The Sufi Architect

Suleika Mueller on photographing Nevine Nasser, the beauty of Sufi practices, plus the power of art and architecture

When photographer Suleika Mueller met London-based architect and practicing Sufi Muslim Nevine Nasser for the first time, she was utterly inspired by her work. Born and raised a Sufi Muslim herself, Suleika had often struggled to connect her medium with her spiritual practices. Nevine defies the stereotypes of Muslim Women and integrates her spirituality with creativity, most notably in the form of portraits offering a different perspective of Islam to what’s portrayed in Western media.  Suleika looks up to Nevine entirely, so much so that her work has inspired her “most personal” project yet, The Sufi Architect. Below, I talk to Suleika to understand more about the motives behind the series, the beauty of Sufi practices and the power of creativity. 

What excites you about the medium?

My work is extremely intimate and personal, I use photography to explore

subjects linked to my upbringing, identity, emotions and experiences. It’s a great tool to understand myself, the world and the people around me a little bit better and delve into subjects that I’m curious about. I think my spiritual, cross-cultural upbringing has shaped my artistic vision into a unique blend of Eastern and Western cultural values, traditions and references. My hybrid identity, the feeling of being in the in-between, though isolating as it might feel sometimes, actually has allowed me to understand and empathise with different kinds of people and point of views so I feel quite grateful to have been brought up in such an unusual way. I want to champion people, subjects and communities I truly care about, especially because I never saw any relatable representation of the Muslim community growing up.

What inspired you to start working on this project, why tell this story?

This project is one of the most personal ones to date, just because it is so closely linked to my background and highlights things I deeply care about. Growing up Sufi in the West meant that nobody around me knew anything about my practices and community. My aim has always been to spread more knowledge and highlight the practices, traditions and people I grew up with, challenging Western media’s harmful stereotypes by portraying

the Muslim community in a much more authentic and nuanced way. I was extremely inspired and touched by Nevine’s beautiful work and the space she designed and was even more so struck by how empowered and committed she is as a person. During her doctoral studies, she developed a methodology for designing transformative contemporary sacred spaces through creating the School of Sufi Teaching, a Sufi community centre in Bethnal Green where members of the Naqshbandī-Mujaddidī Sufi order regularly meet to pray, meditate and practice together. Nevine reclaimed the transformative power of sacred geometry, calligraphy, symbolism and understandings of light in the Quran to underpin and inspire the design of the space in order to support practitioners to turn towards the inner self, preparing them for meditation. This series is as much a celebration of Nevine as a person, as it emphasises and explores the beauty and transformative power of sacred Islamic art and architecture as well as Sufi practices and traditions. I believe it is truly important to tell this particular story as it gives insight into a widely unknown aspect of Islam, whilst at the same time exploring one woman’s intimate spiritual practice.

Traditionally, the majority of religious and spiritual figures are male, and architecture is still a very male dominated industry, so I really love how Nevine breaks all those stereotypes, setting an example of an empowered yet religious woman.

What was the creative process like, did you spend much time with Nevine? Where did you shoot etc.?

Nevine and I met at the community centre and she showed me around the space as we got to know each other better. We hadn’t met before so we talked about loads of different things whilst shooting. It turned out that Nevine and I share a lot of common interests and I could’ve stayed there forever just talking about our experiences, aims, practices and inspirations. I felt an instant connection to her because both our creative practices have very similar aims and goals, Nevine explores and pursues those through architecture whilst I use photography as a medium. I had prepared a few shot ideas in advance and Nevine had many ideas of her own so we just experimented and tried out different things throughout the day. A lot of the shots just emerged from her telling me where and how she usually practices within the space. Portraying Nevine’s intimate rituals felt a bit

like coming home, it brought me back in touch with the sacred traditions

of my upbringing. I’ve always wanted to show how meaningful and peaceful Sufi practices are and I guess this project is a first step in that direction. It was probably one of the most wholesome and effortless shoots I’ve done to this date. Everything seemed to just fall into place and the serenity of the space really infused the whole experience with peace and calm.

Can you pick out a couple of favourite images and talk me through them?

In Islamic culture, sacred geometry is believed to be the bridge to the spiritual realm, the instrument to purify the mind and the soul. Many spiritual and miraculous concepts are represented in the geometrical patterns, oftentimes acting as windows into the infinite, reminding of the greatness of Allah.

Nevine in meditation. Sufi practitioners regularly observe Murāqabah (arabic, translated ”to observe”). Through Murāqabah a person observes their spiritual heart and gains insight into the its relation with its creator, developing a personal relationship with Allah through self-knowledge and inquiry.

