Nicolas Schuybroek

Minimalism with soul: a dialogue with architect Nicolas Schuybroek

In 2011, Nicolas Schuybroek started his own practice in Brussels, Belgium. His goal was simple: to design spaces and objects with great care, skill, and a warm feeling. Nicolas focuses on timeless minimalism and simplicity, using natural materials to bring his designs to life. His work is elegant and understated, appealing to those who appreciate subtle beauty.

Today, we have the pleasure of sitting down with Nicolas Schuybroek, the architect and designer behind the eponymous studio based in Brussels. Nicolas, thank you for joining us. What inspired you to start your own practice in Brussels in 2011?

The purpose was well defined: create and produce architecture, interiors and objects characterised by an acute sense of detail, craftsmanship and intuition, while retaining a feeling of warmth. The search for timeless minimalism and apparent simplicity have always been central in our work, as well as the love of unassuming, tactile, and raw materials. There’s no straining for effect, just a muted elegance. The essence is to conceive serene and pure, yet warm, comfortable, and authentic spaces. 

What is your perspective on the relationship between the socio-cultural system and design/architectural initiatives in Brussels? Could you share also a particular location in Brussels that holds a special significance for you?

Overall, Belgian architecture over the past few years has been enjoying a creative renaissance, thanks to a generation of talents who excel at blending earthy palettes, natural materials, and curated interiors. This philosophy has helped establish a contemporary Belgian architectural identity, which is more and more celebrated abroad.

Brussels is a city you need to discover, preferably with locals, due to the many gems hidden in a complex urban grid. Personally, I do enjoy most of the contemporary art galleries and love an early morning stroll through the royal galleries of St-Hubert in the city centre.

Your multicultural background and extensive travel seem to play a significant role in shaping your design perspective. How do these experiences inform your work?

International projects and the relationships which comes with it, deeply nourishes our work: it broadens our perspective in terms of cultural differences, languages, religion, local habits, craftsmanship etc. to name a few. Belgian remains a fairly mall country, and we feel lucky and humbled to be able to work on so many projects around the globe.

Could you discuss the inspiration and creative journey behind the Aesop Salone del Mobile project in Milan for this year?

The scenography is inspired by the Minimal Art movement from the 1960’s and 1970’s, including artists like Donald Judd, Carl Andre and Richard Nonas, whose works are reduced to the essential minimum. This movement has served as an inspiration for many years now and and shaped the base for this scenographic project for Aesop, known for its uniform and minimal packaging’s, accentuating the content of the bottles, rather than the bottles itself. The inspiration of Superstudio’s 1970s iconic grid structures is a hint to timeless Italian design. To emphasise the minimal character of the installation, we conceptualised a grid shaped screen wrapping the perimeter of the shop, only interrupted when needed for circulation.

Entirely built up with Aesop soap bars – used within a vertical brick pattern– the screen creates a soft, matte, and reflective installation. A strong serenity exhales from the design by limiting the walls to monochromatic materials and textures. The restricted use of using something simple as a soap bar – “a daily functional household item” – resonates yet to another art movement, the Arte Povera, which fits perfectly in this context. Within the screen, small rectangular cavities are shaped by removing soap bars, to generate viewing portals to small, intimate hidden boxes showcasing Aesop’s products at the centre of the installation sits a large silicon block, wrapped in a matte silicon envelope. The central island stands out without taking away attention of the soap wall and will be the centre stage to skincare performances and massages where spectators can gather around.

The structure takes its form from the regimented rows of Aesop products, following the formulation-first logic central to the brand’s philosophy. Within the assembly, small rectangular cavities are created by removing soap bars, generating portals through which to enter—via film—the sensorial world of Aesop’s products. This way of working is a good match between Aesop and my office. In our office we always kick-off with concept, context, and research before digging into designing. In that way we develop a clear formulation before creating. I think this is important to avoid losing yourself in later stages of design. Of course, this formulation can change during the process, which is another important stage. But for us formulation works as a compass during a project. 

What does “muted elegance” mean to you in the context of your work?

The essence of our work is to conceive serene and pure, yet warm and authentic spaces. Muted elegance is in my perspective the true definition of luxury today.

Few years ago premiered a Signature Kitchen for Obumex at Salone del Mobile. Can you tell us more about this project and your collaboration with Obumex?

In this first collaboration with Obumex, we designed a unique Kitchen which exhales a sense of profound serenity and yet, feels warm and authentic due the singular material used throughout the concept. It is also the first contemporary kitchen design finished with tin.

As a starting point for this design, we rethought the block-like typology of a kitchen island and transformed it into a dynamic shape, resulting in carefully proportioned shifts between the sculptural blocks. The design has been conceived as derivative of our studio’s architectural typologies and grants different views and perspectives around all four elevations, reinforcing the concept of a kitchen island as a functional sculpture.

The tin cladding, wrapping the entire volume, offers a high level of tactility paired with softness, which contrasts beautifully with the minimal geometry of the island. As tin gains a unique patina, the aesthetics of the kitchen will beautifully evolve over the course of time, resulting in every kitchen to be unique.

MM House in Mexico City, completed between 2014 and 2017, caught my eye with its intriguing design. Could you delve into the details of this project and share what inspired its creation?

While the main brutalist concrete structure was kept, we transformed it by adding new layers to the house: we came up with the idea of an interior patio with a small reflecting pool and a minimal spout to add a sense of calm to the space.

The sound of the water feature echoes throughout the house, linking the floors and rooms together, as is customary in many Mediterranean countries. We tried to create a very cozy and warm scale in a house for one and relied on the lessons of the potential found in augmenting a sense of balance through proportions. The placement of artworks, such as Terence Gower’s black-and-red steel sculpture The Couple that appears to float on a reflecting pool, provided a sense of drama that conceptually and materially resonated with other elements of the house, such the exposed raw steel staircase that created a similar juxtaposition of weight with a perceived sense of weightlessness. 

Through a great transnational collaborative process, we were able to transform the house from a closed-off heavy bunker into a home where air and inspiration could freely circulate. One way we achieved this was by leaving the ground floor partly open. Alberto had the brilliant idea to extend the concrete slab that was on top of the old entrance to create a garage and a suspended garden on the second floor, allowing us to close off the house from the street and create a small, secret, and secluded landscape within. The effect was similar to what we love in Belgium, where the exterior of a building can bely, the magic found within it. Alberto also added thoughtful landscaping to ground our project to the land of Mexico with a design scheme based entirely on native plants. A restrained material palette spanning the entire house, from polished concrete floors to cement finishes on walls and ceilings, Arabescatto marble for the kitchen and bathrooms, and locally sourced Parota wood for the millwork creates a sense of timelessness to frame a contemporary art collection that celebrates ruptures with tradition.

What are some upcoming projects or collaborations that you’re particularly excited about?

We are handing over three exciting projects right now, a private house/museum for an art collecting couple outside of Antwerp, a concrete “tropical” bunker on the west shore of Bali, Indonesia as well as an extensive townhouse renovation in NY (Larry Gagosian’s former house).

Finally, what advice would you give to emerging architects and designers?

Your education in architecture has hardly begun: work, stay curious, humble and most importantly by persistent and tenacious in all your endeavours.

