Chantal Elisabeth Ariëns

“It is in the nature of the mind to make something out of nothing, so an empty state allows the mind to rest and opens doors at the same time.”

It might have taken Chantal Elisabeth Ariëns ages to pull herself out of the state of chaos and into the utopia of emptiness, but such a transition defines what she produces today, from photographs to prints. Relieving certain emotions to provoke certain memories ushers the multidisciplinary artist into conjuring her most reflective essence, giving a home to the works of art she treasures the most.

From her reverence for water as a distilling element of life to the reminiscence of her sister’s youthful time, Ariens personifies the glory of existence: the stillness in dancing, the melancholy in capturing the relics of a passing, the times when realizations ask her to carry on.

I would love to learn more about your career transition. You first worked as a dancer, having studied at a ballet academy in Tilburg. You also modeled and assisted photographers. Why did you switch to photography? When did you realize it was time for you to hold the camera yourself?

I grew up with classical ballet and studied at the ballet academy, so my whole life was surrounded by ballet. But

“my dream to dance in a company like the NYC ballet fell apart.”

I started to look for something that could replace my passion for ballet. This was the quest. For a period, I started working as a model, where I got inspired by photographers I worked with and started to assist some photographers.

I am also a print-maker. I felt the need to create with my own hands, to give my prints more depth. I went in search of a craft technique that would allow me to do so, and this led me to the photopolymer etching technique. I love the tactility, the structure, the scent, and countless shades of black. The work itself is very intense and slow; it brings me to a more quiet part of myself and makes me more aware of how gratifying craftsmanship can be.

Delving deeper into your photographic philosophy, how did your ballet, photo modeling, and assisting experiences help shape your photography? What nuances from these backgrounds do you use in your practice today?

Dancing had been a way to express myself since a very young age. This was replaced by my love for photography. My father was a gifted photographer and a photo teacher in addition to his day job. He taught my sister and me how to print our own photos.

“Working as a model became the second part of my photographic education.”

It was wonderful to be able to learn from so many photographers, through their own ways of creating images, especially in the fashion world. Then, my process became different after working for magazines.

I felt the need to create from within after my younger sister passed away. I had to let go of concepts or themes to find out where my journey would take me. Gradually, I realized how everything turned out to be personal, including my relationship with the models I work with. I like to create an intimate atmosphere for the models to make them feel comfortable and be themselves.

I prefer to work with models with a background in dancing as they often move freely. It is important for me to make real contact in order to create images that move. They become personal from the moment I started to create my own world from the inside.

The inspiration of your works stems from the subconscious, a state of emptiness. How do you perceive an empty state? Is it meant to be filled, or just be left their void? 

In the past, it was not easy to enter an empty state of mind overnight. It took me years to be able to let go, meditate, and practice. It is in the nature of the mind to make something out of nothing, so an empty state allows the mind to rest and opens doors at the same time. This is where it became possible for me to dig deep and create my personal work, by letting it be void with all that will come up in a natural way.

As you have written: these images arise by giving space to emotion and exploring where the connection lies between emotion and memory. Emotions and memories are stored in the subconscious. For you, what is the connection between emotion and memory? What kinds of emotions and memories do you want to evoke?

For me, memories come with certain emotions, so bringing up certain memories can evoke certain emotions. I try not to evoke these emotions as I prefer them to arise in a natural way. It is by giving space that they will find their way. For me, photography is about connecting to the landscape, the people, and myself. It is about creating my own world.

Let us go through a few of your works. Where Are You reminisces about your younger sister, a time when you saw her everywhere. Would it be all right if you guide us through your state in this series?

Where Are You #1: The image is taken by the moonlight, imagery of Taoism, and the yin energy that brings the viewer within. The feeling brought me to remember the memory of my sister drifting away.

Where Are You #4: In my dreams, I was running fast to see glimpses of my sister. When I saw a figure running, I thought it was her.

Where Are You #11: I know it is not her, but it is the vague figure that is moving towards me that makes me think it is her.

Where Are You #20: Ever-changing clouds, floating on air.

Where Are You #18: The sea, the waves, the clouds, the sun behind the clouds, the rays of light coming in. Here, there is a play between the dark and the light, the light and the dark. I was fascinated by it: it moved me in ways, it made me feel emotional, it lulled me into it, and it connected me to the ones I lost.

Unfinished #2: Here a teststrip of Marijn, I started photographing with her and still do, she became my muse.
In this image she reminds me of my sister, Nathalie.

Monologue Intérieur seems to be a photographic conversation between who you are and what you feel, an inner monologue associated with thoughts, fears, and emotions that come and go. Have you ever latched on a single emotion and found it difficult to let go? 

The inner monologue is often associative. Thoughts, moods, feelings come and go. I try to catch these in order to be moved by the image. It is not only about my feelings, but my models’ as well.

Nude photography can be a complex subject to me. It is about finding the purest and most liberating expression of strong femininity. It is combined with the inner monologue, transforming the images into layers of stories.

Water as a purifying, transformative, and healing gift of life. In Healing or drowning, water becomes the symbol of existence, the power of connection, softness, surrender, and forgiveness. When do you seek healing? Is it hard to surrender yourself to the flow of the universe? How do you forgive – by forgetting?

I seek healing especially in times of grief and turbulence like the last one and a half years, where we have all gone through certain waves.

“Surrendering to the flow of the universe is a never-ending challenge.”

For me, forgiving is not about forgetting. I think it is a process that experiences ups and downs, highs and lows like waves that come and go, trying to find the angle of compassion for others. I think these bring in the softness, the healing part, for others and myself.

You quote T.S. Elliott as part of your artist’s statement. “So the darkness shall be the light. And the stillness the dancing.” How do you relate to these words?

The words refer to my own process that started with the death of my younger sister. I went through deep grief, a depressing period, trying to find the light. This is why I started my series  ‘Where Are You’ with specks of black and bright white. 

If I had to go to a deeper layer of myself, I think I would uncover stillness while finding my way out, accepting that nothing will ever stay the same and that love never dies.

What’s next for Chantal?

I’m looking forward to some wonderful collaborations in Japan, Italy and Sweden and a period as Artist In Residence to be able to do research, experiment and deepen my work.

Domenico Gnoli

“I never actively mediate against the object, I experience the magic of its presence”

As one enters the exhibit – the soft stumps of the shoes break the silence – the first instinct is to graze the fingers over the relics of Domenico Gnoli, to violate the laws Fondazione Prada upholds just to caress the paintings on display and test their hyperrealism. As the sensation passes, a new emotion washes over: the awareness of stepping into someone’s home and looking into their private lives, becoming an insider and an outsider at the same time. The artist may not have intended to cause such an emotion, but there it is in its youthful peak. From the shadow clothing over the fabrics and wave-like curls of the hair to the figures sleeping under the sheets, Domenico Gnoli mastered narrating the everyday life everyone tries to hide.

Fondazione Prada presents the exhibition “Domenico Gnoli” in Milan from 28 October 2021 to 27 February 2022. This retrospective forms part of the series of exhibitions that Fondazione Prada has dedicated to artists – such as Edward Kienholz, Leon Golub, and William Copley – whose practice developed along paths and interests that took a different direction from the main artistic trends of the second half of the 20th century. The exhibit marks an exploration of Gnoli’s practice within a discourse free from labels and documenting the international cultural scene of his time, all while understanding his art’s contemporary visual relevance and recognizing the inspiration he drew from the Renaissance to illustrate the value of his works. 