Tasbih is a form of Dhikr (arabic, translated “remembrance”) in which specific phrases or prayers are repeatedly chanted in order to remember God. The phrases are repeated 99 times, using the beads of the Subha (Muslim prayer beads) to keep track of counting.

Nevine praying Zuhr, one of the five daily Islamic prayers, facing the Qibla, the direction of the Kaaba in Mecca.

 

How do you hope your audience will respond to this project?

I really hope this project gives insight into a community and practice that is usually quite mystical and secretive. My own Sufi order is a very close-knit community but at the same time, it’s quite isolated. I always thought that it was such a shame to keep the culture, community and practices so hidden from mainstream society. I would really love for the series to open the doors a little bit, allowing a glimpse of the beauty, depth and serenity of Sufi traditions and Islamic art. I also hope Nevine’s sincerity, passion and dedication in creating a space that supports spiritual development comes across in the imagery. She is a truly inspiring and empowered woman who’s story deserves to be told.

What’s next for you?

I feel like this project really opened my eyes and made me realise how passionate I am about the subjects it touches upon. I’ve decided to make this an ongoing personal project of mine, exploring women and non-binary people who use their creative practices as an extension of their spiritual ones. I’ve already shot another series with someone from a completely different background, using a completely different art form to connect to their spirituality and I’m very excited for that one to come out later this year. If anyone reading this is interested in participating I’d love for them to reach out to me!

Frank Bowling and Sculpture

In a new exhibition at The Stephen Lawrence Gallery, rare and previously unseen sculptural works from the iconic artist are brought to the fore

Frank Bowling, Angharad’s Gift Patagonia, 1991, Welded steel, 92 x 94 x 34 cm and Sasha’s Green Bag, 1988, Acrylic, acrylic gel, polyurethane foam and found objects on canvas with marouflage, 180.6 x 294.2 cm. © Frank Bowling, All Rights Reserved, DACS 2022. Courtesy the artist. Photographed by Anna Arca.

There is unlikely a more prominent or influential name in the world of art than Frank Bowling, a painter and sculptor born in Guyana and based in London. Renowned for his use of colour and experimentation, the former RCA grad – who studied alongside the likes of David Hockney and R. B. Kitaj – spent the next 60 years fine-tuning his medium, working his way to masterdom while developing a style that merges new materials and methodologies. From iconic Map Paintings to an artwork (named Tony’s Anvil (1975)) featuring pouring paint dripping down the canvas, perhaps his paintings are what Frank is best-known for. Little does the world know about his sculptural pieces, which is precisely what a new exhibition at The Stephen Lawrence Gallery opening on 15 July aims to address. In a conversation with curator Sam Cornish, we chat about Frank’s enduring influence, his pivotal works, and the reasons why his sculptures have remained in the shadow – until now. 

“Painting has to release certain sculptural aspects, but it also has to retain aspects of the sculptural to hold its own on the wall, in order for it to be a thing.” – Frank Bowling

Frank Bowling, Hrund, 1988, Welded steel, 84 x 122 x 40 cm. © Frank Bowling, All Rights Reserved, DACS 2022. Courtesy the artist. Photographed by Anna Arca

This is the first exhibition to focus on Frank’s sculptures. Why have these works been overlooked in the past?

Interest in Bowling’s art has risen vertiginously in the last decade or so. Inevitably there are lots of areas which haven’t been explored, especially given the peculiar complexities and contradictions of his art and attitudes. At the moment interest has been concentrated in his earlier work, his Expressionist pictures, his conflicted Pop paintings and, most significantly his Map Paintings; all areas open to sociological or political analysis. This is all well and good, and in line with the mood of the time, but I think there are lots of aspects of Bowling’s work that these approaches struggle with. Bowling’s making of sculpture has been fairly isolated, so naturally have taken a back seat. His paintings’ interactions with sculpture, or the idea of the sculptural, has been remarked upon before, but my project argues it has a much more central generative role within the trajectory of his work.

Frank Bowling, Lapwing Eye (Made in Japan), 2000, acrylic and mixed media on canvas, 64.5 x 46 cm. © Frank Bowling, All Rights Reserved, DACS 2022. Courtesy the artist. Photographed by Anna Arca

Can you give some details into Frank’s relationship with sculpture? What defines his style and processes, and how did you want to represent this in the show?