In order of appearance

  1. NM House, Mexico City, Mexico, 2014-2017. Nicolas Schuybroek Architects. Photography by Nicolas Schuybroek Architects.
  2. Aesop, Lyon France, 2023. Nicolas Schuybroek Architects. Photography by Romain Laprade. Courtesy of Aesop.
  3. Aesop Salone del Mobile, Milan, 2024. Nicolas Schuybroek Architects. Photography by Romain Laprade. Courtesy of Aesop.
  4. Obumex Signature Kitchen, Milan, 2022. Nicolas Schuybroek Architects. Photography by Eric Petschek.
  5. NM House, Mexico City, Mexico, 2014-2017. Nicolas Schuybroek Architects. Photography by Nicolas Schuybroek Architects.
  6. NWJ House, Antwerp, Belgium, 2015-2018. Photography by Nicolas Schuybroek Architects.

    All images courtesy of Nicolas Schuybroek otherwise stated.

Snow Strippers

Like for Andy on The Merv Griffin Show in 1965, silence is sexy for Snow Strippers. NR explores the US band’s universe, one made of sound, images, and few words.

You just got back from your very first European tour, and have ahead of you the NA one.. Are you currently recharging the batteries or went straight back into work mode?

We’re always working cause we love what we do.

During the last couple of months you had an incredibly upward trajectory: Media coverage, web exposure, some pretty big collaborations, and the tours and dates are bringing your music to a wider-than-usual audience. How are you handling it?

Doesn’t feel that much different honestly we are grateful though.

You always describe your ethos as free styling. Now you are quickly moving away from the underbrushes and more towards the spotlight: are you planning on keeping things “DIY” or are you thinking of scaling? I’ve read that you were thinking of releasing clothes, which you started doing by now, curating other artists’ images and artistic direction, and dropping films via your Label, Nice Bass Bro.

Everything we do will always be our own vision and yes we said we were going to and we did.

You seem to have a very dedicated fanbase! I did a reddit check: it was impressive, and very informative –Loads of very interesting threads deep-diving on the Snow Stripper lore. It is almost as if your fanbase aliments your myth, how’s your relationship with them? Do you think of it in terms of image-construction?

We love talking to our listeners cause we like our music too and they changed our life and we are forever grateful.

Speaking of reddit: I quote “It’s just banger after banger after banger… never knew anything like it ..Is it just me that feels that this band has more hits than any other artist ?” Which is very true, your sound is very consistent and your production very cohesive, even though you’ve been around from relatively little..You drop a lot of music, but it always stays fresh and coherent. What are your plans moving forward? Keeping the recipe as it is or thinking of experimenting in new sonic territories?

I think we’ll always experiment or try fresh shit that just kinda comes naturally why wouldn’t we wanna try and make some new shit.

Since we mentioned hits: what defines a hit, today, for you, in the midst of infinitely available content?
A song a lotta people can fuck with or even a few people fuck with it a lot idk.

I am curious to hear your take on sped up Tik Tok songs, remixes and mash-ups. There’s a parallel between the controlled-chaotic nature of your sound and how the platform allows users to sample and repack aesthetics and sounds. It is by now, becoming almost industry-defining, with some mainstream powerhouses adapting to it. Thoughts?
I love the sped up and slowed down tik tok songs

You have experimented with different stylistic coordinates and made them yours, to the point where one cannot subtract your aesthetic stances from your sound..what comes first? Music or Visuals?
We like both !


Fave style icons?
Tati

Credits

Photography · Marc Souvenir
Creative Direction · Aina Marcó, Marc Souvenir
Art Direction · Marc Souvenir, Rita de Rivera
Hair and Makeup · Venus Hermitant
Special thanks to Good Machine PR

Nifemi Marcus-Bello

Crafting Contemporary African Design

Nifemi Marcus-Bello, a Nigerian designer based in Lagos, specializes in product, furniture, and experience design. Celebrated for his talent in crafting sustainable products that originate from local ecosystems while making waves in international projects, Nifemi is the creative force behind nmbello Studio. He is at the forefront of shaping Africa’s design landscape with his innovative and unconventional designs. His work seamlessly blends historical perspectives with contemporary influences, resulting in conceptual products that marry artistic expression with practical functionality. Nifemi Marcus-Bello’s approach to design aligns with the emerging trend that explores the intersection between producing individual pieces and small series. His creations are deeply rooted in culture and often serve as vessels for profound meanings.

Hi Nifemi, thank you for joining us for this conversation. Can you share more about your childhood experiences that sparked your interest in product design and manufacturing?

My story into design is a bit of a cliche to people who eventually chose a path of creativity. As a kid I was curious and got excited around dismantling any object I could, so at the age of 13 my mum introduced me to a welder who I would have an apprenticeship with for a few years after school. Even with all of this, I never thought of design as a career path, I gravitate more towards art and architecture because contextually, they were a lot more familiar at the time. After staying back home for a few years after high school, my mum eventually would be able to send me to school in the United Kingdom. Here I stumbled on to design as a practice and profession and it was love at first sight. 

Looking back, what advice would you give to your younger self as you embarked on your design journey?

I have been described to be a “cynic optimist”, a trait I had in my younger years and still have till now. For me I think all good designers possess an energy of optimism when creating any piece of work in the sense that you are presenting an idea into the world with the thought of changing what or how the world currently sees itself. So my advice to my younger self would be to remain optimistic and hopeful. 

In today’s society, what role do you believe design should play in addressing contemporary needs?

I think design is already playing a very important role in contemporary society and is helping to enhance experiences within technology and even the analogue world. I think it’s easy to forget that everything around us and that we use in our daily lives has to be designed by someone or people, from the chair you sit on, to the laptop you use, to the medical devices you use. So we as a people wouldn’t survive without design, it’s everything to us. I just hope that pushing forward design plays a role in the consideration of ethnography, where design solutions are culturally considerate to users and systems. 

In your view, how does the concept of “the society of fatigue,” as described by German-Korean philosopher Byung-Chul Han, manifest in contemporary design, where there’s a growing emphasis on hyper-productivity and efficiency?

I think that design as a practice is and will evolve within the coming years. I think a bigger shift (which is already happening) will see design and designers take greater consideration of systematic, ecological and human sustainability approaches to creating products and design solutions. A good example is a hyperlocal approach to manufacturing, scope of work and distribution. 

What initiatives or partnerships have you engaged in to promote African design globally?

I think the easiest thing to do is to be true to yourself and be as authentic as possible when it comes to your design approach and context. As the studio grows, with both a commercial and artistic approach and collaborations with brands in North America and across Europe. I sometimes have to educate clients that yes, the studio is based in Lagos and the work we do is contextual but we actually live in a global village, where everyone uses an iphone, practically see the same movies via Netflix so consumption of aesthetics and information has become global but with a hint of local context, for example, Kids love Stussy in Lagos, Nairobi, London and New York. 

What motivated the establishment of nmbello Studio, and how does it align with your vision for the future?

Before established nmbello Studio, I did my rounds as a junior and then lead designer for various companies, designing mobile phones, phone accessories, medical devices and furniture across the continent. I decided to start the studio for many reasons but the one that kept me curious was understanding and documenting material evolution and production availability of modern day Africa through a design practice. 

For me the future is in Africa, we have all the resources and with the youngest population in the world, we have the numbers so it is important for us to dictate our on futures and tell our own stories by creating our own products that will eventually dictate how we live and our future aesthetic.    

Can you provide an example of a manufacturing process or technology that has inspired your work?

