WHAT IS IDENTITY? – NR MAGAZINE ON THE STACK

From meeting at a law school to branching out the magazine into a myriad of niches, Jade Removille and Nima Habibzadeh, co-founders and creative directors of NR Magazine, sit down with Fernando Augusto Pacheco of Monocle’s The Stack to discuss NR Magazine and its recent print issue on Identity

“NR is a print, bi-annual publication that we co-founded in 2016 in London. It is a way for us to narrate a story through different artists, photographers, cultures, and creatives that we are inspired by and that we want to give a platform to and for our readers to discover because, for us, NR is a window to what is around us and what is going on in our society,” says Jade as she introduces the magazine.

The conversation moves along until it touches upon issue no. fourteen. The Identity issue covers interviews with Willem Dafoe, Omar Apollo, Remi Wolf, and a Bottega Veneta fashion editorial special. It enshrines the readers an escape towards the creatives’ utopia: a journey through the varying creative processes, an overview of their private lives, an in-depth understanding of their philosophy, and their personal perceptions of identity. The issue opens up dialogues concerning the fluidity and fertility of identity: all masks lifted, all truths bared.

“We work with so many different people globally. We try to work with people that are not necessarily heard of from Ed Templeton who is a professional skateboarder and photographer to Eddie Plein the creator of grills. We like to touch upon so many different people within the art and culture world while also bringing together people in the music world in the fashion world. It is a combination of different people coming together,” says Nima.

Listen to the full interview here.

WORDS MATTHEW BURGOS

 

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Miguel

“I’m more interested in exploring the subtext of the why”

Why does purity have sex-appeal? What happens when you ask desire to strip? Is it cumpassion or compassion standing there? Have the closed fists of a lover around your heart understood what it meant to pray? Did they pray for you or did they just have you on your knees? 

The difference between intimacy and sex has long evaded many of us for far too long as we wrap our naked bodies in sheets instead of awareness, checking our phones before we even turn to see if the person next to us has batted an eye in waking consciousness. When we’re unable to communicate with ourselves or our better halves, we turn to music, we turn to Miguel. The Grammy Award winning artist is known for his sensual ballads. His 2017 critically acclaimed album War & Leisure, debuted at #1 on the Billboard R&B Albums chart and #9 on the Billboard 200 chart. But as we’ve been waiting for our next, favorite slow-jam, waiting to read the lips of an angel before they even part, Miguel turns the lights on. 

He needs more, he is more and his cravings no longer can be fulfilled simply by tender embraces and physicality chained to emotion. Miguel is looking for something deeper, looking to fill up space as he is, instead of carving it out of self-censorship, longing and lust. As he matures, he’s been making an effort to become his own friend, admitting to the fact that for some time, the person in the mirror blinked back but didn’t look like the person he wanted to be. He’s focusing on genuine understanding, relatability instead of selfhood dependent on difference and exploring darker tones with his new music because as he says, “there’s no way to tell the whole story without actually presenting the whole. I’ve shown everyone one side of me but now let me show you the other side, too.”

I know you’re also close with your grandma who left Mexico, sacrificing her own career in music to make a life for your family in the States, helping to shape your identity and inform your relationship to music and home. My own grandma recently turned 100 so I’ve been thinking a lot about matriarchy and home in general. 

My grandmother’s are almost polar opposites in terms of their temperaments. I didn’t get closer to my grandmother on my mom’s side until I was an adult and that’s been a whole other, fun relationship to develop that I didn’t expect to have at all. She was stern because she had to be and I only am able to see that now. The opposite goes for my grandmother on my father’s side, who you mentioned. She was always really warm, affectionate and loving but as I got older and business and life made it much harder to be there physically and it just wasn’t as much of an adult relationship. I look at family as being a sense of not only your journey as an individual, but as a representation of the bigger journey.

It’s like your legacy almost?

Yeah and not even as a measure for your accomplishments but just in your disposition, your humanity.  

“Our temperaments, our choices, our affinities are informed by our families.”

Yeah it’s this idea of a foundation. You’ve been likened to Prince and been a sex symbol in the minds of many and that was your foundation almost on which your career was initially built. But as you matured, you’re shifting that foundation as sex perhaps becomes intimacy with yourself as you begin to explore these darker tones in your work? 

I am anything I want to be, everything I want to be and sometimes that is sexy but not all the time. I welcome whatever it is that people need to connect with and I don’t control it. If I am sexy to certain people, great, that’s awesome but I just know that that’s not all I have to offer. It’s certainly not what keeps me interested in anything. I gravitate to things that feel sexy but I’m more interested in exploring the subtext of the “why” that is and so much of that comes from the depth of the darkness and the light, the interplay of it all.

It’s interesting because we aspire for depth but we don’t always equate it to being anything to do with darkness per se, we see it as a positive thing associating it with emotional growth. We’ve all been exploring this within the past year as we’ve had to confront ourselves. In what ways have you become more intimate with yourself and what do you feel more distant from?