We are showing seven steel sculptures by Bowling, which is probably about half he has ever made, and almost all that survived. Six were made between 1988 and 1991 and the seventh completed this year, for the exhibition. I relate his work in steel to Anthony Caro, to Cubism, to classical African Art and the art of the abstract artists of the early twentieth century of Russia and Eastern Europe. This mix of influences are handled playfully. Bowling makes a virtue of being an amateur, or at least occasional, sculptor: they do not have any tricks, but they do have a direct and in a sense surprising physicality. 

Frank Bowling, Bulbul, 1988, Detail, Welded steel. © Frank Bowling, All Rights Reserved, DACS 2022. Courtesy the artist. Photographed by Anna Arca

What comparison can be made between his sculptures and paintings?

There are many connections and overlaps. One is persistent interest in geometry, one of Bowling’s key concerns from the very beginning of his career. Bowling has commented that he turned to sculpture because he thought Colour Field Painting ‘lacked structure’. Geometry, whether used to determine the overall proportions of his paintings, or more physically present as a kind of substructure, has been crucial for Bowling to help him give his paintings a sense of order. There are a number of instances in the exhibition where similar geometric structures can be seen in painting and sculpture. 

Frank Bowling, Mummybelli, 2019, Acrylic, acrylic gel and found objects on collaged canvas with marouflage, 171.3 x 206.8 cm. © Frank Bowling, All Rights Reserved, DACS 2022. Courtesy the artist. Photographed by Anna Arca

How did you curate the show, what works did you seek to include? Can you pick out some highlights?

The 1988-91 sculptures chose themselves, although I was very pleased that Bowling had What Else Can You Put In A Judd Box completed, so it could be included. And we were very grateful to include a sculpture from a private collection. I could have kept the selection limited to paintings contemporary with the 1988-1991 sculptures, but I decided to include works from across the career, from 1960 until 2019. This gives a broader sense of the different ways his paintings have interacted with sculpture, which also creates an inherently more interesting, and I hope, exciting, display. 

Sentinel, one of Bowling’s Poured Paintings of the mid-70s is a highlight for me. But I also love Brooklyn III, which at first seems monochrome. The way Brooklyn III sits next to the very busy, object strewn and colourful surface of Mummybelli is something I am especially pleased with. The similarities outweigh the differences, which would be difficult to anticipate from photographs. I think the harmony is to do with light and the way a sense of underlying movement is contained by the overall rectangle. Of the sculptures, Angharad’s Gift Patagonia and The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat are my favourites: I’ve looked at both many times before, but they feel very different in this exhibition. The rigour of Angharad’s Gift Patagonia is clearer in the gallery space, while there are a few elements of The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat I hadn’t noticed before. I could go on, because all the works bring something special to the display.

Frank Bowling, King Crabbé, 1988, Welded steel, 68 x 50 x 30 cm. © Frank Bowling, All Rights Reserved, DACS 2022. Courtesy the artist. Photographed by Anna Arca

Any notes about the structure and pace of the exhibition itself? How do you hope the audience will experience it?

The exhibition space is divided roughly in half, with an upper and lower level, separated by a ramp and some partition walls, although with enough space left to easily look from one to the other. The paintings are hung visually, in dialogue with each other and the sculptures, rather than in chronological or thematic order. I wanted to mix large and small works, partly because of the spaces of the Stephen Lawrence Gallery, and partly because some recent displays of Bowling’s art have perhaps overemphasised literal monumentality. The movement from the very small incidents of colour and texture to very large panoramas is hugely important to Bowling’s paintings, so in a way it makes sense that his larger works can sit alongside his smaller. Obviously I had some hunches before I started about how the works would interact but I was pleasantly surprised at how many inter-connections there were, congruences of shape or structure, or materiality, even in a few instances, of colour. I would hope the viewers would pick-up on at least some of these and also notice things I haven’t.

Frank Bowling, Sasha’s Green Bag, 1988, Acrylic, acrylic gel, polyurethane foam and found objects on canvas with marouflage, 180.6 x 294.2 cm. © Frank Bowling, All Rights Reserved, DACS 2022. Courtesy the artist. Photographed by Anna Arca. Frank Bowling, King Crabbé, 1988, Welded steel, 68 x 50 x 30 cm. © Frank Bowling, All Rights Reserved, DACS 2022. Courtesy the artist. Photographed by Anna Arca. 

What’s the main goal with the show, what can the audience learn? 

I hope it’s more pleasurable than didactic. But I guess I want to impress upon people the complexity and range of Bowling’s interaction with sculpture. There has been a lot written about Bowling and landscape. I think that his more fundamental concern is with evoking human presence, and I would be pleased if that were communicated at some level.