As a lot of my work is contextual to availability I try not to have too much of an emotional attachment to one material. But one material and process that inspired my way of thinking approach to designing within my studio will have to be sheet metal and laser cutting. I know this might and usually comes as a shock for most designers but a great deal of this process is readily available in Lagos due to the production of electrical products such as generators, and they have become the norm in the streets of Lagos, a few indigenous manufacturers who need to produce casing for such items, popularised the process in the early 2000s.

Looking ahead, what aspects of your practice and the potential impact of your designs excite you the most?

I am very happy to be getting busier and being able to have work that resonates with a large audience. A great deal of the commercial work coming out of the studio sells on the continent and outside the continent as well. With this, I think there is untapped potential when it comes to strategic brand partnerships and special projects and a lot of discussion is being had around these possibilities.  With my artistic practice via the gallery shows getting a lot of museum acquisitions and discussions around the documentation of my work, I am deliberate in taking the right steps to communicate and archive my work effectively when it comes to the design process via mediums as film and photography, which has helped bring another layer into my design practice as a whole. 

In order of appearance

  1. Nifemi Marcus-Bello. Photography by Stephen Tayo
  2. Selah Lamp, nmbello Studio. Photography by Kadara Enyeasi.
  3. Friction Ridge, nmbello Studio. Photography by Kadara Enyeasi.
  4. Waf Kiosk, nmbello Studio.

All images courtesy of Nifemi Marcus-Bello

2050+

Designing diversity: a conversation with Ippolito Pestellini Laparelli and the transformative path of 2050+

An architect and curator thriving on diversity and multidisciplinarity, Ippolito Pestellini Laparelli honed his skills across various projects at OMA, ranging from the Fondaco dei Tedeschi in Venice to Monditalia, the expansive Arsenale exhibition at the 2014 Venice Architecture Biennale curated by Rem Koolhaas. Four years ago, he chose to return home to Milan from Rotterdam, taking a more independent stance to develop his own agenda. With a team comprising over 15 individuals, including architects, curators, researchers, and art directors, 2050+ has become a hub for diverse talents. We had the chance to catch up with him, delving into discussions about his agency, architectural practice, and vision.

In navigating the intersection of design, technology, environment, and politics, how does 2050+ function as an interdisciplinary platform, and how does the urgency embedded in the agency’s name, ‘+’, influence the nature of its projects and collaborations?

2050+ acts more as a platform than a traditional architectural office. Each project requires a different ecosystem of expertises and perspectives that are either present in 2050+ or are part of our network.

Through the past years we have worked with artists, filmmakers, writers, scientists, philosophers, technologists, etc. in order to dissect and reflect on today’s complexities. For us the only way to remain relevant is to multiply the point of views, to look at crucial and urgent questions from different angles, to constantly negotiate our position as spatial practitioners with other disciplines, while finding a common and actionable ground. We actively look for projects that allow us to remain political and to tackle urgent questions in line with our overall agenda. This is evident in our research work, often commissioned by cultural institutions, but it’s also a goal for the more commercial side of our practice.    

In what ways does 2050+ utilize spatial practices as a medium rather than a goal?

Often as an architect you are expected to imagine, design and build spaces to inhabit, but that is just a small fraction of what architecture means as a discipline. Anything we observe, from politics to technology, from science to policy making, from climate to fashion, etc. has spatial implications. Space is a lens to investigate and understand contemporary dynamics and the formats of such explorations range across writing, film making, performance, digital environments, exhibitions, installations and architecture. For these reasons we prefer the definition of “Spatial Practitioners” to the one of “Architects” as it reflects how expansive our definition of architecture is.     

Given your belief that emotional engagement has been the driving force behind your choice to embark on this new chapter, could you share which project from the last four years of 2050+ has had the most profound emotional impact on you?

It’s a difficult question and there is no straight answer. I develop different relationships with different projects and that depends on many factors: its political potential, the way it relates to bigger questions, its ability to speculate on alternative presents or futures, or simply its mere aesthetic qualities. If I need to really pick, I’m particularly moved by projects involving live performances, where narrative, space and time come together to deliver a powerful message. The recent scenography for Il Diluvio Universale by Gaetano Donizzetti in Bergamo falls definitely into this category.

Together with the duo of artists film-makers Masbedo, we worked on a version of the classic opera that reinterprets the traditional narrative structure of Il Diluvio Universale to give voice to the “unheard prophets” of today: through the trope of the flood, the opera urged us to face timely and urgent issues related to the climate crisis, social injustices and political instabilities. The imagery of the work was entirely based on climate activism and protesters.

It was a way for us to bring inside an institutional theater and through the medium of a classic opera  the instances of climate activists. That’s the reason why we collaborated with Sea Shepherd, a non-profit, marine conservation activism organization, which generously shared footage from their actions that was incorporated into the scenography.   

Which significant projects are currently occupying your focus and attention? 

We are about to open a research and installation at SALT in Istanbul focused on toxicity and the politics of air in Turkey and beyond. For this project we have collaborated with a local toxicologist and with an Italian AI artist, Lorem, who has produced the soundscape for the work. On the other side of the practice spectrum, currently we are also busy with a project of architectural transformation of the XVIII Palazzina dei Principi at Capodimonte in Naples, which will host the Marcello and LIa Rumma collection of Arte Povera. These are two examples of how schizophrenic life in 2050+ can be… 

Originally hailing from Sicily, you grew up in Milan, making your recent experience akin to returning home. A spontaneous question arises: as we look ahead, how do you foresee Milan evolving while maintaining its position in the central space between the Mediterranean and continental Europe?

Milan is a very dynamic city. It’s a relatively small metropolis with a global footprint, where creativity is truly multidimensional, combining design, fashion, art, photography, architecture into a unique social environment. At the same time I’m rather concerned about its recent development after the expo 2015. Milan is a place where real estate speculation is running wild, where inequalities are growing at escalating rates, where bigger and bigger sectors of society are being marginalized and pushed out of the city, where marketing has taken over and environmental policies are insufficient and very fragile. I’d like to live in a city that is open, inclusive, diverse, multicultural…but not just for the rich. Milan should look more to the south and not just to northern european or anglo saxon contexts. I feel Palermo or Naples provide far more interesting models than London in this particular historical moment.  

Discussing Milan, there has been a notable resurgence of interest in 10 Corso Como lately, piquing my curiosity to explore the project further. When considering the Project Room and the Galleria, you liken them to a flexible theater or a “transitory museum.” Could you provide insights into the modern significance of these analogies and explain how their flexibility addresses the ever-changing cultural and social demands that the space aims to fulfill?

“The Transitory Museum” is the title of an interesting book on Corso Como 10 by philosophers Emanuele Coccia and Donatien Grau. It argues that categories that have governed for long our modern lives, such as art, fashion and the museum are being redefined, and that clear boundaries between such categories are being dissolved. As the first ever concept store, Corso Como 10 embodies the notion of a transitory museum, or a space without a fixed role or identity, where the relationship between contents, audience, display and architecture is constantly reinvented. It’s a spatial manifestation of the current state of instability and uncertainty that our society is permanently experiencing – or of a “liquid society” to use the words of another thinker, Zygmunt Bauman – a condition accelerated by the continuous osmosis between our physical and digital interactions. 

Our approach to 10 Corso Como is not based on fixed categories – a retail space, a gallery, etc. – but rather on the underlying idea of a framework able to support a virtually infinite repertoire of curatorial configurations and experiences through a finite set of devices. In this sense, both the Gallery and the Project Room are vague spaces, ready to unlock any potential.      

Beyond their functional purpose, what narrative motivations led to the introduction of micro-architectures like the large pantograph tables in this specific space?