Conceived by Germano Celant, the exhibition brings together over 100 works produced by the artist between 1949 and 1969 and will be complemented by as many drawings. A chronological and documentary section featuring materials, photographs, and other items will retrace the biography and artistic career of Domenico Gnoli (Rome, 1933 – New York, 1970) more than fifty years after his death. The project has been realized in collaboration with the artist’s Archives in Rome and Mallorca, which preserve Gnoli’s personal and professional heritage.

A homeowner touring a sojourner in his abode encompasses the arrangement of Gnoli’s artworks at Fondazione Prada. The yellow seat covers form uniform patterns, so freshly washed and pressed for an elegant dinner party that Santiago Martin-El Viti – based on Gnoli’s portrait of him sitting in one of the sofas – would attend. A beige shirt soon appears on a yellow tablecloth with silhouettes of flora in green, the creases and folds of the shirt visible even without scrutinizing the painting. From the living room, Gnoli heads towards the bathroom where an empty bathtub awaits next to a branch of a cactus that adorns the minimalistic interior.

Author: Domenico Gnoli (1933-1970) Title: APPLE Date: 1968, signed and dated on the reverse Dimensions: 117 x 158 cm Medium: Acrylic and sand on canvas Inscriptions: on the reverse inscribed by Domenico Gnoli: D. Gnoli 1968 ” apple ” (1,60 x 1,20) Inv. Fundación Yannick y Ben Jakober no.51 Fundación Yannick y Ben Jakober

“Many things have changed for me: I finally feel I have shrugged off many constraints and prejudices,” Gnoli wrote in 1963 and a letter to his mother. “I paint as I feel without worrying about the current culture and my responsibilities towards it and I intend to live the same way: free and faithful only to the truth that I feel now. Life begins now; up to this moment I have been apprehensive of too many things: school, friends, modern painting, socialism, marriage, culture, maturity, responsibility. I have painted a whole load of imaginary characters: a large woman reading the newspaper, a gentleman peeing against a tree, an office worker, a poetic waiter with blue lips, and then numerous portraits, but with a difference: instead of people seen from the front, they are seen from behind. Because, I thought to myself, mountains are painted from every side and so are houses, flowers, animals, trees: everything. Men and women are not, however. They are the exceptions and are only painted frontally, in three-quarter profile or from the side. Why?”

Down the hall, guests find the elevator that will take them up to the private spaces of Gnoli’s home. As the doors open and the bell dings, they stumble upon the guestrooms where intoxicated guests may sink into one of the well-made beds. All the beds are available except the ones where Gnoli and a woman sleep. In a couple of his paintings, they break up and make up in a span of two canvases, implied by the joined and separated figures under the sheets that Gnoli’s art style highlighted. 

Author: Domenico Gnoli (1933-1970) Title: CURL Title during the exhibition at the Sidney Janis Gallery, even though it does not appear on the catalogue this painting was exhibited Date: 1969, painted in s’Estaca, Majorca, October 1969, last paining painted by D.G. Dimensions: 139 x 120 cm Medium: Acrylic and sand on canvas Inv. Foundation C. no. p23 Courtesy Fundación Yannick y Ben Jakober

From the exhibit’s text: “For many years Gnoli’s work was interpreted in relation to the forms of realism that arose in stark contrast to the abstract and conceptual currents of the 20th century. Gnoli was viewed as a pop or hyperrealist artist by contemporary critics, who nevertheless recognized the peculiarity of his poetic imagery and artistic production. Over the following years, art critics drove their attention to those paintings made from 1964, characterized by a photographic cut and a specific interest in the human figure and objects, acknowledging the inspiration that he drew from the Renaissance or underscoring his ability to create paintings capable of creating a dialogue with the observer.”

The connection between Gnoli and the viewers sizzles, the manifestation of the intended dialogue. From one alley to another, the transition in storytelling simmers in the next paintings. The house party is about to begin. The noise of the invited crowd on the ground floor filters through the master bedroom where Gnoli and the woman deck up. The private and public lives start to blur the more the viewers wander around to gaze at Gnoli’s paintings.

On his canvases, the selection of hairstyles – neck-length, braided, and curled – comes first before choosing the shoes to wear for the party – flats or heels, leather or synthetic. Next up, Gnoli’s artworks zoom into the details of the clothing to don: the folds of the shirts’ collars, the pearl buttons of the dresses, and the zippers of jackets. Almost ready, the artworks display a necktie and a bowtie, both in stripes, and an ironed suit with a pocket square. Gnoli and the woman close their bedroom door and head for the elevator, a huff to expel the breath of excitement and agitation before inquiring “Ready?”

In 1965, Gnoli expressed how he had always embodied his art practice, but it did not attract attention due to the abstraction’s moment. “I have never even wanted to deform: I isolate and represent. My themes come from the world around me, familiar situations, everyday life; because I never actively mediate against the object, I experience the magic of its presence,” he commented. Only then, thanks to Pop Art, that his paintings became comprehensible, the employment of simple, given elements that he neither amplified nor reduced. 

Three years later, the artist deemed his system as a vehicle of showing two scenarios in one space. “You begin looking at things, and they look just fine, as normal as ever; but then you look for a while longer and your feelings get involved and they begin changing things for you and they go on and on until you don’t see the house any longer, you only see them, I mean your feelings,” he penned. “For instance, take some of these modern pictures where nobody can tell what’s what; they are a mess because they only represent the feelings rumbling about without giving you any idea of why it happened.” At Fondazione Prada, Domenico Gnoli welcomes the viewers into his home and hands them an invitation to reminisce the legacies he left.

Anicka Yi

“If I had to guess I would say I was smelling the Machine Age, but honestly it was hard to tell”

I decided to binge Foundation recently, the Apple Original series based on Issac Asimov’s famous sci-fi novels. It’s a fantastic piece of television but in it there are a few throwaway lines that mention ‘the robot wars’. The series is set millennia in the future, long after humans have populated the galaxy, but that simple phrase sets the imagination whirring.

Quite often when scrolling social media you come across videos of robots that scientists are working on, some humanoid, some not. However one thing is constant, and that is somewhere in the comments people are joking that these robots will one day turn on us, and ‘the robot wars’ will become reality. This sentiment is unsurprising, especially from a generation brought up on media such as Black Mirror. But what if they didn’t turn on us? What if the ‘robots’ or the ‘machines’ become part of the ecosystem, benign artificial beings that live in the wild and evolve on their own?

Anicka Yi’s installation in Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall explores such a possibility. As you enter the space you spot them, flying high above the crowds of visitors, like strange sea creatures with gently waving tentacles and whirring propellers. They come in a variety of pinks and yellows and some are transparent. Yi calls them aerobes, and in addition to sea creatures draws inspiration from mushrooms. The hairy, bulbous aerobes are called planulae, whilst the ones with tentacles are called xenojellies. “Combining forms of aquatic and terrestrial life, Yi’s aerobes signal new possibilities of hybrid machine species.”

Yi collaborates with a team of specialists using artificial intelligence to pilot these aerobes, and they all follow unique flight paths generated by ‘a vast range of options in the systems software’. The machines use electronic sensors placed in various locations around Turbine Hall as a stand-in for their senses and react to changes in their environment inducing visitors heat signatures. “This sensory information affects their individual and group movements, meaning they will behave differently each time you encounter them.”