Frank Bowling and Sculpture is at The Stephen Lawrence Gallery, University of Greenwich, London from 15 July – 3 Sept 2022. To coincide with the opening of the exhibition a new standalone monograph Frank Bowling: Sculpture has been published by Ridinghouse.

Frank Bowling, The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, 1988, Welded steel, 75 x 72 x 65 cm. © Frank Bowling, All Rights Reserved, DACS 2022. Courtesy the artist. Photographed by Anna Arca.

Frank Bowling, What else can you put in a Judd box, 2022, Welded steel, 72 x 69.8 x 57.9 cm. © Frank Bowling, All Rights Reserved, DACS 2022. Courtesy the artist. Photographed by Anna Arca.

The Road to Nowhere

Dalia Al-Dujaili on identity, storytelling and the importance of providing a platform for second-generation immigrants

Hark1karan, Zimmers of Southall (Copyright © Hark1karan, 2020-2021)

Identity is complex a complex thing. In The Road to Nowhere, a magazine from Dalia Al-Dujaili, a British-Iraqi editor and journalist, the concept of identity is torn apart, scrumpled and analysed as she addresses her frustration with a lack of accurate representation of second-generation immigrants – where so often are diaspora communities spoken for in the media and therefore turned into a “political issue only”, she says. Where in fact, migration is a vital part of global culture, and The Road To Nowhere – now in its second issue – seeks to highlight this through a celebratory merging of art and writing, told first-hand from “third-culture kids”. She says, “Humans are mosaics of their experiences, their upbringings, the people around them and their personal history. So none of us fit neatly into a box, we’re all so messy and complicated!” Below, Dalia reveals her reasons for making the magazine, what we can expect to find inside the latest issue and her personal thoughts on identity.

Courtesy of Angela Hui

What are your reasons for starting The Road to Nowhere, what provoked it?

Oof, so many reasons… I started it during lockdown of 2020 as a way to pass the time as I was still a uni student then and didn’t have much to do. It was partly a way to raise aid money for the famine in Yemen which remains one of the largest humanitarian crises in history yet receives almost no media coverage. 

However, mostly, I was frustrated at how little agency diaspora communities have over telling their own stories. Representation is few and far between; when we are represented, we are spoken for and don’t get to choose how we’re shown. I was annoyed at how migration was almost always made into a political issue only. Whilst obviously it’s inherently political, it’s so much more than that. Migration creates culture and art, feeds creativity, inspires us, connects communities and reminds us to be human, so I found the constant politicising aspects a bit objectifying, belittling and limiting. 

On the other hand, migration is one of the most important aspects of humankind’s growth and its richness and is the oldest and most natural phenomenon, yet under current policies in the UK and the EU, migration has never been under more scrutiny; immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers are fighting some of the most aggressive and oppressive policies. As children of immigrants, we owe our livelihoods to freedom of movement, so I’m desperate to fight totalitarian control of movement and borders through creativity and joy.

Edmund Arevalo

What can we expect to find inside issue two? How does it compare to the debut edition?

Firstly, it’s so much bigger than the last issue! Almost double the number of pages. And you can expect to find an extremely diverse range of stories; for this issue, we have contributors with backgrounds from Aotearoa, Ghana, Egypt, Turkey, Pakistan, India, Malaysia, Indonesia, Poland, and many more. The contributors use a range of poetry, fiction, personal essays, photography, illustration, digital art and film, and we have several interviews with trailblazers like Rohan Rakhit and Angela Hui. So I really sought out stories which greatly differed from one another but, at the same, were all connected by the same thread of their very human and sometimes even mundane nature. 

Family meal before service

Can you pick out a couple of favourite stories featured in the magazine and talk me through them? 

Oh my goodness, very difficult to pick out just a couple. But if I have to… Zain’s story is one that I keep returning to. Not only is his personal story absolutely fascinating – the move from Lahore, Pakistan to East London, then Morecambe – but the way he talks about objects, and clothes especially, as archives of our families’ migration is so relatable and poetic. Again, it’s just a deeply human story that almost any diaspora kid can relate to, no matter their background. Also, Zain’s work is just absolutely stunning. 

My interview with Angela Hui is another that I really treasure and feel very honoured to have in the magazine. Angela is about to publish her own book, Growing Up in a Chinese Takeaway, and we discussed her upbringing in rural Wales working for her family’s business. What I love about her story is how deeply Welsh and Chinese she feels. It was fascinating hearing her speak so passionately about Welsh culture and a love of Wales. I think people often forget how we do in fact love the countries we grew up in, as well as loving the cultures our parents imported for us from their homelands; Angela’s story is a reminder that we don’t have to ‘pick a side’.