The pantograph tables respond to various needs and sets of inspirations: they refer to the subtle industrial character of the building and they give shape to the idea of machine or “flexible theater” that we had in mind for these spaces. These elements are adaptable, moveable, they can change height and configuration, or they can simply be stored away leaving an empty space behind. They are silent actors on stage, moving according to different choreographies. Like the moveable walls-units for the Gallery, they are tools at the service of our imagination.  

More in general, the entire project was premised on the idea to give a spatial translation to the interdisciplinary character of Corso Como 10, a place where fashion, art, photography, design, urban nature come together into an unicum. To do so we have operated following a principle of “selective archeology”, removing all the unnecessary layers and materials accumulated through time and bringing back the architecture to its original, gentle industrial character. This approach has allowed us to reconnect spaces which were once disconnected and to facilitate the osmotic flows of visitors across all its programs and experiences. In line with this attitude we have inserted a number of “micro architectures” – new stairs, service spaces, accesses, etc. This results in a system of new volumes marked with a different materiality (i.e. steel) that rationalizes the organization of each floor and connects all levels of the early XX building from ground floor to the newly renovated green terrace, through a continuous loop.    

Under the new leadership of entrepreneur Tiziana Fausti, 10 Corso Como appears poised to take a swift step into the future. If we were in 2050, how do you envision the gallery’s transformation?

I’d rather not say. The present is dense enough of challenges. Let’s focus on our time; maybe this the best way to address our future.

In order of appearance

  1. Nebula, 2050+
    Photography by Lorenzo Palmieri
  2. Synthetic Cultures, 2050+
    Photography Gaia Cambiaggi
  3. Henraux Foundation, 2050+
    Photography by Querceta
  4. Il Diluvio Universale, 2050+
    Photography by 2050+
  5. Il Diluvio Universale, 2050+
    Photography by G. Rota
  6. 10 Corso Como Project Room, 2050+
    Photography by Alessandro Saletta, DSL Studio
  7. 10 Corso Como Project Room, 2050+
    Photography by Alessandro Saletta, DSL Studio
  8. 10 Corso Como Gallery, 2050+
    Photography by Alessandro Saletta, DSL Studio
  9. 10 Corso Como Gallery, 2050+
    Photography by Alessandro Saletta, DSL Studio

All images courtesy of 2050+

Makoto Yamaguchi

Architectural evolution

Embarking on the architectural journey of Makoto Yamaguchi, our conversation explores the evolution of his approach across various projects, spanning commercial offices, private residences, and museums. A significant focus lies on the acclaimed “Villa / Gallery in Karuizawa,” unraveling insights into the flexibility of its spaces. Transitioning to the distinctive MONOSPINE project designed for a game production company, we delve into its unique architectural elements. Our dialogue extends to considerations for newer generations and delves into the prevalent challenges in contemporary workplaces, specifically emphasizing well-being.

Dear Makoto Yamaguchi, I’d like to begin by asking: How has your approach to architecture evolved, considering the diverse range of projects you’ve undertaken, ranging from commercial offices and private residences to museums?

My  approach to design is the same regardless of the size or type of project. It’s about creating a scenery. I was originally very interested in how to create scenery.

Scenery, to me, means the same as so-called natural sceneries, which don’t seem to have any purpose. This is common to past projects, but I feel like I’m more aware of this than in my early projects.

When we mention “Villa / Gallery in Karuizawa,” the first thing that comes to mind is its recognition as the best residential project in the world in 2004. I can’t help but inquire for more details about this remarkable project. Could you elaborate on the flexibility and adaptability of the spaces within the residence? What considerations were taken into account to integrate kitchen and washroom facilities seamlessly into the concrete floor of the villa?

The clients for this project were a couple of musicians. After talking with them, we realized that the villa could be an abstract, empty space with no defined purpose. In this way, the kitchen and bathroom became no longer just places for that purpose, but places where the activities could take place. As a result, equipment was buried on the floor.

Amidst the increasing yearning to reconnect with nature, what specific elements of the local biodiversity influenced the client’s decision to select that particular location as the ideal space to build their house?

They are very good at cooking and like to cook. Before the building was built, when they entered the forest grounds, they always found edible wild vegetables growing wild and large leaves that could be used as plates. I have often seen the couple using them to create truly beautiful and delicious dishes. They enjoy discovering and using different things in a place.

Now, I would like to learn more about MONOSPINAL. Considering the project was specifically designed for a game production company, how do you perceive the current significance of video games as a social, cultural, and technological expression in contemporary society?

The name was given by a novelist who writes stories for games produced by the company. The games created by them are probably different from the video games that are generally recognized, and are characterized by their excellent story-telling. They have fans all over the world, and you can see many animations by other Japanese companies that have been influenced by the settings, lines, and scenes of their works, and you can feel the magnitude of their influence. can. We are paying attention to how these artists, who have such great influence in media culture, produce works of even higher quality.

What inspirations led to the selection of the term “MONOSPINE” for the design of the company headquarters? 

This word is a coined word that combines the words “monochrome” and “spine.”

The architectural element that most characterizes the space is the repeating pattern of sloping walls. How does this specific design contribute to the functionality of the new building in terms of lighting, ventilation, and acoustics?

Facing the site is an elevated railway where trains pass every 1.5 minutes on average both ways. The site is also surrounded by small-scale buildings, each with a variety of tenants. While the slanted walls enhance environmental elements of light, wind, and sound, every wall height is optimized according to the different purposes on each floor. For example, behind the third-floor walls are studios for recording the voices of game characters. They are heightened as much as possible to reduce noise from the railroad. While the walls block the views of the surroundings, they reflect natural light to bring in indirect light, maintaining the world and ambience of games during the recordings. On the fifth floor, which is vertically further from and with a lessened sense of connection to the elevated railway, the lowered walls provide a cropped view of the cluttered cityscape and the sky. With a great balance between direct and indirect lights, while steadily taking wind into the interior, the room offers a relaxing dining experience.

The slanted walls protect the interior from the external gaze, making it impossible to tell what the building is for from the outside. Not being able to see the purpose is much the same for natural landscapes. The slanted walls are made of thin, ten-centimeter-wide aluminum plates, a material of relatively familiar scale to humans. Rather than constructing a large building with large modules, we brought small-scale things together to create a bigger scale. This approach echoes the way nature is formed and grows. By adopting such a method of creation and making the building an object that does not give away information just like the natural landscape, the architectural work becomes part of a new townscape.

Among the newer generations, there is a growing acknowledgment of the vital importance of nurturing intercultural and intersocial dialogue to foster emotional connections and stimulate contemplation on various aspects of life. The communal table on the fifth floor stands out as an ideal setting for these endeavors. Could you share more insights and details about this space?

This table is where they eat lunch and sometimes dinner. For the staff, this building is more like a home where people from a wide range of age groups who share common values ​​can gather, rather than a company. They all gather around this table, eat together, and play their favorite games (which were made by other companies). All of the top creators are fans of the games they create, and that’s why they’re here. It’s the place where people with shared values ​​can relax, be inspired, and gain inspiration.

In the current landscape, the central challenge for workplaces is the well-being of employees, characterized by ongoing discussions about burnout and architectural deficiencies that exacerbate this concern. In response to this, how does the design specifically target the improvement of overall well-being and job satisfaction for employees involved in creative operations?