I’ve been going back to this analogy recently because it’s the easiest way for me to remind myself but think about how often the operating systems on our phones get upgraded, now it’s like every couple of months, there’s something new, something better, a more efficient version. Life for humans should be experienced this way, in abundance, happiness and fulfillment. For me it hasn’t necessarily been new things, it’s just being able to see what needs optimizing and sometimes that means having to discard things we once needed.

What are some of those things for you that you’re cutting out of your system?

A lot of fear-based survival stuff, a lot of choices that reflect growing up having to move around, or not necessarily being in a place where we could afford things everyone else had, or feeling like an outsider based on the fact that I’m brown and black. What we do throughout life is to find ways to protect ourselves and for a lot of people that becomes their reality and stays their reality. For whatever reason, I was really lucky. I had parents that even though they weren’t together, they still held me down as much as they possibly could. I had enough of a support system to believe in myself, which is really at the end of the day, the core factor of anyone doing anything fulfilling. That ends up in great ways, fueling you and then in other ways, maybe weighing you down.

Right so it sounds like fulfillment to you is synonymous with self acceptance and we see that manifests on the Art Dealer Chic EP series. It’s funny when you realize what the difference between creating space and filling it up as you are feelis like. People seem to be gravitating towards this place you’ve stepped into especially with the release of Funeral and the new music on your greater horizon. 

Yeah I definitely just want to do the work. At the end of the day, an artist is about their work and I want to do my work with as much freedom from my even from my own feelings of requirement, or efforts to tick any kind of boxes per se. Inevitably, when you know your livelihood comes from your art, it’s going to find its way in one way, shape, or form so you need to be vigilant about creating clear boundaries. I’ve definitely experienced those moments where it becomes a challenge to see clearly and remember what the whole point of the gig is and I just remember that hey, I’m here to share, that’s what I’m here to do and I found a means of doing it through music.

“I get to be of service when I am my most honest here in this arena.”

Why is sharing so important to you? Why is that your driving force?

Probably because of the feeling that it generates. There’s been a couple of really awesome conversations I’ve had with my friends and fans that have shown me to the moon type support and they never really knew me but the connection was so genuine and there was a lot of belief there. I think of those people, and the people who I haven’t met yet but that I might meet through my music that I could possibly help to just feel good.

“That’s the awesome thing about any medium – the opportunity to connect with someone else that makes you forget your differences.”

Sharing is also interesting because like you said you might not know these people and nevertheless, that boundary you previously mentioned, begins to dissipate and maybe that’s the thing that we’re all looking for. The work you do as an artist is a lot emotional labor, you’ve broken down the boundaries yourself so that those listening are free of inhibition and able to access the parts of yourself that you’re putting forth in a way that mirrors intimacy. 

To add to that, it might be that I’m craving deeper connection in my life so I’m looking for ways to build that however I can and obviously that starts with a deeper connection with myself. I’ve really made a genuine and consistent effort over the past few years to really hone in and check in with myself, asking, “how are you feeling about you?” The more I’ve become my own friend, because I don’t know that I necessarily was, I realize how important this lesson was and it allowed me to shift, transition. I proved that I can write a good, even great, love song, I provided that I can do sexy, but what is that? Is that fulfilling? Does that fulfill me? I don’t think it really fills the cup all the way. 

What fills your cup all the way then? Even when you say you’re seeking out these deeper connections — what does that look and feel like to you? What is a “deep connection”?

Just like complete support, you know? I think that I’ve yet to really tap into what makes me relatable as a human being. I think that’s probably where I feel the most excited, the most uncomfortable and undeveloped. I don’t always lead with that. It’s interesting to look at the ways that we do our best to stand out and for a long time that was very, very important to me. But as I’m maturing and looking at the world, I’m going that’s not how I help right now. I used to champion being “an other” or different but like, we get it. You’re different and so is that person, and that person, and that person but let’s find the connection. 

Credits

Photography · RICKY ALVAREZ
Fashion · SHAOJUN CHEN
Creative Direction · NIMA HABIBZADEH and JADE REMOVILLE
Grooming · NADIA MOHAMMADPOUR
Production · THIRTEENTH PRODUCTION
Location · PEERSPACE
Interview · LINDSEY OKUBO
Special Thanks · Edge Entertainment

Nonotak

“what drive us was the experience, the moment, to feel physically connected with a space”

NONOTAK was born from the collaboration between architect musican Takami Nakamoto and visual artist Noemi Schipfer back in late 2011. The duo embodies that merge of architecture, spatial design, music and sound. From creating dreamlike environments to performances using light and sound installations, NONOTAK present their own format of art to the world.  Combining Noemi Schipfer’s experience in kinetic visual and Takami Nakamato’s approach of space and sound, the studio creates ethereal environments immersing the viewer.

NR discusses with the duo about the creative process behind some of their works, how the Covid crisis impacted the arts and music industry but how also it gave the two artists time to reflect on themselves and on the meaning of creating art and ultimately the studio’s plans for 2023.

