where I come from, there has always been this one idea of what techno music or what a DJ was supposed to be like. When I was younger, I tried to please a lot of people with my sound, because I knew if I would play too like this or that I would get hate for it. The idea of not pleasing anyone and not pleasing older generations was a bit of a breakthrough for me. I’m not Gen Z, sadly, but what I love about this generation so much is this unapologetic attitude of just doing your own thing.

“It was a really stressful process knowing this is who I am, but the whole world doesn’t know about it yet.”

There will always be haters, you can never please everyone.

Exactly. Even if there were moments when I was really affected by what was being said online, I got through it, because I knew the end goal and the only reason this is going to work out was authenticity. For me, it was also the courage to use my own voice with the last EP and release the music that wasn’t expected from me. I let go of my shell, and that was the breaking point for my identity process. I have always been struggling with vulnerability in everything –– in public spaces, but also in social relationships. It was a really stressful process knowing this is who I am, but the whole world doesn’t know about it yet. It’s been interesting to release something unexpected and invite all the hate. It made me feel stronger and helped me to be more vulnerable. You can’t be authentic without being vulnerable.

What’s your advice to help push yourself out of your comfort zone instead of postponing your ideas and dreams to the perfect moment, which doesn’t exist in the first place?

There will never be the perfect time, and waiting for hard things to get easier is not going to make us any stronger. I know that when you’re struggling to survive every day, it’s incredibly hard to see the potential in yourself and in your life. When you see people who share the same qualities do well on social media, it can either be inspiring or often make you feel so much worse because it seems like they are so much ahead of you. When I started to make music, I just had an old laptop I couldn’t even install Ableton on. So I borrowed an old white MacBook from a friend –– absolute vintage vibes –– and cracked the program. I didn’t have production headphones, so I just used random earpods and watched YouTube tutorials. It was an absolute nightmare, and I wanted to quit because I couldn’t get anything to work. None of the channels could hold more than one (even built-in) plugin, so I had to freeze and flatten every stem after every move. There will always be obstacles — what you have to do is nurture the drive inside you. Your mind will try to distract you, it doesn’t want to change stuff, it wants to keep the safe routine of the bare minimum. 

There’s nothing sexier than saying no. What’s the last thing you’ve been saying no to?

I’ve been saying no to alcohol for like a month and a half now. I realised how it was sabotaging the love for my work. When I woke up after a gig, the hangxiety was the only thing I remembered after a few days. I also said no to a work relationship, which was really hard to say no to because it felt like a good idea, and we’ve been nurturing it for a second. With stuff like that, it’s an act of kindness to let go and move on. I highly recommend saying no! If they don’t come back with a better opportunity, someone else will. It’s not the end of the world. If you don’t feel it, you shouldn’t push it. The universe has a way to find the right thing for you! 


Talent · VTSS
Creative Direction and Photography · Erika Kamano  
Styling · Natacha Voranger
Hair · Chrissy Hutton
Makeup · Mathilda Mace
Set Design · Louis Gibson
Photography Assistant · Steve Braiden
Styling Assistant · Aoife Akue
Retouching · Anna Pinigina
Location · Little Big Studios London
Interview · Juule Kay
Special thanks to Ludovica Ludinatrice at Modern Matters


  1.  Dress RUI ZHOU, shoes SINI SAAVALA and earring ROHAN MIRZA
  2.  Necklace ZWYRTECH, dress ANNA HEIM, panties SEHNSUCHT, leg warmers ANNA HEIM and shoes MATHILDE FENOLL
  5.  Head piece SOMA FAITANIN, leather piece SOMA FAITANIN and bodysuit PATRYCJA PAGAS 
  6.  Full look JOYCE BAO, shoes SINI SAAVALA  and earrings MILKO BOYAROV 

Joselito Verschaeve

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is next for Joselito?

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

Sumayya Vally

Sumayya Vally From The Johannesburg-Based Architectural Studio, Counterspace, On Amplifying The Lived Experiences Of Those Who Have Historically Been Overlooked

When Sumayya Vally founded the Johannesburg-based architectural studio Counterspace in 2015, it was against the backdrop of a deeply entrenched narrative of western hegemony. As an architectural student in South Africa, at the University of Pretoria and then the University of the Witwatersrand, Sumayya found the curriculum pivoted around a western worldview. And as the name implies, Counterspace seeks to redefine such a narrative, to amplify the lived experiences of those who have, historically, been overlooked. Earlier this year, Sumayya’s efforts to incorporate marginalised and underrepresented architectural ideas into an existing lexicon were internationally recognised when she was included as one of the TIME100’s most influential people.