Another thing you might notice upon entering the Turbine Hall is the smell. When I visited it smelled swampy, almost like a peat bog mixed with the smell of petrol and metal. This is intentional, another part of Yi’s instillation are smellscapes. Based on different times in history these smellscapes change from week to week. There are marine scents from the Precambrian period, coal and ozone from the Machine Age of the 20th century, vegetation from the Cretaceous period, or spices that were used during the Black Death plague of the 14th century. If I had to guess I would say I was smelling the Machine Age, but honestly it was hard to tell.

Overall the exhibition does feel a little sparse. The Turbine Hall is a huge space and it feels like the number of aerobes in comparison are rather small. One feels that in the world that Yi is visualising that these aerobes come in great swarms that fill the skies like flocks of sparrows. Reality is a little different, understandably but the concept remains and upon leaving the space you find yourself wondering what the world would be like if it was populated by herds of roaming robots or packs of floating synthetic aerobes.

Photos

  1. Anicka Yi, In Love With the World, Hyundai Commission, Tate Modern
  2. Anicka Yi, In Love With the World, Hyundai Commission, Tate Modern
  3. Anicka Yi, In Love With the World, Hyundai Commission, Tate Modern
  4. Anicka Yi, In Love With the World, Hyundai Commission, Tate Modern

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.

Yoko Ono

Mend Piece for London at The Whitechapel Gallery

It’s that time of year when, regardless of what you are wearing, you will always end up a little bit sweaty with cold fingers. Arriving thus at the Whitechapel Gallery, I made my way upstairs to Yoko Ono’s MEND PIECE, shedding hand sanitiser and various masks stuffed into pockets that have yet to be transferred to the laundry basket.

Upon entering the gallery in which this particular exhibition is held I find myself instantly transported back to childhood visits to the only museum and gallery in my hometown. Back then one would often be plonked down at tables handed a pair of scissors and told to ‘get making.’ Back in the present, I can see piles of white pottery littering to two waist-high tables (also white) and scattered alongside them are scissors, string and sellotape.

I know an arts and crafts situation when I see one! Although here the emphasis is on art, more specifically fine art. Yoko Ono first created this piece in the sixties and it has been shown around the world many times since. Mending Piece 1, from which this current work originates, first appeared in 1966 at the artists first solo show at Indica Gallery in St James’s. Legend has it this was where she first met her husband, John Lennon.

On the wall is the simple instruction, “Mend carefully. / Think of mending the world at the same time.” Well, perhaps simple is the wrong word here, the last line certainly requires some deep thought. Evidence of other visitors ‘ careful mending’ is already crammed onto the white shelves which line the white walls.

In the sixties, Ono’s aim was to create art that wasn’t designed to be bought and sold but instead to create works that required “concepts, ideas and instructions.” Kintsugi, the Japanese technique of mending broken pottery with gold lacquer, also played a major role in a large number of her works. The process was designed to highlight the broken parts, thus celebrating its imperfections and has been in use for centuries.

Nothing so ornate or beautiful is going to be created today, certainly not by me that’s for sure. I reach for my tools, sellotape seems like a good option, and then I carefully select my bits of broken pottery. Fingers are still cold so there’s a lot of fumbling. Did I mend it carefully? Perhaps not by Ono’s standard, I’ve always had a habit of going a bit wild when sellotape is involved (no one can ever get into presents if I’m wrapping them), however when I’m done I feel rather proud of my humble creation. I pop it on the top shelf where there’s still some space left. Has the world been mended? Well, that remains to be seen.

Credits

Yoko Ono: MEND PIECE for London at the Whitechapel Gallery is open from the 25th of August 2021 to the 2nd of January 2022. For more information visit www.whitechapelgallery.org

Designers

  1. Yoko Ono Mend Piece 1966/2018 You and I, A4 Arts Foundation, Cape Town, South Africa Photo by: Kyle Morland
  2. Indica Gallery, 6 Mason’s Yard (off Duke Street), St James’s, London, England – Yoko Ono setting up for her first European show. November 1966 Graham Keen / TopFoto
  3. Indica Gallery, 6 Mason’s Yard (off Duke Street), St James’s, London, England – Yoko Ono setting up for her first European show. November 1966 Graham Keen / TopFoto

Stefanie Schneider

On the West, Nostalgia and Instant Dreams

Stefanie Schneider captures the Western mentality and landscapes, archetypical histories of love, flawed beauty, and how women coddle chickens through her lens. She projects the life she yearns to live, the love she hopes to embody and receive, and the lust for both from within her onto her images. The results display burned spots in print or hazy and overlapping gradients of light, the signature she created for herself and her audience. These flaws, as she dubs them, manifest a mythlike dream Stefanie imagines for herself and those around her, ushering them into a discrepancy between light and darkness in photographic styles and the human psyche.

The German photographer works on self-portraiture as she poses for most of her projects, always infusing every shot with her views on life, love, and nostalgia. As she taps into her realm, Stefanie’s flair for memories and bygone eras – plus an old ranch and a farm of chickens – unravels into instinctive and distinctive photographs that ask viewers to journey through their definition of psychedelia and existence.

I wanted to ask how you got the moniker Instant Dreams then I came across your photo book of the same title. In this compendium, you take the American West as your inspiration to tell stories that evoke ideas of masquerade and play, and of love, pain, loneliness, alienation, rediscovery, and a social commentary on America. Why were you fascinated with these themes? 

Instantdreams is simply a combination of my two primary interests: the American dream and instant film. It just came to me in 1998 when I was building my first website. The American West has wide, open spaces that give us perspective on the meaning of life. Its void is a reflection of your interpretation. Expired Polaroid film produces ‘imperfections’ that mirror the flaws of the American Dream. These imperfections also illustrate that the dream is a myth that misleads, offering unachievable goals; the dream turning into a nightmare. The disintegration of Western society. The last hurrah.

That is the canvas of my creations. In fact, it’s the rudder of my uncharted journey. The allure of America is my pursuit of self-identity through love and pain, alienation and loneliness.

In your first book, Stranger than Paradise, the description mentions: There is no script, and none is necessary – a primal tale with ordinary looking people with archetypical histories – they drink, make love in nameless hotels, stalk the desert under the blinding sun, dance and carouse, and endlessly move on. A sense of liberation surrounds these scenes. Have you lived through these situations? When do you feel the most liberated?

All of my projects originate from my personal story. I created a place for my imagination to flourish, so there are no limits to where I can go. This particular project you’re referring to is called ‘Sidewinder’ and is one of my most personal stories.  It projects the intensity of love, the pain of losing love, futile attempts to hold on to it, and the destructive acts we engage in to avoid abandonment. For me,

“there is a catharsis in creation. Art liberated me. It allowed me to create a parallel universe.”

Going through your selected projects, three bodies of work caught my attention. I want to start with Oilfields (2004). It connotes both the notion of the frontier and the adventurous mentality of the West, and a kind of horizontal understanding of the landscape that is so quintessential about the West. Would you still describe the Western mentality as such today considering that you did this project in 2004? What changes have you noticed?

The project was published in 2004. The actual shoot took place in 1999. Considering that, basically everything has changed. There was still a kind of innocence present. The internet just started. Hardly anybody used cell phones. The information traveled slower. Actual letters were still sent and received. There was more time. Pre 9/11.

The landscapes were emptier and less populated. The feeling of being alone was much greater. Climate change wasn’t omnipresent. Back then the open landscapes felt like the last frontier. The last place to disappear into; to be swallowed into your own imagination. But it felt as if we were witnessing, with our own eyes, that times were changing, that everything would break apart.