This is aimed to become a place for the highest level of creation that captivates fans worldwide and for supporting the foundation of the game production process. As almost all employees engage exclusively in creative operation, we focused mainly on providing a balance between concentration and relaxation while significantly removing the burden of operational work. We strived to achieve them by introducing slanted walls that characterize the exterior and a system to control all facilities, including security, with tablets.

We placed the areas mainly used by visitors on the lower floors, while the level of privacy and confidentiality increase as the levels get higher. On the second and third floors that face the elevated railroad tracks, we placed programs that require isolation from the outside such as the theater and the studios. The slanted walls are higher on the lower stories surrounded by existing buildings, whereas they are lower on the upper stories offering more sense of openness.

The landscape design, interior and exterior finishes, and fixtures all incorporate the style of the game world (the period and region in which the game is set, characters, items, etc.) created by the company as metaphors, which can be deciphered if you are familiar with the game. In other words, the headquarters building itself is made of the game.

Credits

  1. VILLA / GALLERY, Karuizawa, 2003. Makoto Yamaguchi Design. Photography by Koichi Torimura.
  2. OGGI Apartment Building, Japan, 2013. Makoto Yamaguchi Design. Photography by Koichi Torimura.
  3. VILLA / GALLERY, Karuizawa, 2003. Makoto Yamaguchi Design. Photography by Koichi Torimura.
  4. VILLA / GALLERY, Karuizawa, 2003. Makoto Yamaguchi Design. Photography by Koichi Torimura.
  5. MONOSPINAL, Tokyo, 2023. Makoto Yamaguchi Design. Photography by Koichi Torimura.
  6. MONOSPINAL, Tokyo, 2023. Makoto Yamaguchi Design. Photography by Koichi Torimura.
  7. MONOSPINAL, Tokyo, 2023. Makoto Yamaguchi Design. Photography by Koichi Torimura.

Julia Kowalska

The importance of figuration

Julia Kowalska (b. 1998 Warsaw, Poland), lives and works in Warsaw, Poland, where she graduated with an MFA from the Painting Faculty at the Academy of Fine Arts in in 2022. Her work intensely interrogates the importance of figuration: beginning by looking inward, she produces paintings that exctract the physical from the subconscious, in delicately devised dreamscapes.
The result is a simulated subconscious from which ephemeral performances present themselves in the foreground, before fading again into the recesses of a restful or restless psyche.

Julia, can you tell me about your work in general? How would you describe it to someone who has never encountered it?

I engage with painting, mostly figurative, centred around the human, although there are single deviations from this. I depict figures in ambiguous states and mutual relations. Most often my focus falls on intimate and subjective experiences.

Looking at your paintings the figures always seem to be extracted from the background, an effect that is not only due to the contrast of color (light vs dark) but also to the blurred lines of the bodies, which seem to suddenly materialize in front of us like characters emerging from a foggy environment. This stems from your desire to depict a scene that is abstracted from space and time, becoming a symbolic dreamscape. Can you tell me where your fascination with the oniric stems from?

It comes from my interest in dream poetics, with the concept and aesthetics of the uncanny. I am inspired by the enigmatic quality of dreams, in which it becomes possible to have lucid and tame experiences in a way that allows them to be both familiar and strange. Dreams push the boundary between imagination and reality, from something familiar and accessible into something peculiar, striking and unexpected. These qualities allow me to explore the fluid, shifting perspectives of Self. And just as Self includes both consciousness and unconsciousness, in dreams unconsciousness comes to the fore, systematic and chaotic collide. This opposition allows for the simultaneous existance of ambivalent meaning, which remains the core of my exploration, because I believe it says the most about ourselves. No matter what I happen to be focusing my research and painting on, whether it concerns dichotomies related to the body, the complexity of relationships or the complexity of desires, the common link is always ambivalence and the tension arising from ambiguity. I love such qualities because they challenge our relationship to reality and destabilise the Self, and in this way they are the best means of realising that Self means otherness.

Your main body of work consists of paintings. You have, however, experimented with other media, specifically sculpture and installations. Can you tell me how you translate your research differently according to the distinctive techniques and materials you use?

When I work with an object in space, I find it easier to think about the form abstractly, as about an isolated tissue, closer to defragmentation or hybridization. This simply shifts some conceptual emphasis. During my first solo exhibition, I experimented with wax sculptures imitating skin-like, carnal tissue. At the time, I exhibited an object – a chandelier in which I replaced the clear crystals with wax forms resembling flesh-like, meat wastes, – and an abstract sculptural form which materia and shape suggested a carnal origin, only without any indication of its interior or exterior. Both forms were associated with the body, but remained abstracted from it, unidentifiable. They could evoke associations with the abject, in places resembling subcoutenous biology causing anxiety and repulsion, while staying visually attractive, pinkish, smooth to the touch. Using a wax imitation of the body, its crafted form, I tried to find corporeality in another context, or rather, to locate it in all the contexts in which the body exists – in a kind of conflict – organically, naturally and culturally. I am currently in the process of working on my fourth solo exhibition, where I plan to juxtapose wax sculptures with painting. I think that conceptually the sculptures will similarly oscillate between meaning and divergences around the body.

In a previous interview someone asked about the way you imagine your shows, and you talked about the fact that you think of a singular work always in terms of its relationship with others. I find this very interesting, because it relates to the construction of meaning. Instead of seeing it as intrinsic to the single painting, you seem to believe that it is gradually built through a relational aspect. Could you tell me a bit more about this?

The relationship of the images is important to me and I take care to ensure that they maintain a dialogue with each other and act on each other. This works for me rather intuitively. Of course, it helps to build or complement contexts. I can duplicate certain meanings and at the same time contradict or undermine them in the next painting. This allows me to intensify, for example, the impression of confusion.

In our conversation it emerged that this belief is also translated in your actual working method: you work on multiple paintings at the same time, carrying impressions and fragments of each of them with you as you paint, therefore almost scattering traces in all of them. Is this link amongst all of your paintings something that you see once you visualize them finished, all together in a space?

Yes, more or less. When constructing an exhibition, I have all or most of the paintings in my mind and on sketches, although it is never a finished idea. A great deal happens in the process. I think that working on multiple formats at once allows for this dynamic of work, where I can navigate the relationship of paintings with each other on the fly. It’s just easier to gather thoughts and put a concept together.

This approach towards meaning and the relevance given to the relational aspect of the works stems also from the acceptance of change (and transformation), which is seen as a constitutional element of your working method. I am curious to know how you see, for example, the role of the public in relation to your work.

I do not yet have a formed view of this relationship, although I do indeed often consider the viewer and imagine the potential trajectory of the reception of my work. I deliberately work with attractive, visually pleasing figuration, using an aesthetic that may flirt with patriarchal sensibilities. Attractive, pinkish, soft bodies, often female, and nudity – subtle and erotic, not obscene – are meant to seduce with the promise of endless viewing pleasure. The image triumphs when the consuming gaze stops confused at an ambiguous detail or, questioning the initial impression, begins to presume the ambivalence of the whole scene. Perhaps in such viewing dynamics I find the potential for realizing ever-present patriarchal sentiments and clashing dichotomies related to communing with the body.

When looking at the overview of your works the blurred effect of your paintings- but also the choice of your materials, such as wax, as we already talked about – I can’t help but thinking about the non-finito. The wax sculptures of Medardo Rosso, for example, were often left unfinished or with features partially incomplete: this was a deliberate choice aimed to suggest continuity. Or, better said, possibility. Is that something you consider in your practice?