Sumayya’s architectural perspective is one shaped by her experience growing up in a place less openly inclusive, though equally diverse. Now 30, Sumayya’s early life was spent in the final years of Apartheid-era Pretoria. And as child, she experienced first-hand the impact that architecture and design can have on people’s lives. As South Africa nears 30 years since Apartheid’s end, it’s a country that remains deeply segregated by race, class and wealth. Architecture and city planning is not an innocent bystander here and have been used throughout history as tools for control, subordination, and exclusion. Sumayya’s exposure to this complicated reality informs the interdisciplinary, and often imaginative, work that Counterspace does.

In 2019, the studio unveiled Folded Skies – a series of three sculptural structures made from interlocking tinted mirrors. The iridescent glow captured in the surfaces of the structures appears to represent the history of a city built on the vast gold deposits discovered in Johannesburg in the 1880s. While the legacy of this glittering past is reflected in the city’s colonial architecture, Folded Skies recalls instead the ecological aftermath of the gold rush. The city remains blighted by toxic pollution emanating from the equally vast number of waste dumps left behind from abandoned gold mines. The presence of these dumps is a reminder both of the aphorism that ‘everything that glitters is not gold’ and of the country’s history of segregation and suffering.

Johannesburg was a city divided right from the start, with mine-owners, wealthy from the gold rush, living separated, then segregated, lives from a black population who were eventually forced into townships in the city’s suburbs. The hangover of that gold discovery continues to wreak havoc. The large domineering heaps act as a physical barrier between rich and poor, black and white neighbourhoods; a reminder that segregation still exists. Toxic fumes from the dumps, which are themselves now being mined for the fragments of gold they may contain, are carried south by the wind, poisoning the black communities who live in their path – environmental racism in practise. Though human-made, the waste heaps demonstrate how materials can be used to control, to divide, to enslave people; as tools to construct a built environment, or as resources to build global trade.

By engaging with Johannesburg’s complicated history, Sumayya and Counterspace’s practice is as much social history as it is about designing for a better future. Uhmlaba, a film made in collaboration with the Guggenheim Museum, will explore South Africa’s history of segregation using soil (as land) as both its catalyst and focus. The studio often uses film and photography (archival and contemporary) to animate their ideas; visual evidence to demonstrate the fluidity of life and people in an urban environment. And if Johannesburg exemplifies how the architecture is used to control and segregate, the architect’s plan cannot always anticipate the unpredictability of the lived city experience. Counterspace celebrates, and designs, with small acts of subversion in mind. And so, as Sumayya explains in our conversation below, a new approach to architecture and the way we look and engage with urban spaces begins with interweaving unheard and overlooked histories into the fabric of our built environments.

Would you be able to share some insight into the upcoming film Umhlaba?

Umhlaba translates to land in Zulu. The land in South Africa, like many places in the majority world has been implicated in our histories of movement, dispossession and displacement, empire and extraction. The film considers the depths, scales and layers of connection (and violences) in our relations to land – through the narration of recipes, stories and ingredients that become part of our cultures and constructions of belonging – to the violence of breathing toxic dust and the zoomed out segregation and separation of bodies from land in Apartheid city planning. The film is a collage of these various scales and entities, and weaves together connections and links between what was assumed unconnected and innocent.

How did you develop the approach that Counterspace takes through research, practice and pedagogy?

Johannesburg has served as a source of immense inspiration for the practice. Because so much of the city exists below the surface, so many ritual, economic and other practices have developed incredible resistances and are able to surface and exist, despite being excluded by our city’s histories and infrastructures. There is so much that lives beyond the limits of traditional planning, design and beyond the tools of the architectural plan, section and elevation. These ways of being invite us to imagine different ways to draw – to find tools to learn, absorb, understand, listen to and interpret our conditions. Many of them are aural, oral, atmospheric – which has given rise to drawing through film, performance, choreography, the digital, sonic and atmospheric field notes, temperature, colour, etc., to develop an expanded lexicon and ways of reading and seeing Johannesburg.

What informs your approach as an architect to incorporate performance, the medium of video/film, cultural histories into the practice?

Rituals, ways of being and the lives of people in my city – and this intent to draw, make visible, amplify and sharpen aspects of our histories and cultures that cannot be included in the traditional tools and ways of archiving that the discipline and the profession of architecture has inherited.

Counterspace’s work delves into materials like sand, soil, everyday detritus, so I’d love to know what you see as the cultural importance of “material”? 