Noemi and Takami, you both come from different creative paths, respectively illustration, visual arts, architecture and music. It is always very interesting and inspiring to see how two worlds merge. How did you meet and what inspired you to start Nonotak Studio in 2011? 

Noemi Schipfer: We first met in highschool in Paris at the Japanese class ( Tak have both parents Japanese and I’m half Japanese half French so it was a way to have good marks at school. Then we lost sight for few years and we met back in Tokyo during summer holiday. Tak was studying Architecture at that time and I was already graduate from Art school. We spent time walking in Tokyo and it was really inspiring to listen to his approach on Architecture and Space.

Tak was also playing in a metal band and I had the chance to follow them on few shows to take tour footages. In the late 2011 Takami was working in an Architecture studio called Bigoni-Mortemard in Paris and they were looking for an illustrator to do a mural painting in the entrance hall of a new building in Paris. To work on this project was intense & fun and it give us the will to do more together and to create our own space. We wanted to merge our backgrounds all together : visuals, space and sound. The installations format came pretty naturally and the first idea was to develop an immaterial space were everything would be intangible and in motion.

Takami Nakamoto: As Noemi said, we have known each other for a long time and the purpose of collaborating together was mainly because we had the same vision on what format of art we wanted people to experience, and how we were going to merge our backgrounds in order to create a particular environment where light, space and sound collide all together.

ISOTOPES V2 is a light installation experience that was inspired from Fukushima’s nuclear disaster. Could you tell us more about the creative process behind creating a dematerialised space? I love the concept of making something tangible out of a feeling or something that disappeared and that no longer exists, making it almost part of something fictitious. It is also a way to sort of immortalise the individuals that had and have been affected by Fukushima and it adds a commemorative and contemplative feel to it. Is that something you consciously wanted to convey?

NS: Fukushima’s nuclear disaster is something that personally really touched me.  I was in Paris at this moment but I remember I was shocked and afraid about the news. Japan is my second country, it is a place that I used to go since I’m born and I have so many memories there and part of my family. When the nuclear central exploded I thought I would never be able to go back there again so it was heart breaking. At this moment I felt really strange how one part of your life could feel like it was almost just a fiction. Everything could change or even worth, just disappear.

Time is a notion that fascinated me a lot even when I was a student in art school. Memories are a notion that is so immaterial but so strong at the same time. When we develop our first installation ISOTOPES V2 we wanted to represented this different notion of immateriality by creating a space that is constantly changing and where the audience would be able to travel through.

TN: I think this project is special to us as long as it was our first piece being exhibited in an international exhibition like the Mapping Festival in Geneva. First time we were able to share the experience of our work to unknown public and it felt like a new chapter in our career. It also made us look at our work in its actual scale, as long as we have been working on small scale models to work on the composition. This really brought another dimension to the purpose of our hard work.

LEAP V.3 at Wave Of Tomorrow Festival 2019 in Jakarta, I loved this piece which I thought was such another great work of yours in terms of translating feelings or emotions into sounds and lights. Could you tell us a bit more about this piece? 

NS: The first time we developed our installation LEAP was in a festival called Electric Castle in Cluj Romania and the exhibition space was really specific and historic. It was in an old stable of a castle, so the space itself was really atypical and the celling had beautiful bricks arcade. It was important for us to keep this strong architecture so we decide to invest the ground as the canvas. We wanted to deploy the installation in the maximum surface of the space and the light to cover every corner of it. That’s how we design those custom panels where 4 indirect lights are hidden behind and pointing 4 different directions. Light is a very flexible medium that has a huge impact on it’s environment. By controlling lights it’s not only the source itself that is moving but the entire space gets affected and painted by the shadows it creates.

LEAP V3 in Jakarta is the biggest version we did of this installation. We wanted to keep the massive volume of the space and highlight the length of it with the speed of lights and sound.

TN: In fact it was important to actually stay and program the installation on site, considering this unique context in Jakarta we were immersed in. We like the fact each site specific installation is about experiencing it through the build of it, the space itself, the people who are helping us with construction with the same goal of looking at something special at the end.

Last spring you revealed a large-scale installation in Porto Alegre, Brazil, titled GIANTS. The audio visual light and sound installation was set inside the Farol Santander building which was reminiscent of Nonotak’s first commissioned project in the lobby of a public housing building in Paris. Exploration of sound and space is at the core of GIANTS. Was also being in Brazil informative as to how you wanted to conduct this piece? It feels like a lot of your pieces are connected to the spaces they inhabit and are quite site specific like LEAP V.3. The interactions from the visitors in some of your pieces such as PARALLELS with the lights and by walking through the space, adds a very important element to that connection.