Fast forward to 2014,  you introduce Wabi-Sabi (2014) as desolation and solitude are two adjectives that I would use to describe my Polaroid photographs, another two would be the Japanese term ‘Wabi-Sabi”. The simplicity of ‘flawed beauty’ comes from the expired film I use to create a reflection of love and loneliness. Why did you use desolation and solitude as descriptions? Was that how you felt? Then, why did you combine the feeling of love with loneliness?

Love, lost love, and unrequited love are the prominent themes in my 29 Palms, CA project. The consequences of emptiness, loneliness, and absence are related to existential themes, just like expired films. Constantly changing and crumbling, the film mirrors the changes of time, almost like a premonition. The summers seared through heat waves to the cracks of the Wabi-Sabi void.

Onto the third one: Chicks and Chicks and sometimes Cocks (2016 – present). One sees women dearly hold chickens in their arms. Can you share the concept and beginnings of this project? What do you aim to convey?

I rescued an old ranch in the High Desert just over ten years ago. Since then, I have been focusing on self-sustainability, growing organic food, and raising chickens, which has been so rewarding to me. I absolutely love chickens and wanted to share their beauty. I call it my Desert Living project. It is about reconnecting our human needs back to the sources of living, back to basics; my own personal reset.

You have used expired Polaroid films to capture and emphasize the sun-drenched, nostalgic, and photographic appeal of memories. Is there a forgotten memory that you want to relive? How do memories influence your creative artistry?

Memories are the essence of life itself. They are stories, they are history, they are our identity. The ones you keep and show define what transpires. The Polaroid itself is a tangible reminder of a moment we want to remember and hold onto.

“We only have what we remember or imagine.”

Thinking about your filmic and trance-like style, how would you direct your self-portrait and want the backdrop, the approach, and the essence to be?

A picture of myself looking at myself in the mirror of some old car far out in the desert, alone and searching with desire for a love that I know exists.

My work is full of self-portraits. I am using myself as the subject a lot either because nobody else is around or because the project is so personal such as in the case of ‘Sidewinder’ or ‘Wastelands’. I can create my vision far easier and more precisely if I play the role myself. Nobody else could have felt what I felt at that moment, so I appear again and again and again.

Credits

Images STEFANIE SCHNEIDER
http://www.instantdreams.net/

TeamLab

“We human beings have emotions and we also have something we can’t explain with words – it’s cool, it’s beautiful and it’s fun”

Brightly coloured flora paints itself across the heads of gallery visitors while children, and sometimes adults, chase otherworldly fauna as they dance across the walls of the space. You might walk into one room and find yourself knee-deep in water, projections of vibrant carp swimming around your legs. Walk into another and you are surrounded by green lily pads, some as tall as your head. One thing for sure is nothing is ever the same, and you never quite know what you can expect to find in each room, in each exhibition.

Make no mistake, while teamLab was first formed in Japan in 2001 by Toshiyuki Inoko and a group of his friends, it is now an international art collective made up of “an interdisciplinary group of various specialists such as artists, programmers, engineers, CG animators, mathematicians and architects whose collaborative practice seeks to navigate the confluence of art, science, technology, and the natural world.”

Transcending boundaries is a key concept for teamLab as it states that “in order to understand the world around them, people separate it into independent entities with perceived boundaries between them.” Digital technology allows people to express themselves creatively in a way that is free from physical constraint and the boundary between the viewer and artwork can become blurred. NR Magazine joined teamLab in conversation.

Do you consider teamLab’s work as a form of therapy and a way for visitors to navigate the collective trauma of living in a post-capitalist society that imposes a number of boundaries on us?

A: We are not sure what our output is classified as – we only seek to create what we believe in, regardless of the genre it turns out to be.

Art is something we can’t explain with words and history will decide whether our output qualifies as art. If we can change people’s minds, then it’s art. Art raises questions and design provides answers. We human beings have emotions and we also have something we can’t explain with words – it’s cool, it’s beautiful and it’s fun. What our exhibitions do is underpin the impossibility to “have.” None of our visitors can own the artworks: they can’t “have” but they can “be” (following Shakespeare’s immortal quote, “To be or not to be”). Today’s society drives us to “have” which imposes limits and division. This simple structure of capitalism binds us, but the internet and the digital world beyond have no limitations. At the same time, you don’t technically own anything on Google or Facebook, but you are part of the community. Therefore, you can’t “have” but you can “be.” Our artwork is shared the same way. We wanted to make something that will reach people’s hearts.

teamLab encourages visitors to interact with the artworks and capture their experiences for social media. However, do you think there is a danger of people focusing too much on getting the ‘perfect shot’ and not truly experiencing the work?

A: We don’t “encourage” people to use social media.

But at the same time, we think that the act of expressing oneself is not a bad thing.

Shooting photos or videos and even sharing those with people all over the world is also one mode of self expression, right?

It is a natural human desire to share emotions or something that is moving and inspiring. However, the “experience” cannot be cut out.

Through smartphones or TVs, people can understand only with their heads. Knowledge may be gained, but the sense of values and perceptions cannot be changed or broadened. Only through the actual, physical experience of the world or artworks, people can start to recognise things differently. Even if people look at teamLab’s works on Instagram, their values will not be broadened.

teamLab wants to continue creating experiences that cannot be shared with just photos or videos.

Our interest is not the technology itself, but instead, we’re trying to explore the concept of “digital” and how it can enhance art.

Most of the Silicon Valley-originated technology is an extension of someone’s mind. Facebook, Twitter, these digital domains see the “self” as the principle. These are meant to be used personally.

What teamLab wants to do is to enhance the physical space itself using art. It doesn’t necessarily have to be yourself that intervenes with it. It can be other people or a group of people that vaguely includes you. And instead of a personal use, we want to make it usable by multiple people.

By digitising the space, we can indirectly change the relationships between people inside. If the presence of others can trigger the space to change, they’d become a part of the artwork. And if that change is beautiful, the presence of others can be something beautiful as well. By connecting digital technology and art, we think the presence of others can be made more positive.

How has the pandemic affected the collective and has it changed how teamLab approaches exhibiting art?

A: Right now, we are isolated due to our fear of the virus. But in order to overcome that, whether you are in lockdown or not, we hope to encourage you to realise that there never are and never were boundaries, that we are connected to the world just by existing in it, and that we don’t have to try to connect with others by rejecting them.

The fact that we can connect with each other, regardless of where we live or anything else, is a message that affirms human existence from the ground up. We would be happy if humans could accidentally connect with others and derive positive value from that.

Humanity has faced many problems over its history, but we do not believe that these problems have ever been solved by division.

The birth of civilised nations and the spread of infectious diseases were both the result of globalisation and the loss of world boundaries, but humanity has solved this problem not by dividing people, but by working together to develop drugs and vaccines, advance medical technology, and improve sanitation.

We believe that people need to remember the benefits of history and science because if we only look superficially at the immediate events of the current coronavirus pandemic, we promote emotional division.

Art and culture have expanded humanity’s “standards of beauty.” Art presents a new standard of beauty that has changed the way people see the world and, to put it plainly, has allowed them to see flowers as beautiful. teamLab’s artworks are also designed to help people experience the beauty of a world without boundaries and the beauty of anti-division.