Absolutely! The susceptibility of wax to heat and to touch, this plasticity means that the sculpture is never final. The process of molding and solidifying liquid wax is easy to associate with this. Once during my studies, while forming a wax sculpture, I spontaneously recorded my hand massaging and stroking the slippery, fleshy surface of the wax, which while still warm yielded to the pressure of my touch and changed shape, just like living tissue.

To conclude, I would love to know what excites you about your research and how you see it developing in the future.

Well, I have no idea. Each exhibition results in new insights into the subjects I explore. I guess that’s what excites me the most.

Credits

  1. Julia Kowalska, Milky Blind Eye, 2022. Courtesy of the artist.
  2. Julia Kowalska, To give to eat or to allow oneself to be eaten, 2023. Courtesy of the artist.
  3. Julia Kowalska, Flash of a smiling heart, 2023. Courtesy of the artist.
  4. Solo exhibition Pleasant touch, like talc powdered inside, 2022. Sklep Galeria Karowa, Warsaw, Poland. Courtesy of the artist and gallery.
  5. Julia Kowalska, Untitled, 2023. Courtesy of the artist.
  6. Julia Kowalska, Unseen, an animal, 2023. Courtesy of the artist.

Violent Magic Orchestra

WARP

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Interview · Andrea Bratta
Photography (in order of appearance) · Genki Arata and Tatsuya Higuchi
Follow VMO on Instagram and Spotify
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Oldyungmayn

Strike

NR presents Track Etymology, the textual corollary to nr.world’s exploration of contemporary soundscapes: A series of short interviews delving in the processes and backstories behind the releases premiered on nr.world’s dedicated platform.

I did some digging on your previous releases while preparing for this interview. One aspect that I was immediately drawn to was connecting the threads between Strike and your earlier productions. Should we go over shared specifics and differences between this new EP and your previous works? I think it would make a great starting point for us to introduce and contextualize M.A036

I’ve been DJing for many more years than I’ve been producing, so my inclination  towards creating a track comes largely from the desire to play and mix it. Like many  DJs, I am always looking for new interesting sounds that I think will fit with my  ever-growing collection, and to discover tracks (and producers) that impress and inspire me. Learning to produce using software was equally an individual learning experience for me (initially instigated by the pandemic when I was still living in UAE), as it was an experience I shared with friends. Across the Middle East, there’s not as many people pursuing this sort of music production – for various reasons – and those that are, I probably know them. It’s a very small scene that extends across the whole region, and there’s a lot of collaboration by necessity as a result. My previous efforts, for example, with my close friend and producer Van Boom, channels much of our shared interests in experimental noise and power electronics, but shaved down into tracks we both enjoy playing during our DJ sets. My earlier solo productions are a good example of many hours of imposed isolation and experimentation – it takes time to learn how to produce a signature sound and really bring the final product to a point where you’re happy with it. In the most recent EP I’ve done with estoc, there’s a few factors at play and what made it what it is…firstly, she’s a friend, and we’ve spent many hours just chatting and getting to know about each other’s lives…this year has been very pivotal for both of us, and I think it has reaffirmed certain relationships with other artists. Like my previous collaborations, there was a lot of back and forth, but also a lot of trust and compromise.  B2B DJ sets are pretty common these days, but working on tracks together and  releasing them as well is much more challenging – it requires you to trust someone else  with your sound, it’s very intimate, but the results speak for themselves. I think this EP with estoc is different than my previous releases as we took our time and it was less impulsive. 

Since we are already speaking of connecting threads, your bio states that ‘your identity is layered through both productions and performances, navigating away from a Eurocentric focus, mixing a 90’s era rave musical lexicon and a wide spectrum of music from fellow Middle Eastern producers.’ How do you find balance in an approach that feels both respectful of its influences and liberating from those same traditions and sonic stereotypes?

I think that I play what I like listening to, and therefore my sets are genuine expressions of my tastes, first and foremost. I don’t play music that’s ‘trending’, and I certainly don’t do people favors either. Some DJs opt to play based on the (expected) tastes of audiences, which is fine, but for me that leaves little room for surprise. Not that my sets are totally unpredictable, but I like to throw in unfamiliar tracks, edits, unreleased stuff from people that otherwise would never be played in European clubs. 

“For me, getting away from the Eurocentric focus isn’t only about the sounds or tracks themselves, or where the producers are from, but actually avoiding the pressure to perform and operate as a DJ with these aforementioned ‘European’ standards.”

There’s quite a bit of pressure to conform and play what people might expect, and I don’t want to do this, because I am not European, I just live here. 

Is it a mindful process, a specific sound design choice, or more of something almost unconsciously ingrained in your process, a natural approach you have towards mixing sounds, pun intended, and expressing yourself through them? 

I think DJing, and really delivering a fun, energetic performance to your audience is experiences on and off the dancefloor. Some people have very acute skills, such as a very good ear for beatmatching and blends, where some people have simply spent so much time organizing events, listening to longer sets from start to finish, and dancing themselves that they just know what works for the crowd. It’s so important that people who are DJing can relate to the audience on a very intimate level, otherwise you’re left with this very obvious disconnect. I feel my audience is usually varied, and so are there tastes, as is mine. It’s really about making everything work together, and skillfully matching things up in unexpected ways. I’m mindful about it, but most of my decisions are made ‘in the moment’, so a lot of it stems from risk-taking and experimenting, largely tied to intuition, and that’s something which becomes sharper through your own.

The sense of self-exploration and experimentation behind your music reminded me of Underground Resistance and their ethos: relating early Detroit Techno aesthetics to the social, political, and economic circumstances they were facing. 

Music and its dissemination is situated. It resonates differently depending on who’s playing it, to whom and where, and when played in club settings, that extends to what it’s mixed with and why. Most people don’t pay attention to these questions when they are going out, and I don’t blame them…it’s not always a consideration that everyone has when they want to just go out and have a good time. Although, I think audiences these days are much more conscious and inquisitive, especially given the current climate…I think this sense of affiliation to common goals and social objectives is becoming more present, especially in regards to breaking down categories. 

Do you think that nowadays, as electronic music culture has become a global mass movement and club music has generally shifted from the underground’s hazy light into the media spotlight, such stances are still possible? Do you believe that creating sonic communities on the periphery of mainstream culture is still a viable form of sonic resistance? 

Is it really a movement? I’m not sure that’s the best word to use, as when I think of movements, I think of selflessness and fading individualism for the greater good…with club culture today, I still see a lot of self-centering, egoism, choices and strategies based around economic growth at all costs. As its popularity increases, so do its misinterpretations and its easy to lose sight of the bigger picture.

“Club culture, to a large degree, feels quite co-opted at the moment, so supporting smaller, independent spaces and promoters is more vital than ever.”

I touched on the concept of resistance because I feel that it is a central theme of our contemporary world, and I imagine it being especially, and painfully, close to you as a Palestinian. 

Many, if not all, Palestinian people both in Palestine and around the world would say that resistance is a tenet of our existence, if not a vital theme of how we get through each day.

“In the same way that all marginalized people suffer under oppression, Palestinians are resisting more than just occupation and violence – we are resisting our miscategorization, as individuals, as a population and as a culture, and of our being viewed as less-deserving of our humanity.”

Club music has always positioned itself on the thin line between pure hedonism and almost political defiance. How do you feel about this dichotomy during such complicated times? 