NS: When we get commissioned for an art installation, the starting point that drive us is the space that will host the piece. When we got the floor-plans and pictures of Farol Santander building we were struck by the verticality of the space and the massive columns. We wanted to accentuate this characteristic by adding more columns with light. The space offer a 360° view so it was important for us to include this specific in our piece as well. The columns included lights in the 4 directions, like LEAP installation concept. This space was also really interesting because there was two floor levels. You were able to see it from the ground levels, but also from above at the second floor. The rhythm of GIANTS is really contrasted. You have the first part were the ambiance is really dreamy, light dots are floating like fireflies are dancing together and then suddenly the sound get more violent and solid lines appear and move in the entire building like an army.

TN: I think the way we named the installation also speaks by itself in a way. When we saw the spatial context of the exhibition space, we immediately thought about experimenting with verticality and create an experience where people would feel like these massive totems of lights are taking over the space like Giants. The scale of these totem gave us the possibility of affecting the space with light so much that we could both create a feeling where we felt both “compressed” by it. The fact they are deployed along the whole space made these totems feel like they were ruling it.

Your work revolves around making visible, moving objects, forms, large-scale AV installations and spatialized sound. For instance with Parallels at STRP Biennale, you have used the whole space as a canvas for light which must also be quite difficult technically. That must result in a lot of experimentations and research behind each piece. Could you both tell us a bit more about that process? 

NS: At the beginning of NONOTAK we were a lot exploring light through projections and semi-transparent screens.

The semi transparent screens allow us to catch the visuals but also letting passing through the light and create duplication of the same visuals into several layers. It was our way to materialise the light at this moment. We develop few installations and a performance using this concept and explore different set up to see how we can create illusions playing with the positions of the projectors etc.

When we get commissioned for STRP Biennale, the theme of the exhibition was “Outside the screen”. We were working on the concept of the piece we wanted to present and at some point of the night we just realise why not just take literally the theme of the exhibition and get outside of our screens. That’s how we develop a concept that would materialise the light through space itself by using haze and would only have the space as a limit of the installations.

The first time we were able to experiment on this new concept was during the few days we had to set it up before the opening of the exhbition. We had preparations and expectations in our mind before coming but the first day we were there we just realise the effect wasn’t working as planned. We had to change everything, move completely the position of the projectors inside the room and start from zero all the composition of the visuals at the last minute. It learns me how important it is to be in front of the piece when you program it and how dangerous it could be to work on something by simulation when it comes to something as sensitive than light.

TN: This is actually one of these projects that really drew a line on the approach and the personal relationship we have with the work we create.

We realized that imagining projects in small scale or simulating them was helpful to visualize projects but nothing felt more real than getting to our exhibition space, spend time with our new piece and work on the composition in relation to the space. Living within the project and make it an intense experience. That’s how we like to experience our installations, and we should never forget that the reason we started all of this was because of our love for materiality in light, and we do think this can’t be replicated virtually and we treat it as a material in itself.

Your 40 minute audio visual piece SHIRO was ranked by the New York Times as one of the top 15 performances at Sónar Electronic Music Festival in Barcelona in 2017. I could not find the whole performance online but watched various extracts from it. In contrast to your other works, you both are taking part on stage so to speak in the performance. How did that feel? Would you want to do more of those kind of perforrnances in which the public get to actually see you? 

You have performed this piece in different places over the years, was there any in particular that you keep a fond memory of and if so, why? 

NS: When we were working on our installation we also realise it was cool to see people silhouette passing through it. The relationship with the human body scale and the installation was interesting. Tak as a musician was interested to extand his background in electronic music. That’s how in summer 2013 we worked on our first performance called LATE SPECULATION. The concept was us performing inside a translucent structure with 2 projectors and use our silhouettes as part as the visual effect. One projector was placed from the front and the other one in rear. By alternate which projector was on, we were making a visual illusion of us appearing or disappearing. SHIRO is our second performance in continuity with LATE SPECULATION.

Installations and performances are really different experiences. The first big difference is the fact that we are sharing the same moment with the audience and have a direct reaction from them. The dynamic is really different. It’s really powerful to hear the audience during the show.

TN: In addition to Noemi’s answer, I think we simply like the fact to not really limit ourselves to installation artists but also performances where music takes another dimension and also the way we directly interact with the audience and experience something in real time with them.

Stage is a special and unique place to express yourself and we enjoy switching from installation projects to live performance projects.

The 2019 pandemic in which we are still in, has obviously impacted quite harshly the arts and performances industry. The past year has definitely been difficult and for some more than others but I feel like we have all in some sort and in different capacities being able to plant the seeds for the present year. It feels as though there has been a lot of self-reflection and introspective work done at an individual level which will then enable growth, which is the theme of this issue. How do you both feel with this? How does Growth resonate with you? 

NS: During 7 years we had the chance to be able to live for our art and been able to showcase it in so many extraordinary places. I would be for ever grateful for this. The rhythm of our travels, exhibitions, live shows was intense and we never really had breaks at all. When we had our first show cancelled and the first lockdown was announced I was a little bit puzzled but at the same time for the first time since years, I would have a break and time to step back about NONOTAK.