Humans are driven by beauty. Corporate organisations seem to be driven by logic and language, but when we look at individuals, they often determine their actions based on their sense of beauty. For example, a person’s choice of a profession is heavily influenced by aesthetics, not rationality. The way in which “standards of beauty” are applied changes a person.

Everything in the world is built on a borderless, interconnected continuity. We believe that human beings should be celebrated for being connected to others and to the world and that experiencing a “world without boundaries” can change our values and behaviours and help us to move humanity in a positive direction.

This is a fundamental affirmation of human life.

We have created an artwork that allows people to experience being connected to others and the world, even in the comfort of their homes. Flowers Bombing Home is an artwork that transforms the television in your home into an artwork. The novel coronavirus has forced the world to become more isolated, causing people to become confined to their homes. This project was created to help us realise that our existence is connected to the world and to celebrate the fact that the world is connected.

However, as we mentioned, we believe that our art is meant to be experienced in person in a shared, physical space. So as the world opens up again, we are excited to welcome visitors back into our exhibitions, where they can explore the continuity of life and time.

Are there any new technologies that teamLab is particularly excited about and is planning on incorporating into the artwork?

A: Technology is just a tool, like paint.

Although it’s a tool, it does greatly affect the creation, just like how the Western landscape painting developed because it became possible to bring paints outdoors.

What really makes teamLab unique is not the technological advancement, but rather the fact that teamLab has become able to do truly massive art projects simultaneously worldwide in-house at a high speed – to the extent that no one has been able to do before.

We could say that technology is the core of our work, but it is not the most important part. It is still just a material or a tool for creating art.

We have been creating art using digital technology since the year 2001 with the aim of changing people’s values and contributing to societal progress. Although we initially had no idea where we could exhibit our art or how we could support the team financially, we also strongly believed in and were genuinely interested in the power of digital technology and creativity. We wanted to keep creating new things regardless of genre limitations, and we did.

Digital technology allows artistic expression to be released from the material world, gaining the ability to change form freely. The environments where viewers and artworks are placed together allow us to decide how to express those changes.

In art installations with the viewers on one side and interactive artworks on the other, the artworks themselves undergo changes caused by the presence and behaviour of the viewers. This has the effect of blurring the boundary lines between the two sides. The viewers actually become part of the artworks themselves. The relationship between the artwork and the individual then becomes a relationship between the artwork and the group. Whether or not another viewer was present within that space five minutes before, or the particular behaviour exhibited by the person next to you, suddenly becomes an element of great importance. At the very least, compared to traditional art viewing, people will become more aware of those around them. Art now has the ability to influence the relationship between the people standing in front of the artworks.

You have created an interactive at-home art installation, that people can access around the world, can you tell us more about that work?

A: The novel coronavirus has forced the world to become more isolated, causing people to become confined to their homes. This project was created to help us realise that our existence is connected to the world and to celebrate the fact that the world is connected.

The television in your home becomes art. Watch at home, participate at home, and connect with the world. People from around the world draw flowers, creating a single artwork that blooms in homes around the world.

Draw a flower on a piece of paper, your smartphone, or computer, and upload it. The flowers you draw and the flowers drawn by others bloom and scatter in real time on the YouTube Live Stream. If you connect your home television to YouTube, your television turns into art. As the petals scatter, the various flowers form a single new artwork together.

When a new flower is born, the name of the town where the flower was drawn is shown.

You can also download Your Flower Art, which combines the flowers you draw with those drawn by people around the world.

The flowers that people draw around the world will bloom until the end of the coronavirus. When the coronavirus ends, they will bloom and scatter all at once in various places all over the world. And, in the future, perhaps the flowers will continue to bloom forever as an artwork for people to remember this era.

It is stated that teamLabs work fuses together art and science but can you ever really have one without the other?

A: We have always liked science and art. We want to know the world, want to know humans, and want to know what the world is for humans.

Science raises the resolution of the world. When humans want to know the world, they recognise it by separating things. In order to understand the phenomena of this world, people separate things one after another.

For example, the universe and the earth are continuous, however, humans recognise the earth by separating it from the universe. To understand the forest, humans break it down into trees, separating the tree from the whole. Humans then cut the tree into cells to recognise the tree, cut the cells into molecules to recognise the cells, and cut the molecules into atoms to understand the molecules, and so on. That is science, and that is how science increases the resolution of the world.

But in the end, no matter how much humans divide things into pieces, they cannot understand the entirety. Even though what people really want to know is the world, the more they separate, the farther they become from the overall perception.

Humans, if left alone, recognise what is essentially continuous as separate and independent. Everything exists in a long, fragile yet miraculous continuity over an extremely long period of time, but human beings cannot recognise it without separating it into parts. People try to grasp the entirety by making each thing separate and independent.

Even though we are nothing but part of the world, we feel as if there is a boundary between the world and ourselves, as if we are living independently. We have always been interested in finding out why humans feel this way.

The continuity of life and death has been repeated for more than 4 billion years. However, for humans, even 100 years ago is a fictional world. I was interested in why humans have this perception.

How can we go beyond the boundaries of recognition? Through art, we wanted to transcend the boundaries of our own recognition. We wanted to transcend human characteristics or tendencies in order to recognise the continuity.

Art is a search for what the world is for humans. Art expands and enhances “beauty.” Art has changed the way people perceive the world.

Groups move by logic, but individuals decide their actions by beauty. Individuals’ behaviours are determined not by rationality but by aesthetics. In other words, “beauty” is the fundamental root of human behaviour. Art expands the notion of “beauty”. Art is what expands people’s aesthetics, that is, changes people’s behaviour.

It may be the whole world or only a part of the entirety, but it is art that captures and expresses it without dividing it. Art is a process to approach the whole. And by sharing it with others, the way people perceive the world changes. Through the enjoyment of art, the notion of “beautiful” expands and spreads, which in turn changes people’s perceptions of the world.

Everything exists in a long, fragile yet miraculous continuity over an extremely long period of time. teamLab’s exhibitions aim to create an experience through which visitors recognise this continuity itself as beautiful, hence changing or increasing the way humans perceive the world.

So we can say that there is no boundary between science and art in our activity. Both of them are ways in which to recognise the world, and both are important to our aim.

Is there a specific teamLab work that stands out from the rest and if so why?

A: Our most recent works often stand out because our output is a result of accumulated knowledge and experiences.

But of our many exhibitions worldwide, one that holds a special place in our hearts is the annual outdoor exhibition teamLab: A Forest Where Gods Live in Mifuneyama Rakuen in Kyushu.

The 500,000 square meter Mifuneyama Rakuen Park was created in 1845, during the end of the Edo period. Sitting on the borderline of the park is the famous 3,000-year-old sacred Okusu tree of Takeo Shrine. Also in the heart of the garden is another 300-year-old sacred tree. Knowing the significance of this, our forebears turned a portion of this forest into a garden, utilising the trees of the natural forest. The border between the garden and the wild forest is ambiguous, and when wandering through the garden, before they know it, people will find themselves entering the woods and animal trails. Enshrined in the forest is the Inari Daimyojin deity surrounded by a collection of boulders almost supernatural in their formation. 1,300 years ago, the famous priest Gyoki came to Mifuneyama and carved 500 Arhats. Within the forest caves, there are Buddha Figures that Gyoki directly carved into the rock face that still remain today.

The forest, rocks, and caves of Mifuneyama Rakuen have formed over a long time, and people in every age have sought meaning in them over the millennia. The park that we know today sits on top of this history. It is the ongoing relationship between nature and humans that has made the border between the forest and garden ambiguous, keeping this cultural heritage beautiful and pleasing.