This is a very poignant question, and one which I’ve thought about a lot these days as someone living in Berlin. On one hand, this is both my passion and my preferred source of income – neither of which I want to give up, and this is requiring me to actively pursue and accept gigs. There’s been many occasions since relocating to Germany where I wanted to give up on DJing, simply because the hostile climate towards Palestinians (or Arabs, or POC, for that matter) was so present in the scene.

“It’s not like we are never booked, but it feels we are almost always optioned last, or doubted, or tokenized.”

With this in mind, my choice to continue playing and my presence is in itself political, even if it’s sometimes just a random booking. There are events which still cater to the hedonistic crowd (evidently in Berlin), but I wouldn’t say that it’s the only kind of events I like playing for. I’ve been lucky to play a handful of gigs in the last while which center around solidarity, community and togetherness – pretty much the opposite of hedonism, or at least these events offered various / multiple reasons for people to show up. I think at the moment, balance is key. Audiences, and people in general, are just becoming more aware and conscious of the world around them, more informed, and I think club spaces should also be operating in a more informed manner, and engage with their audiences who are ultimately the ones keeping their businesses running. 

Do you think this contradiction is something that needs to be resolved, or perhaps it is something we need now more than ever to internalize as both consumers and creators, to help us better navigate the contradictory landscapes we are facing today in music, culture, and social life? 

We all still must operate within capitalism and consumer habits have infiltrated everything. Consumption is engrained now to such a degree that value is attached to everything. I hate to say it, but I don’t really know if all of this will last very long if things keep going this way.

“I think we need to have a reassessment of ‘real’ values, and create more events, spaces and projects which operate away from economic motives.”

This is something that needs to be said, at this time especially, because it is really leading to a very watered down culture overall. Social media, I feel, has greatly harmed dance music and clubbing as an experience. Connection and responsibility feels short lived. Of course, it goes without saying, it has helped to platform, amplify and support many artists and their careers, but there’s a downside as well. Attention spans are so short and people can easily take an apathetic stance while making it seem like they truly have a position.

“I think at present, DJs should use their platforms to speak for those who can’t, and use their influence positively.”

One last question to complete this release backstory’s picture: what were some of the influences behind it? Musical and not. 

I really wanted to approach this in a totally freeform way and just have fun. Working on this with estoc let me take my mind off a lot of things… estoc is such a multifaceted artist and producer; she does tons of remixes and collaborations, and I felt inspired to be pairing up with her, and especially being able to get this EP out just before she will have her FFS*. It took a while going back and forth, as she was already back in the US when we really started to hammer things out. It was really a pleasure to get the remixes back as well from 3Phaz and Brodinski, and we’re really pleased with what they came up with. Both her and I have an obsession with punk and noise, and I think together this came through in the end. We like that it’s merging so many things all at once, and also fits to the label as well, which we’ve both been huge fans of since its inception. Myself and DJ LOSER really wanted to invite her out to Berlin to play at the showcase we’re doing at Ohm next week, but unfortunately the timing wasn’t right, so I am really looking forward to meeting up with her when she’s recovered and touring again in a few months. 

Order the digital album here from 01.02.24
Interview · Andrea Bratta
Photography · Mike D’Hondt
Follow Oldyungmayn on Instagram and Soundcloud
Follow Estoc on Instagram and Soundcloud
*You can contribute to Estoc’s fundraiser here
Follow DJ LOSER on Instagram and Soudcloud
Follow Magdalena’s Apathy on Soundcloud
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iagö

Chemical Wedding

NR is excited to announce the premiere of ‘Chemical Wedding’, a music video by multidisciplinary artist iagö. The lead track and namesake song features North London rapper Tommy Saint. iagö is known for merging his tracks and the visual arts in a process that focuses on the artwork as a whole rather than just the sound he produces.

‘Chemical Wedding’ was directed by Dom Sesto with iagö taking the lead on the creative direction of the project produced by PRETTYBIRD. With its distinctive fusion of musical styles, and the heady hypnotic choreography of the video ‘Chemical Wedding’ transports you into a new space where you can fully immerse yourself in the sound and the visuals that iagö has created. NR joins the artist in conversation.  

 Where do you get your inspiration for your music from? 

As I come to think of it, I have to acknowledge my childhood. Growing up there’s such an increased level of sensitivity to certain things, from emotions to characteristics, visuals and sound. The likes of Jean-Michel Jarre to Joy Division, come to mind. 

The exposure to these different sonic and visual languages, certainly set the foundation for why I’m drawn to certain worlds, even if subconsciously. 

Presently though, the strive to create is really rooted within a conceptual framework. The idea is to develop a narrative in which I can begin to conduct a story through sound. This latest project “The Chemical Wedding” really acts as a testament to my love for the early works of Philip K. Dick and Fitz Lang’s ‘Metropolis’. This was the catalyst to “Chemical Wedding” and the birth of the project as a whole, a reference to the first sci-fi novel written in 1616.  

Did you have any challenges when working on “Chemical Wedding” and if so how did you overcome them? 

As with most creative pursuits, there are always moments where either absurdity or self-deprecation creeps in. I’m surprised we’re even talking, and the project has cemented itself into reality. Sorry, I digress…

The narrative which was set before I began recording really acts as a soundboard during the writing and production process – the safe house, if things take a turn – and a place for inspiration.

The record really expresses where my head’s been at.

“There’s truthfulness, integrity and sincerity.”

How did the collaboration with Tommy Saint come about?

“Chemical Wedding” was the first thing I recorded for the project, so I really aimed for it to be that pivotal moment in the story, the crescendo in which the plot shifts. Tommy really acted as the main antagonist.

The collaboration itself grew through a relationship I had with a previous collaborator. I knew from Tommy’s work that he’d depict the angst and energy that was necessary.

There is a lot of focus on the body and movement of the body in this work, what was the creative motivation behind this?

The influence from “The Chymical Wedding of Christian Rosenkreutz” – which is believed to be the first sci-fi novel – really played into this notion. In essence, the story depicts the symbolic representation of birth, survival and death; life is represented as a circle because it’s a constant loop. People are constantly born and constantly dying.

There’s a spiritual element to this circle, however: the end of one’s existence is not necessarily the end of life altogether. An invitation for the viewer to pull their own meaning.

What advice do you have for young creatives who are looking to work in the music industry? 

Remain honest and pure with your intentions, both in terms of your creative output and in who you are.

“There will be moments of insanity but also euphoric joy as you fly through the seventh heaven at 6 AM. It’ll be ok…”

Although, I’m still figuring it out…

Interview · Nicola Barrett
Photography · Angelo Domenic Sesto
Styling · Harry Crum
iagö wears trousers and boots BOTTEGA VENETA, vest PATRICK MATAMOROS and gloves 0HIDE

Follow iagö on Instagram and Soundcloud

spazioSERRA

Found in Transition

Since 2017, spazioSERRA has been subverting the paradigms of art curation in Milan. The unique exhibition space occupies a formerly dismissed aedicula within the Milano Lancetti train station, a site of commuting, certainly not catered for the arts.

However, over the last five years, spazioSERRA has grown into one of the most distinguished curatorial realities of the city, adopting a grassroots and collaborative ethos that revolves around a multidisciplinary collective of young personalities. They are not afraid to challenge the artistic status quo and try to democratise arts, making it a daily experience for passersby.

Its curatorial practice speaks to the present, moving within sculpture, performance and mixed media, with the now not so utopian aim of sparking a discourse on arts, culture and beauty in a suburban setting that, traditionally, was only seen for its pragmatic and structural means. 