Now that it’s been a year we are in this situation and seeing how it evolves I’m more than sad and anxious about the future. With NONOTAK what drive us was the experience, the moment, to feel physically connected with a space, exchange emotions with an audience, share a stage with people. And when I see the art scene going more and more only online it deeply depress me.

TN: That “covid” crisis really affected the touring dynamic of our collaboration and it is pretty sad, but we know it is also reflecting in many other people’s lives. That crisis gave us the time to reflect on ourselves, the meaning of creating art especially in this type of context. But it also gave us the time to reflect on society and the power the government has over people’s lives and their freedom but more importantly, the way they are able to fragilise culture and normalize it out in the open.

Questioning the narrative became politically incorrect, aspiring for freedom makes you feel guilty and this is the society we allowed ourselves to live in. What kind of future does Art expression have in this “new normal” we are submitting to? I don’t really know about that.  But it seems to me that being a sovereign individual is the starting point of any form of expression and we feel like we are totally losing the value of what it means to be free. It is pretty scary to me and I guess it is for many other people.

I think growth is still possible in this context. being adaptive is key to finding a path you feel comfortable with in terms of creating and growing. Since “covid” started we got ourselves in projects that required lot of learning and we at least feel like we took advantage of this a little bit.  We don’t know when we would have stopped touring without any interruption if this did not happen as well.

We are doing this interview during the first few months of 2021 and the issue will be released this spring. Are there any projects you are looking forward to be taking on and that you could share with us? 

NS: We are working on permanent installations that will take place in 2023. It’s a different challenge than working for events or temporary exhibitions but really exciting about the idea that the piece will last for ever.

Thomas Demand

“I think the use of models is a highly influential and underexposed cultural technique, we can only absorb the complexity of the world around us by filtering end remodeling it.”

German sculptor Thomas Demand lives and works between Berlin and Los Angeles. One of the most innovative artists of his generation, Demand has specialized in handcrafting facsimiles of architectural spaces and natural environments. Through his use of paper and cardboard, Demand meticulously reconstructs images and scenes, embedding those in society’s collective memory with mural-scale photographs. The ephemeral and illusionistic characters of Demand’s work have pushed the medium of photography further than ever before and are part of his investigation of the livelihood of images.

NR looks into Thomas Demand’s development as an artist, from sculptor to photographer and how he found a balance between the two practices using excellent craftsmanship and imagination, blurring the line between reproduction and original whether it be in architecture or fashion.

Thomas Demand, it is such a pleasure to be interviewing you. How are you?

Very well, thank you.

You have had a fascinating career spanning across various fields such as sculpture, photography, art, film. As the theme of this issue is Growth, I thought it would be interesting to let you talk to us about how you found a balance between all those practices, using excellent craftsmanship and imagination.
You initially trained as a sculptor, how did you find yourself in the place where you are today and how did you initiate that merge between sculpture, photography and architecture?

I grew up in an environment which naturally connected these fields like family: my father and mother were painters, my uncle and grandfather architects, my grandmother a concert pianist (still working to find my way in that field) and my best friend at school was the son of one of the most important and visionary art collectors in Germany. So I have no Schwellenangst, even if I do have greatest respect for the disciplines and their differences.

You have studied in Düsseldorf, Munich, Amsterdam, Paris and London. You have been moving quite a lot. What are some of the places that have inspired you the most?

Japan, USA and northern Italy. But I also noted over the years that there are cities which are good for making art and some to look at art, but rarely is both the case.

Your starting point is often photography as a “constructed reality” and from there, you design life-size paper models with colored paper and cardboard. You create inventive images of life- size architectural paper models that look exactly like the final product. Your constructions are ephemeral as you always discard them once you’ve photographed them. Why is that?

I don’t think it is exactly like the starting point, but even if, it would be a valid artistic concept, I believe. But my version is a version of reality which might have more relations to how we see the world, not how it might be. How we remember it, how we are manipulated, how our ideas influence what we recognize and so forth. Like a writer, he might write truthfully about the world, but it will not be taken as the reality itself. I consider this worth exploring in the medium of photography, where this distinction is easily obfuscated by the mechanistic understanding of documentation the apparatus delivers.

Your work often serves as testimonies for other artists’ thought processes and create a place in time for them. Where did that interest come from?

We all stand on someone else’s shoulders, and I find it an easy way not to isolate my vision in the ghetto of photography. Photography as a technique or discipline never interested me enough.

In an interview for the Louisiana Museum you say that “many things first become visible to us via the images we see of them.” and that we live in a world of models. Could you elaborate on that? Do you think you are creating a new version of reality or giving new perspectives or is this more about bridging the gap between what we see and what is represented and almost building a realm between fiction and reality?

I think the use of models is a highly influential and underexposed cultural technique, we can only absorb the complexity of the world around us by filtering end remodeling it. The ancient Greek philosophy was already fully aware of that and things didn’t get less complex since then. The weather forecast, retirement plans, demographics, elections, psychology ect, all is using models to find a direction through data. People often think of architects and children’s toys if they refer to models, but it is much more fundamental. It is amazing how little literature and research there is about that.