Lost in nature, where the boundaries between man-made gardens and forests are unclear, we are able to feel like we exist in a continuous, borderless relationship between nature and humans. It is for this reason that teamLab decided to create an exhibition in this vast, labyrinthine space so that people will become lost and immersed in the exhibition and in nature.

We exist as a part of an eternal continuity of life and death, a process that has been continuing for an overwhelmingly long time. It is hard for us, however, to sense this in our everyday lives, perhaps because humans cannot easily conceptualise time for periods longer than their own lives. There is a boundary in our understanding of the continuity of time.

When exploring the forest, the shapes of the giant rocks, caves, and the forest allow us to better perceive and understand that overwhelmingly long time over which it all was formed. These forms can transcend the boundaries of our understanding of the continuity of time.

teamLab’s project, Digitized Nature, explores how nature can become art. The concept of the project is that non-material digital technology can turn nature into art without harming it.

These artworks explore how the forms of the forest and garden can be used as they are to create artworks that make it possible to create a place where we can transcend the boundary in our understanding of the continuity of time and feel the long, long continuity of life. Even in the present day, we can experiment with expressing this “Continuous Life” and continue to accumulate meaning in Mifuneyama Rakuen.

Have you found that digital interactive work has become more popular in recent years and if so why do you think that is the case?

A: To be honest, we do not know.

All we can say is that teamLab believes digital technology can expand art and that art made in this way can create new relationships between people.

Digital technology enables complex detail and freedom for change. Before people started accepting digital technology, information and artistic expression had to be presented in some physical form. Creative expression has existed through static media for most of human history, often using physical objects such as canvas and paint. The advent of digital technology allows human expression to become free from these physical constraints, enabling it to exist independently and evolve freely.

No longer limited to physical media, digital technology has made it possible for artworks to expand physically. Since art created using digital technology can easily expand, it provides us with a greater degree of autonomy within the space. We are now able to manipulate and use much larger spaces, and viewers are able to experience the artwork more directly.

The characteristics of digital technology allow artworks to express the capacity for change much more freely. Viewers, in interaction with their environment, can instigate perpetual change in an artwork. Through an interactive relationship between the viewers and the artwork, viewers become an intrinsic part of that artwork.

In interactive artworks that teamLab creates, because viewers’ movement or even their presence transforms the artwork, the boundaries between the work and viewers become ambiguous. Viewers become a part of the work. This changes the relationship between an artwork and an individual into a relationship between an artwork and a group of individuals. A viewer who was present 5 minutes ago, or how the person next to you is behaving now, suddenly becomes important. Unlike a viewer who stands in front of a conventional painting, a viewer immersed in an interactive artwork becomes more aware of other people’s presence.

Unlike a physical painting on a canvas, the non-material digital technology can liberate art from the physical. Furthermore, because of its ability to transform itself freely, it can transcend boundaries. By using such digital technology, we believe art can expand the beautiful. And by making interactive art, you and others’ presence becomes an element to transform an artwork, hence creating a new relationship between people within the same space. By applying such art to the unique environment, we wanted to create a space where you can feel that you are connected with other people in the world.

All we do is create what we believe in – our hope is that our output reaches people’s hearts and changes their ways of thinking or behaviour. Popularity is just a byproduct of that. We never consider popularity when working, all we focus on is creating something we believe in.

What advice do you have for young creatives who are interested in working with digital and interactive works?

A: teamLab was started by a group of friends who simply enjoyed spending time together, and it has continued to grow and change. If you only think in practical terms, logically, you will fail. It is good to start with the things you enjoy in life.

We aim to create artworks and experiences that allow people to experience the beauty of the world with their hearts and their bodies. In the 20th century, we were taught to only understand the world through our “heads,” but it is important to experience things with our hearts and our bodies. Do not think you can understand the world just through the internet.

Is teamLab working on anything at the moment and what plans does the collective have for the future?

A: You can find the information about upcoming exhibitions worldwide on our website – please check there for the latest updates!

Credits

Images · teamLAB
https://www.teamlab.art/

GT Nergaard

“do as little as possible”

In GT Nergaard’s photographic practice, the intersection between fiction and reality offers the grand gesture of self-portraiture. Every photograph reflects his journey towards discovering personal narratives that have shaped his background, artistry, and thoughts. As he builds his themes around these philosophies, he creates photographs based on his imagination and observes a situation through his lens, all while forming a bond of who he is and how he wants himself to be.

Through a monochromatic palette, the Norwegian photographer includes his viewers as he fuses self with nature. A Vitalist at heart, he employs the life force in living things to calculate his shots and summon delicacy, grace, and rawness in his photographs. With the sun as his source of light in the day and the flash of his camera at night, GT captures the interaction between man and nature, eliciting poetry in visuals and autobiography in practice.

Let us begin with the two sections that divide your online portfolio: North and South. Do these pertain to certain locations? What was your idea behind these projects? What did you aim to capture?

The inspiration for my work comes from the locations I photograph in, using the sun as my main light source. Based on climate, I work simultaneously between these two projects in different locations: one in the summer where I shoot in Norway, and the other in the winter where I travel to southern regions, North and South.

For the last ten summers, I have been working on the Storvatn project, recently published as a book. Storvatn is the name of the lake where my family had a cabin thirty years ago and my childhood paradise. In this project, I travel back to the lake in search of my own identity and to reconcile with my past, the time being just as long I have been working on a project in Essaouira, Morocco. Then, when the winter in Norway is at its darkest, I travel to a warmer climate. The project is a very personal and poetic interpretation of Morocco with the working title birds of passage and will be published as a book in the Autumn of 2022.

We are excited about this new project you have! This ties up to how you identify your work as at the crossroads between fiction and reality. Why did you settle on these themes and not other elements? How do you define fiction and reality? In your daily life, do you dwell in fiction, reality, or both?

For me, photography is a medium where I first and foremost convey a personal story and a reflection of myself. The work is like a parallel world, where reality and fiction intersect and create a new narrative. I define fiction as creating photographs based on my own imagination. Reality is when I am an observer in a real situation I have not constructed, and where I take photographs without manipulating them.

It is difficult for me to relate to just one of the methods since they are interdependent, just as I relate to a dream world when I sleep and reality when I am awake.

“The dream may appear surreal, abstract, and difficult to interpret, but intends to create a balance in my life to make it easier to deal with reality.”

It is wonderful to know how reality and fiction balance the dynamics of your life. I wonder if this thought is a root of your work, which is strongly influenced by vitalism. Could you elaborate more on this? How did this occur? Was it an intentional choice to pursue it?

Years ago, I saw an exhibition at the Munch Museum in Oslo with the theme Life force – Vitalism as an artistic impulse 1900 – 1930. The term Vitalism comes from the Latin word Vital and is based on the assumption that there is a life force in all living things. The artists in the exhibition represented a distinctive period where body, nature, and health are at the center and the cleansing power of the sun as one of the central themes. Among the Norwegian artists from this period are the painter Edward Munch and the sculptor Gustav Vigeland. Their works show nude people engaged in play, swimming, and sports, with nature as a backdrop.

From the Vitalists, I affirmed my photographic style and a philosophical understanding of my own concepts. I do not draw direct inspiration from their work, but from a common motivation in the theme.