Defying labels and refusing the conformist definition of gallery, spazioSERRA is busy narrowing the gap between art and the public sphere, growing seamlessly with the local community.

We sat in conversation with the team behind spazioSERRA.

Lorenzo Ottone: spazioSERRA aims to promote contemporary art in a suburban context. Howimportant but also challenging it is, within that specific social context, to establish adialogue with such a broad community, made of both locals and commuters, whichmay not be necessarily exposed to nor interested in art and culture and who mayhappen to find themselves by the space for other purposes? 

spazioSERRA: spazioSERRA was established to specifically cater to this audience. Our unwavering mission revolves around fostering an authentic and meaningful dialogue with the community, rendering it a matter of great significance to us. Our ultimate aim is to democratise art, liberating it from constraints both literal and metaphorical, thereby fostering accessibility, openness, and transparency. 

The challenge lies in the undeniable reality that the passersby, intentionally or fortuitously interacting with our space, constitute an immensely diverse collective. Certain exhibitions possess the power to ignite the curiosity of specific visitors, while others engender intrigue in an entirely distinct set of observers. We aspire for the passersby, who traverse the Lancetti railway station on their daily commutes, to discover something within our space that can transcend their routine, infusing it with curiosity and a touch of liveliness. 

Furthermore, cultivating a dialogue with the community holds paramount importance. The irrefutable truth remains that spazioSERRA derives its essence and purpose from this very collective. As an integral part of a bustling urban ecosystem, nestled within a public space of a train station, it finds itself intricately interwoven with the broader social fabric. Failure to maintain this vital connection would invariably result in the gradual erosion of its significance and eventual obsolescence. 

Lorenzo Ottone: The exhibitions you promote range widely, from performances to sculpture and mixedmedia. Can you please guide us throughout your curatorial approach? Within an artworld that is quite multi-faceted and fragmented, what stimulates you the most rightnow? 

spazioSERRA: We actually acknowledge and embrace the diverse and expansive nature of artistic  expression in the present era and ever-evolving landscape. We try not to confine contemporary art into a singular definition or medium and instead we aim to promote art that addresses pertinent societal issues and provokes meaningful conversations. Works that challenge established norms, promote inclusivity, and shed light on underrepresented voices resonate strongly with us. We are committed to providing a platform for artists whose practices embody social consciousness, cultural diversity, and critical discourse. We recognize that different perspectives, cultural backgrounds, and social contexts influence artistic expression. It allows for the exploration of unconventional materials, interdisciplinary collaborations, boundary-pushing artistic experiments, and the fusion of traditional and contemporary techniques. 

Ultimately, our curatorial approach is driven by facilitating meaningful connections between artists, audiences, and the broader cultural landscape. Our curatorial collective is formed by multidisciplinary individuals with diverse backgrounds, expertise, and walks of life. So we try our best to curate exhibitions that both inspire and engage, inviting visitors to embark on a thought-provoking journey through the rich tapestry of contemporary art. Over the years, our curatorial approach has evolved significantly, and we anticipate that it will continue to evolve in the future. 

Lorenzo Ottone: At the moment we are noticing an increasing attention towards archive culture.Whereas a spazioSERRA is located in an environment that unfolds at the speed ofsound, dictated by the passing of time and trains. How can art capture the presentand the zeitgeist when there seems to be so much emphasis on the past? 

spazioSERRA: Art, with its innate versatility and capacity for interpretation, possesses the remarkable ability to bridge the gap between past, present, and future. While archive culture may be rooted in preserving and revisiting historical records, art can infuse the present moment with vitality, relevance, and contemporary resonance. Rather than being constrained by the weight of the past, art can engage with history as a source of inspiration and reflection. Artists can draw upon archival materials, cultural artifacts, and collective memory to create works that explore the contemporary human experience. By recontextualizing historical narratives, art can shed light on the enduring themes, struggles, and aspirations that shape our current reality. 

Moreover, art can serve as a catalyst for dialogue and critical examination of the present. It has the power to evoke emotions and provoke thoughtful contemplation. Artists can respond to the pressing issues, complexities, and transformations of the modern world, using their creative expression to capture the zeitgeist and stimulate collective consciousness. Moreover, the immediacy of art’s impact lies in its ability to engage with the viewer on an emotional and visceral level by creating moments of connection and reflection that go beyond the barriers of time. Through these dynamic and experiential approaches, art can vividly reflect the spirit of the present, surpassing the perceived emphasis on the past and artists can evoke a profound sense of connection to the ever-evolving world around us. In short, art’s capacity to transcend temporal boundaries and its potential to explore historical narratives in a contemporary context enable it to capture the present and embody the zeitgeist.

Lorenzo Ottone: You work with young, up and coming artists. Even your own definition of collective issomething that often hails from youth and underground culture. How is the collectiveand social dimension of spazioSERRA shaping your identity? 

spazioSERRA: The majority of the artists we have worked with are in fact relatively young and emerging; we also had the chance to work with artists who are well established and belong to a different generation. We do want to provide a platform for emerging artists to showcase their talent, share their perspectives, and gain exposure within a supportive community. It is truly needed in the current art world. 

By embracing the essence of youth and underground culture, we shape our identity. We also find our distinct character and purpose through our commitment to fostering a collective spirit and creating a vibrant social space. The social dimension of spazioSERRA is equally significant. Our space is designed as a gathering place, where diverse individuals can converge, engage, and experience art in an inclusive and dynamic environment. By facilitating interactions and dialogue between artists, visitors, and the community, we cultivate a sense of shared ownership and participation. Our identity is driven by the collaborative energy that permeates spazioSERRA while fostering a sense of belonging. We strive to remain receptive to emerging trends, societal changes, and the ever-changing landscape of contemporary art. By engaging in ongoing dialogues, we ensure that our identity remains relevant, vibrant, and in tune with the aspirations of our artists and audience. 

Lorenzo Ottone: Last year, your call for artists was titled “Un posto impossibile”, an impossible place,which is what a gallery within an underground railway station may look like at first sight.Have you found an answer to your question? How utopian is spazioSERRA’s visionnow, 5 years after its opening? 

spazioSERRA: It depends on the question to be answered. Our aim is not to necessarily provide answers but more so to create an environment that could potentially generate questions. Every visitor can have their own answer or simply reflect on the questions they personally perceive. spazioSERRA is a peculiar place situated in an underground train station but it is not really a gallery and this is why the expectations from a space like this can be somehow unusual but certainly not entirely impossible. We never set out to have a utopian nor a dystopian vision. While our vision continues to evolve, we find that spazioSERRA’s essence remains firmly rooted in serving the community. The journey of the past five years has allowed us to realize that the vision itself is an ongoing pursuit—a continual exploration of possibilities and a quest to defy limitations. By seamlessly integrating art into this dynamic urban environment, we seek to reduce the boundaries that traditionally separate art from the general public sphere. Yet, we acknowledge that the road to achieving our vision is ever-unfinished. As we navigate the complexities of operating within a train station and engaging with diverse audiences, we continuously adapt, learn, and refine our approach. We try to promote art as an integral part of people’s daily lives. Art has a transformative power. The diverse voices that have graced our space, and the connections forged between artists, visitors, and the broader community determine spazioSERRA’s impact as an exhibition space. The fulfillment of the vision also depends on its ability to sustain its operations over time. These factors can shape the overall vision and determine the extent to which it aligns with the initial starting point.

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