Your major solo exhibition ‘House of Card’ is on view until April 2021 at M Leuven museum in Belgium. It coincides with the release of your book House of Card with Mack, which focuses on your relationship to architecture and the collaborations you have done with architects. Your series Model Studies which also serves as an introductory point in House of Card, was honoring through photographs taken during your visit at the Getty Museum in Los Angeles, 13 unreleased projects and discarded structures made by well-known architect John Lautner. This was also the first time for you not to photograph models of your own.

HoC is the show and the book, which works as a standalone, but it is the book to the show.

Could you delve into your engagement with architecture over the last decade?

I noted over the years that architecture developed a specific interest and response towards my work, I heard of competitions which were won with my images as examples, architectural schools did seminars about it and architectural biennales invited me many times to contribute. I also worked since my first exhibitions with display features, exhibition architecture and embraced challenging spaces to show the work without compromising neither the architecture nor the pictures. All that established long-termed collaborations with a number of architects. I think that prepared the situation in which I started thinking about architecture as a promising claim for my thinking and obviously there are a number of approaches imaginable for me: looking at it, using it and now also doing it myself. That’s what the show is about, plus collaborative aspects which come along, as architecture is always a team effort.

How does your work resonate with architecture? In your opinion, how do abstraction and architecture correlate?

Architecture, not unlike photography are figurative. The process might be very abstract, but what is built is concrete. But there are stages in the design process which are open and not about doors, faucets and fire regulations, and those interest me, as they shadow a bit what I enjoy in my work, when ideas become form and forms become figures. I consider my Model Studies series as my most photographic work to date but also my most abstract. In the end the source is becoming irrelevant, you won’t recognize a Lautner building nor a dress by Alaïa on my images.

You have spent time recently in Tokyo in the offices of the architects Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa, also known as SANAA. Your 2015 show Latent Forms at Sprüth Magers in London displayed the close-up images you took of their paper and cardboard architectural models during your visits at SANAA offices. Those images part of Model Studies II, became abstracts and fragments of ideas of buildings that may not come to realization. Why were you interested in working with SANAA?

Besides the fact that they are amongst the most astonishing and original firms in the field of architecture, I was approached by them to contribute to their Venice architecture biennale exhibition in 2010. I visited them in Tokyo and found the most amazing and confusing office they worked in, which just fascinated me. So, when I moved to L.A. I decided to fly every few months over there to see how that place changes. Their design process is highly influenced by the use of very low-key simple paper models, which they make in a minute to communicate ideas. Once such idea is used or abandoned for one project it might have an afterlife in another project because it just sits there amongst what looked like a 1 million other models. So, it felt familiar for me as a studio situation, but also it was used for completely different purposes.

Could you tell us about Model Studies IV and the inspiration you had from the late fashion designer Azzedine Alaïa’s pieces?

I had the pleasure to have lunch with him once or twice in his atelier, and at the same time I had planned to work with the patterns which are used in clothes making for many years. Although I never found the right picture, I kept searching. It reminded me of the discarded leftovers on Matisse’s floor in his studio in Nice, where he did the cut outs in colored paper. Again, it felt familiar but wasn’t an artist’s studio. Important in all cases is for me also that these people think with their hands, which is really important in a time when the digitalization is taking over any aspect of our life.

Last year you realized your first collaboration with a fashion brand, for Prada and you’ve decided to create anonymously a series of images titled Hanami (meaning cherry blossoms, a symbol of youth and love) created for each window of every Prada stores across the world. This was also a first for Prada to officially collaborate with an artist. You have had a close relationship with Miuccia Prada and Fondazione Prada for the last decade. How did that collaboration unfold? Why also the desire for anonymity? Could you tell us more about the narrative behind the series and what was the inspiration behind it?

Over the last 15 years I did nine different projects in all different shapes and ambitions with the Fondazione Prada. I saw it developing into an amazing organization, which never used the art for marketing reasons, very unlike most other efforts in that field. The trust in the artist and the generosity when it comes to making things possible is the connection to the core of the company and in the end their idea of luxury. So when MP asked me if I would consider to give permission to use my work in a seasonal campaign worldwide – it was spring 2020 – I considered the cooperation with company a chance to try out my work on a global audience without making it a marketing move on my part. I mean every Prada shop in the world, all of them in prime locations, and most of the windows were designed specifically. What a roll out!

It seems that artists and fashion brands are collaborating more and more. You have mentioned before that fashion is time and identity related and I think we can find those elements in your work too. What are some other fashion houses that you would want to collaborate with?

I find it a relatively confusing message to have a shop window with handbags and then having an artist name on top of that, possibly even with a social mission. I think the handbag should convince in itself and the shop window should do the best to create attention and context, full stop. But as I said, contemporary art is a niche and fashion is an industry, I think there can be very interesting combinations, as long as they respect the autonomy and maybe auratic character of an artwork. Also, the series ‘Blossom’ was existing, we aligned and composed it anew for the purpose, but it was not a commission in the sense of the word. But I really admire what Prada has built over the years, that’s why I was open to the request, not because I wanted to combine my ‘brand’ with theirs or any other strategic consideration.