You interpret the interaction between man and nature in your photography. What discoveries about this interaction did you find out that fascinate you and influence your art practice? 

My attraction to nature as a theme comes from a personal need and a simplification of the photographic process. Ten years ago, I worked as a commercial photographer in fashion and advertising. The working day consisted of large productions in the studio, a lot of technical equipment, and a large crew. At one point in my career, I came at a crossroads, where the result was to find my way back to the freedom I felt when I started as a photographer and a simpler working method.

Today, there are no clothes, hair styling, or makeup on my models. Everything is done in an outdoor location, and the sun is the only light source with the exception of an on-camera flash at night.

“None of the images are manipulated or retouched in photoshop. With this simplification, the inspiration to create gradually came back, along with my photographic identity.”

Continuing the previous question, there is a sense of freedom in the way your subjects embrace confidence in their bodies. As a photographer, how do you interact with your subjects? How do you know when to capture the scene? Have there been any challenging times during your shoot?

I depend on finding people I work well with, who are free by nature and have an understanding of the concept. Many of the models are artists themselves and have a clear awareness of their own bodies and identity. They are equal partners who I have worked with for many years and consider my friends.

I prefer to create a natural situation where I can photograph without taking too much direction. The ideal situation is to travel to a location for several days where the narrative and images occur more naturally. In such a setting I can work both day and night, which gives the story a sense of time and space.

I have two ways of directing. In the first, I take a clear direction and do a controlled study, shaping my subject with light and shadow. In the second, I work in a snapshot mode where the subjects are in action and I direct more intuitively.

“I think the alternation between the stylized and the random makes the project more dynamic and playful.”

I have never experienced situations during a shoot that I would describe as challenging, with the exception of the Norwegian climate. In my region, we can experience four seasons in one day, which can make it challenging to work outdoors with nudity.

Your photographs evoke a sense of timelessness through their monochromatic colors. Is there a reason for this choice of style? How do you work with light in this case?

Today, I think it is because I am a monochromatic person. Everything I own is black, white, or natural wood, with only a few touches of color, a natural choice and typically for a Nordic minimalist design.

In the beginning, it was more of a practical choice since all work was processed in the analog darkroom. I have always been attracted to a classic and timeless expression. Not only in photographic references, but in film, music, literature, and design. I draw a lot of inspiration from contemporary references as well, but the classic is always my starting point.

I am often asked how I work and manage to create the specific quality of my photos. The honest answer is: to do as little as possible. I work based on a ‘Pure Photography’ style where the photographs are created through the control of composition, tone, light, and texture. There is no use of manipulation and effects.

To wrap it up, how do you perceive the body, nature, and health? Are they distinctive or combined entities of life? 

Today more than ever, I feel it is important to reflect on the role of humans as part of nature and how dependent we have always been and still are on each other. By taking better care of myself and living sustainably, not only will my health and body improve, but I will also take better care of nature. Everything is interconnected.

Credits

Images · GT Nergaard
https://www.gtnergaard.com/

Michele Oka-Doner

“Repetition itself is life-affirming. The wavelength calming.”

With a career spanning over five decades, American artist and author Michele Oka Doner’s work, which is fuelled by a lifelong study and appreciation of the natural world, is internationally renowned. She has worked across a wide range of mediums including “sculpture, public art, prints, drawings, functional object artist books, costume and set design and other media.”

Doner grew up on Miami Beach, and her love for the natural world comes from her father who was elected a judge and then, mayor of Miami Beach during her childhood. She states that while she loved watching him work in the courtroom, it was his passion for the outdoors that would inform the rest of her life. “As busy as he was, my father would pause to watch a bird sit in a puddle after the rain. He’d stop for a sunset. He paid attention.”

Best known for her public artworks, Doner’s work is seen by tens of millions of people are they are located in areas with high foot traffic. One example of this is ‘A Walk on the Beach’, a mile and a quarter long artwork made of over nine thousand bronzes embedded in terrazzo with mother of pearl, at Miami International Airport. The work is inspired by the marine flora and fauna of Miami.

She continues to make work in her New York studio where she has worked for nearly four decades and the space is crammed with unfinished and competed works, alongside a treasure trove of found objects such as animals bones, shells, stones and fossils. Donna states that she is a “hunter-gatherer” and that despite living in urban New York she is still connected to the natural world. NR Magazine joins the artist in conversation.

You have a longstanding interest in nature, something which your work reflects. How did that interest start and do you think your focus has shifted over the course of your career?

I was enchanted as a child growing up in sub-tropical Miami Beach, close to the water and surrounded by trees. That initial confrontation continues to hold my mind, imagination and has perfumed my life.

You believe that all art begins with the sacred. What does that mean to you?

The word transcendent speaks to that question. What is sacred perhaps is different for each of us. That said, everyone needs to have an I-thou dialogue within, a knowledge of their boundaries when faced with life’s temptations.

You draw inspiration from world histories and folklore. Are there any in particular which are especially meaningful to you? 

I love the Norse myths, over and over I seek their wisdom as well as hopes and fears. The rise and fall of family, also beautifully haunting in their telling. Then there is ‘The Iliad and The Odyssey’ that speak to us of the evolution of feeling, of love, lust, seduction, jealousy.

Naturally occurring shapes and patterns are a key theme within your work. Do you think people often overlook motifs like these in their everyday life and could the quality of their life be improved if they look the time to appreciate such patterns in nature etc? 

Patterns and shapes are magical, repeating over and over in every culture.

“Repetition itself is life-affirming. The wavelength calming.”

Has the pandemic affected how you approach your art practice and if so how? 

The pandemic allowed me time for many things I had set aside until I found time to explore, concentrate deeply. That time has resulted in clarity.

A Walk on The Beach is one of your largest and perhaps most well-known works. Could you tell me about the process of making this work?

The bronzes all came out of Doner studio over the course of 24 years.

“It became ritualised activity, a materialised tone poem, a saga. I carried the notes in my head and composed in my sleep.”

What does identity mean to you as an artist? 

Being called an artist is only an avatar. I have many identities.

How has your experience of being a female artist changed over the course of your career and has that change been for the better? 

I have always fully embraced the feminine aspect. That said, gender is a spectrum.

“We are moving in the direction of a more equitable balance for both genders and I am happy to be flowing in the river of change.”

What advice do you have for young creatives? 

Be a good dog. Dogs don’t dig up other dogs’ bones.

Are you working on any projects at the moment and what plans do you have for the future? 

I am going to be the designated guardian of the banyan tree I grew up under in Miami Beach across the street from my childhood home. It will be declared a natural wonder very soon.

Credits

Images · MICHELE OKA-DONER
https://micheleokadoner.com/

Studio Hagen Hall

“identity is subtle and evident in the design more than anything else”

North London townhouse Canyon House has been transformed from a bedsit into a stunningly vibrant 70’s Californian-inspired home by Studio Hagen Hall, “a multidisciplinary architectural and interior design studio that focuses on crafting exceptional spaces.” The clients, Ben Garrett and Rae Morris are both recording artists and while they fell in love with the essence of the house, including the well-established garden and good location, much work was needed to enliven the place.

Originally the property had been divided into three separate bedsits with the use of awkward partitioning that split the house. The entire interior needed to be gutted and Studio Hagen Hall used digital modelling to reimagine how the space would be used allowing the clients to use a VR headset to experience the design ideas. A recording studio was also incorporated into the new design of the interior. Drawing on 70s influences the intro design is a mix of warm wood, lush mustard velvets and vibrant peaches. NR Magazine joins Louis Hagen Hall, founder of Studio Hagen Hall, in conversation.