I very much see materials as shifting earth and land; constantly being negotiated, reconstituted and reconfigured. Whether implicit or explicit, all projects stake a political claim in their approach to materials. I am very interested in the use of detritus, in traces and reconfigured leftovers, in how these give us a reading of our relationships to the earth. Materials are not neutral – everything, from cane and cotton, to concrete and gold – is a reading of our ties to each other and our histories (and consequential futures). I am also interested in blurring the binaries that we have drawn between ourselves and the world we are in, and a part of. Johannesburg has also given me an implicit desire to be resourceful and to piece together a lot with very little.

How do you navigate the kinds of architectural malpractices/Western authority that shaped the studio’s raison d’être?

I see my practice as an effort to realise design languages from places of difference – different ways of being and seeing, different histories and stories – and in that sense it has always existed tangentially to the dominant canon. I think things are changing now, but for a long time this meant that the work was quite invisible to the dominant canon. I very much see myself as part of a generation and a movement working to translate and embody our own positions of difference and bring a critical mass of them into the world. Any identity that is different to the dominant discourse is a lens with which to see the world from a different perspective – which is so needed, now more than ever.

It’s interesting to think of spaces where people gather as places that weren’t always envisioned as serving those very purposes. How did growing up around Johannesburg shape your understanding of this?

Our city, of course, has a history of clandestine meeting and organising – from pirate radio setups on kitchen tables to underground jazz during Apartheid. The city has such a divisive understanding of what public is and looks like. In many regards, we never had public spaces that are truly designed for everyone and that have truly drawn on our ways of being and our understandings and cultures of what ‘public’ is and looks like. But, in many other ways, the resilience of practices and gathering that exist outside of, and despite formal limitations, has been a revelation. Being able to see and read these, and learning from the atmospheres and spaces that are created by people and their practices of gathering and constructions of belonging – whether at a carwash, at a petrol station, for a lunchtime gathering, or church on a patch of leftover veld grass in the centre of the inner-city – has been deeply fundamental to my practice.


David Vail

when I was a kid, I was being dragged around a garden-centre type 

shop by my mum, from what I can remember, I was doing her head

in something horrible, so to distract me she told me she was going 

to buy me some seeds to grow my own plant when we got home 

the patch I chose to plant was right beside the garage at the back

of the garden, perfectly viewable from the kitchen window

my well renouned patience did not set me up in good stead 

for the coming weeks 

slowly but surely the seeds gave life to a sunflower, luckily it was 

the start of summer so – even though Ireland isn’t synonymous 

with beaming sunlight, I figured it would have a chance in this patch

by midsummer my sunflower had become somewhat of an 

attraction to the neighbours in the street, as it now stood at least 6 feet 

high, boasted a thick, strong stalk supported by a piece of bamboo

the summer inevitably came to an end, and the plant withered

but the memory of this flower has lived so strongly in my subconscious, 

veritably popping into the forefront of my mind from time to time 

i often ponder why the image of the sunflower has left such a lasting memory 

why I have chosen to preserve this over others 

i have always found myself distracted by the passing world, which would 

get me in trouble in school for daydreaming – but I couldn’t help but wonder 

where my daydreams would take me, what else would I see that would have the 

lasting effect of the sunflower 


Photography and words DAVID VAIL
Inspiration and collaboration BENEDIKTE KLUVER

Clemente Vergara


An aperture into architect Paolo Soleri’s City of Future, an urban laboratory

ARIZONA, UNITED STATES—I arrived to Arcosanti late on an afternoon, after driving many hours from Monument Valley through Sedona. I was really looking forward to visit Arcosanti, but having seen the wonders of those natural reserves, canyons and spectacular landscapes, I believed Arcosanti would not impress me… and I was wrong… I didn’t know much about Paolo Soleri’s project. I just knew it was an unfinished experimental city created during the 70s designed to be self-sufficient, and that we were going to sleep in The Sky Suite, the room with the best views you could rent in Arcosanti.

Once there, I was amazed by the project, the buildings, the people living, working and studying there. Also I got interested about the Architect (Paolo Soleri’s) work. I was lucky that in the room there was a huge book that gathered his drawings and ideas about futuristic cities. I also learned that the name of Arcosanti came from two italian words “Cosa” and “Anti”, that literally means, “before things”. I learnt also about the concept of Arcology, which comes from putting together Architecture and Ecology, and the importance of that concept in the current society of “take make dispose” that is ruining our planet. 

I will always remember the days I spent in such a special city, that keeps alive Paolo Soleri’s ideas.


Photography and words CLEMENTE VERGARA

Chu Viêt—Hà

Sapa in Fog


Photography · Chu Viêt—Hà

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