Coming back to architecture, your most recent project currently under construction, is very very exciting. It is a Pavilion at the Headquarters of design-innnovation leader Kvadrat, a contemporary textiles and textile related products for architects and designers, company in Denmark. Could you tell us about this collaboration?

Again, that grew over the years into a long ongoing and trustful relation. Anders Byriel, the CEO, is very interested in contemporary Art and approached me decades ago when I had a show in the Museum Louisiana, and was just trying find his way around in the arts. It wasn’t really about commercial interests on both sides. We became friends since, did a few projects which were all great fun and showed convincing results, and so when he decided to build some kind of meeting place next to the company headquarters, he asked me if I have ideas or if I want to do it. And I said yes, instantly. You need to understand, very rarely an artist has the chance to build an entire house or in this case three of them. And I am trying to make it in some kind of Gesamtkunstwerk, where I am doing everything you touch and consider everything in it’s visual appearance and all follows the logic of paper. As it is my first, of course I needed help and asked CarusoStJohn to facilitate my ideas, I have also done a number of projects with them in the past, so it is a constructive and sensitive dialogue.

Are there other projects that you are working on at the moment?

I am working on a film about which I can’t say much right now, we will open a show in London next week, I am developing a large show for Garage in Moscow, which will include a direct collaboration between me and SANAA, as well as a contribution by Alexander Kluge and a show at the Fundacion Botin in Santander, called Mundo del Papel, with a very ambitious exhibition architecture in their wonderful Renzo Piano Building. Let’s hope the world is back on track by autumn, when it all will be realized.

John Pawson

“I have always thought that a house should be a collection of spaces in which to dream”

John Pawson CBE has spent over thirty years making rigorously simple architecture that speaks of the fundamentals but is also modest in character. His body of work spans a broad range of scales and typologies, from private houses, sacred commissions, galleries, museums, hotels, ballet sets, yacht interiors and a bridge across a lake. His method is to approach buildings and design commissions in precisely the same manner, on the basis that ‘it’s all architecture’, incorporating minimalism and rigorous simplicity mixed with function.

NR discusses with the renowned British architectural designer about his career, some of his key works, his most recent project Home Farm, a space in which family and friends can gather, as well as his future plans for 2021.

John Pawson, it is an absolute pleasure to be interviewing you. Thank you for taking the time to be a part of this issue. How are you doing in those strange times we are all living in?

My wife Catherine and I have spent most of the various lockdowns at Home Farm in Oxfordshire.  I am used to being pretty much constantly on the move and being still for so long has been a revelation.  At any one time, some or all of our three grown-up children have also been here. One of the few upsides of the current situation has been the opportunity to live alongside one another again for extended stretches as a family, when normally we are scattered.

You have always been revered for your taste for minimalism and rigorous simplicity mixed with function in your design approach. 30 years ago minimalism would not be used as much as it is now, by architects and designers. Although some like Louis Khan do talk about ‘a society of spaces’ and about how the rooms not solely accommodate specific uses and functions but they create spaces and places encouraging chance encounters and unplanned meetings. This is something we can find to some extent in your work as it shows that a building is intrinsically linked to the quality of life within it and enriches experience. Do you think about that a lot when you start working on a project? About enriching or bettering the visitor’s or the inhabitant’s interior experience and engaging all of our senses, almost like a tactile reality?

When I start working on a new project, my thoughts are focused on the place – the immediate site and its surroundings – and on the people that will use the spaces I am designing.  A huge amount of thought goes into refining the function and the choreography,  but in the end it’s about making atmosphere and about ensuring a quality of sensory engagement.

Minimalism has now become a life style which is something we can all thank you for as you have helped coined this new phenomena. In your body of work can also be found a certain inclination for idealism and purism rather than materialism. 

When and where did you find your attraction for simplicity and how did your search for it, began?

I think that my interest in simplicity was always there, even as a child. My parents’ values and the treeless landscapes of the Yorkshire Moors where I grew up helped reinforce these innate preferences.

Who or what inspired you to start creating and designing?

What are some architects’ works or designers’ works that you really like?

It had been at the back of my mind for a long time, but the person who gave me the final impetus to pursue a career in architecture when I was in my late twenties was the Japanese architect and designer, Shiro Kuramata.

Alongside Kuramata, the people whose work I have always admired include Mies van der Rohe, Donald Judd and Dan Flavin.

I studied Interior Design at the Royal College of Art in London and your name came up frequently during my research as I was very interested in spaces that have a positive influence on the spirit and mind, spaces in which one is able to daydream and contemplate without any distractions. I am sure you know of Poetics of Space by Gaston Bachelard. I find some similarities between your manifestos most specifically in relation to day dreaming, thinking, imagination and presenting the space we inhabit as a cosmos of its own. What are your views on Bachelard’s philosophy? 