What key elements would you say create the 70s atmosphere and design of Canyon House?

I’d say it’s the combination of design features and materiality. We made a conscious decision to try and evoke a 70s atmosphere by means of reinterpretation rather than creating a pastiche of that era. To that end, there are nods to popular features of that era (such as the “conversation pit”, the “kitchen/dining serving hatch” and “open stair”), which we adapted to suit the house. Materially, we used typical materials from that period, such as Elm, velvet, and fluted glass, and chose colours with a particular 70s feel to them. Even the live/work form of the house pays homage to Ray & Charles Eames (the clients are musicians who collaborate and work together).

Are there any new technologies in architecture and design that you are particularly excited about? 

We’re particularly interested in new materials – both re-cycled (for example “Smile Plastics”) and organic (particularly mycelium & hemp, which are starting to become more prevalent in the construction industry).

The re-emergence of old technologies as “new technologies” is also fascinating – such as the use of clay and lime renders and natural insulation (eg paper & wool).

From a design-process point of view – easier and cheaper access to Virtual Reality has made it a very powerful tool. We can now walk clients through a space to better explain it, and even test out designs ourselves and leave annotations in the model in real-time.

What was the most challenging aspect of this project? 

Boiling it down to one sentence – the biggest challenge was trying to make what is essentially a relatively small British terraced property feel like a large free-standing Californian canyon house!

Ultimately we achieved this by spending a lot of time working out how to best reconfigure the house as a whole. We spent a great deal of time working on creating a natural flow throughout the spaces (both visual and circulatory), while also improving the relationship between the interiors and exterior spaces. When it came to the decor itself, we were all very much on the same page – so once we had cracked the layout of the house, the rest came relatively easily.

You stated that people who spend time at Canyon House don’t want to leave, why do you think that is? 

It’s a particularly comfortable, relaxing and sociable space to spend time in, and there are often people coming and going either for work (musicians coming to work with the client in the studio) or friends and family dropping by for a cup of tea. I think it also has something to do with how the light is always changing. Just when you feel like it’s time to leave, the sunlight will shift onto a different surface, changing the mood, or evening will fall and the lights will come on, completely transforming the house again.

What does identity mean to you as an architect?

Obviously, there is a visual identity – which can be hard to maintain across a wide range of projects and clients – although we try to maintain some consistency through the use of details and materials (which in turn relates to our stance on sustainability).

But I think there is a practical identity as well – creating usable, functional spaces, which isn’t always obvious through images. I will often try and show new clients around past projects (luckily I have very supportive clients) to experience this for themselves.

There is also identity in methodology and process, which I think can be apparent through displaying work in progress, drawings, models, etc.

“For us, identity is subtle and evident in the design more than anything else, rather than a case of branding or deliberate market positioning.”

Canyon house was originally separated by awkward partitions into self-contained bedsits and the house had to be stripped back to its shell. Do you think this is a common issue in London and if so does it affect the quality of living?

It is a common issue in London, especially as people try to exploit high rental charges here. And it absolutely affects the quality of living in a negative way – houses are divided up into spaces they were not designed for, resulting in cramped conditions, and quite often bedsits will pose serious fire risks (often due to kitchens being squeezed into bedrooms and hallways).

The ONE positive thing you could say about bedsits is that they do (in an unintentional, ad hoc way) form a sort of cohabitation/communal living typology – something that is being explored more and more these days. But this needs to be designed deliberately to be successful.

How does sustainability fit into your work with Canyon House?

We try to adhere to two main sustainability principles:

1. The principle of ‘embodied energy’ (which is the energy consumed to manufacture, transport, and assemble building materials to construct a building) – so we try to use as few processed materials as possible (eg clay render onto plywood rather than plaster onto plasterboard), as many renewable materials as possible (eg timber – always FSC certified – instead of steel and concrete), and we try to have any off-site items (joinery, fittings etc) produced as locally as possible to cut down on transport and shipping. We are also trying to integrate more and more natural and recycled materials into our projects, which cuts down on overall energy and resource consumption.

2. Re-use or ‘retrofit’ rather than demolish + re-build – renovating an existing building is almost always more environmentally beneficial than demolishing an existing structure and building a more energy-efficient one. So we try to encourage re-use by upgrading and extending structures rather than demolishing and building anew. And where this is not possible, we encourage our clients to work with as much of the existing building fabric as possible. For example, we are working on a new-build house in Dungeness, and while we are having to remove the existing building (because it is completely unsalvageable), we are designing the new building to match the footprint of the existing foundations, which is far more sustainable (and also cost-saving).

 How has the pandemic affected your work practice? 

On the practical side of things, we had to give up our studio as it was part of a large co-working space and it was closed for long periods of time. We eventually got into the swing of working from home, which has had the long term benefit of making everyone (including clients) more comfortable with communicating via video call. This can be very beneficial to a small design practice as it can be hugely time (and therefore cost) saving.

In terms of surviving during the downturn in work – we lost a few new commercial jobs, but we used the downtime to re-brand, re-build websites and social networks, and even launch a new kitchen/joinery practice called “b y s s e” with our long time collaborator and friend, joiner Tim Gaudin.

When things began to open up again, we started working in a smaller co-working space called Benk & Bo (in East London) a few days a week, and now we are working together with them on their new venues! So where some doors closed, others have opened.

Do you have any advice for young creatives looking to work in architecture and design?

I can only speak from experience – but knowing what I know now, I would say don’t rush anything! Take your time to find your creative space and let things happen to you, or you might find yourself going in a direction you didn’t want to. When there are natural breaks (particularly in the case of the time between Undergrad and Masters Degrees for architecture students) take the time to work in, or with, other fields. Volunteer for charities and meet people from all different aspects of life. Travel if you can. Teach if you can. Oh, and make friends with people outside of your field of interest!

I never used to be one for networking, but it turns out interesting things can come out of it. This doesn’t have to mean typical “networking events” – I have met like-minded collaborators at all kinds of different talks and evenings (even things like wine tasting!) Good Architecture and Design comes from experience – not just practical, but cultural.

Also, I feel quite strongly that a lot of students and young creatives feel pressured into qualifying or breaking onto a scene as soon as possible, partly because it takes a long time to qualify and/or become established, but also because we tend to glorify “young achievers” with awards for “best young designer” and publications like the “40 under 40”. Age is irrelevant – take your time, find your own space, and try not to compare yourself to your contemporaries!

Lastly,

“when you need help and advice, don’t be afraid or shy to ask for it. And if someone asks you, don’t hesitate to give it!”

Are you working on any projects at the moment and what plans do you have for the future? 

We are just finishing off three residential refurbishments in East London, then we will be beginning a new cycle of very exciting and diverse projects…from a new-build coastal house in Dungeness, to a fashion house showroom and office, to the restoration of a mid-century masterpiece, to a Japanese inspired victorian townhouse, and a multi-purpose community-driven wood and craft workshop.

We have also just launched a kitchen & storage-specific studio & workshop together with our long-time collaborator and friend, Tim Gaudin – called “b y s s e” (http://www.bysse.co)

And we’re finally planning on adding to our team of architects and designers after a long wait, which is hugely exciting! Ultimately we would like to open a second studio in Europe.

Credits

Images · STUDIO HAGEN HALL
https://www.studiohagenhall.com/