Like Bachelard, I have always thought that a house should be a collection of spaces in which to dream. The potential for dreaming comes when the mind and body are at ease.

The Valextra store was not your first retail project. You had been commissioned before to design stores for Calvin Klein in previous years. Could you tell us a bit about your decade-long relationship? How do you feel the world of fashion collide with the one of architecture and interior design? If you could pick one contemporary fashion designer that you would want to work with, who would that be?

The first store I designed for Calvin Klein actually opened more than two and a half decades ago. I think that the relationship between fashion and architecture is a naturally resonant one, even though the creative timeframes are so very different – the cycles of fashion are measured in weeks and months, where a single building can take many years from conception to realisation.

For me, it’s ultimately very simple: I’ve always tried to make stores where the clothes look good and people feel comfortable. Since Calvin, I have designed stores for Christopher Kane and Jil Sander’s creative directors, Luke and Lucy Meier, with whom the architectural collaboration is ongoing.

Obviously I imagine that it would be quite difficult to provide a short answer to how you find ways to approach fundamental issues revolving around space, proportion, light and material. But could you give us an insight into how you achieve such balance between those elements? 

The balance between the defining elements of my work – light, space, proportion, surface and scale – is always the result of a long, slow process of paring away.

The St Moritz Church in Augsburg is a standout example of bringing out the inner beauty of a space, a sort of humble beauty. I have not visited it in person (not yet) but I can imagine from the photos that the visitor would feel sheltered and protected. Could you tell us about the process of refurbishing such place? 

With the St Moritz church we inherited a building that was already the product of many earlier interventions, over the centuries. My intention was to simplify things a little –  to achieve a clearer visual field, where the primary physical experience for people entering the building would be of light and space.

What places around the world have been particularly inspiring for you and your craft? You have cited Milan for example as one of the most influential cities in terms of craftsmanship, manufacturing and culture. What are some other places you have really enjoyed visiting and that have nurtured and influenced your work?

I am always energised by visits to quarries, to choose stone for a project. I’ve gone deep underground in marble quarries in Vermont and the north of Italy, where you find yourself entirely surrounded by a single material. For someone interested in the condition of seamlessness, it is utterly exhilarating.

You’ve mentioned in interviews before that you use photography as a tool alongside your sketches which to me highlight how architecture can be a multidisciplinary field. You have also released a photography book titled Spectrum through Phaidon a couple of years ago. Could you tell us what other mediums you have used before to complement your work process?

Photography is a critical design tool for me. I use my camera in the same way that other designers use a pencil and sketchbook. I also find physical models very helpful as a medium for exploring ideas – both in the early stages of a project and later on in the architectural narrative, when it’s more about understanding the impact of the details.

You must get a lot of different reactions to your work. Do you rely on how the exterior world perceives your work and if so how do those perceptions inform your future projects?

My work is never going to appeal to everyone. I have been fortunate that there have always been people for whom my architecture makes sense and that some of these people are in a position to commission me to make more of it.

The theme of this issue is Growth and your countryside retreat, Home Farm in Oxfordshire is a project I felt resonated with it as you have successfully created a space that enables peace and tranquillity. How did the idea come about? 

Do you spend a lot of time there?

It was really Catherine, my wife, who was originally keen to find a place in the countryside. Now, of course, I could not imagine life without Home Farm.  The idea was to make a home with space for the wider family and friends to gather through the year, but also somewhere Catherine and I could live in a slightly different way than is possible in the city. In normal circumstances we move back and forth between London and Oxfordshire, but over the past twelve months I’ve relished the chance to immerse myself in the place – in the architecture and in the surrounding landscape.

We have a number of architectural projects on the drawing board and on site, but one of my ambitions this year – fuelled by this immersive period at Home Farm – is also to develop the inventory of domestic objects.

Any book recommendations?

A book I never tire of is ‘Architecture of Truth’, Lucien Hervé’s black and white photographic essay of Le Thoronet, a twelfth century Cistercian abbey in the south of France.  Hervé captures the different spaces and surfaces of the architecture across the passage of a day, inspiring Le Corbusier to write at the beginning of his preface to the book, ‘Light and shade are the loudspeakers of this architecture of truth, tranquility and strength’.

What will you be working on this year?

We have a number of architectural projects on the drawing board and on site, but one of my ambitions this year – fuelled by this immersive period at Home Farm – is also to develop the inventory of domestic objects.

Any book recommendations?

A book I never tire of is ‘Architecture of Truth’, Lucien Hervé’s black and white photographic essay of Le Thoronet, a twelfth century Cistercian abbey in the south of France. Hervé captures the different spaces and surfaces of the architecture across the passage of a day, inspiring Le Corbusier to write at the beginning of his preface to the book, ‘Light and shade are the loudspeakers of this architecture of truth, tranquility and strength’.

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