Natasha Zubar

What does identity mean to you? And how have you represented (or scrutinised) the concept of identity in the magazine?

Identity is both everything and nothing. It’s a made-up concept and whist I deeply resonate with my identity as an Arab Brit, I also try to reject rigid notions of ‘identity’ because they can be so limiting. Many diaspora feel the same way because we fit in “everywhere and nowhere at the same time”, to echo Theo Gould in his TRTN piece, Mixed. I also think some aspects of identity politics can be more harmful and divisive than uniting. Identity to me is just being able to express the different parts of yourself without feeling the need to cater to a certain audience or change yourself to fit into other people’s boxes. Humans are mosaics of their experiences, their upbringings, the people around them and their personal history. So none of us fit neatly into a box, we’re all so messy and complicated! 

I think a good example of this in the magazine is Hark1karan’s Zimmers of Southall series (the cover image). Other than being obviously stunning, this series is so refreshing because it’s almost got nothing to do with Sikh culture – it’s about a community which is devoted to classic BMWs and which happens to be Sikh. The subjects of the images are evidently Sikh because of their clothing and appearance, but the series isn’t making their Sikh identity the sole focus, which just really humanises this community and de-exoticises them. Hark, perhaps unintentionally, re-writes this stereotype of South Asians being associated with Bollywood, curry and turbans, but he also shows how this community haven’t rejected their culture either; they manage to fuse their saris and Bhangra with their love of German Whips. I mean, to me, it’s just quietly genius. 

I hope in this magazine I have shown how identity is both a beautiful thing and ultimately a futile exercise – you will never be able to fully embody one identity and the magazine is part of a mission to learn how to accept this as a beneficial and powerful existence instead of it being simply frustrating. 

Rachna, Mom, 2021

What are the key takeaways, what can the audience learn?

Joy! I just want people to feel joy, and feel more open to listening to stories that challenge their views.

What’s next for you?

We have a couple exciting events lined up this year with the magazine, including a sold out screening of shorts at the Barbican, Finding Home, Forging Identity, and we’ll be selling the magazine at Bow Arts with Baesianz Makers Market. 

Currently, I’m just pushing and promoting issue two as best I can. We already have ideas and collaborators for issue three – I’d like to keep growing our online platform to showcase more audio-visual content, and I’d love to keep collaborating with arts collectives, organisations and institutions on in-person events like workshops, exhibitions and screenings/readings. But to be transparent, we need funding to make the next one even better, and the bigger our audience, the easier it is to convince someone to give us money… And as you know, funding is competitive and extremely difficult to attain. So the work starts now in anticipation for next year. 

The Road to Nowhere can be purchased here.

Jyni and Chuey, by Jai Toor, 2022

Marco Russo

Mirror Mother, Lorena Levi, 2021

Mixed, Theo Gould, 2021

Senja, by Maddie Sellers

Yousef Sabry, for The Road to Nowhere, 2022

Zain Ali, by Nancy Haslam-Chance, courtesy of Zain Ali

Hark1karan, Zimmers of Southall, (Copyright © Hark1karan, 2020-2021)

Hark1karan, Zimmers of Southall, (Copyright © Hark1karan, 2020-2021)

Constructed Landscapes

Dafna Talmor’s spellbinding landscape series encourages a more active way of looking from the viewer

You can immediately tell that this collection of imagery isn’t a literal depiction of a place. But how they’re crafted – so spellbindingly weird and off-kilter – might remain a mystery. These are the works found in Dafna Talmor’s Constructed Landscapes, an ongoing project conceived through a unique process of slicing and splicing. The work is housed over three sub-series and developed over 10 years, the result of which is a collection of remodelled environments shot over various locations in Venezuela, Israel, the US and UK. What’s interesting, though, is its merging familiarity and the unknown; maybe you’ll recognise a tree or lake, before it slowly it morphs into an experimental yet staged recreation.

Dafna is an artist and lecturer based in London whose work spans photography, video, education, fine arts, curation and collaborations. Her works have been exhibited wildly, and her pictures have been included in private collections internationally as well as public, including Deutsche Bank, Hiscox. Through her practice, she tosses all preconceptions of the photographic medium in the fire and asks us all to question the role and methods behind taking and constructing an image. Constructed Landscapes does just that as it features transformed colour negatives, alluding a version of utopia – somewhere far away from a concrete reality. 

In terms of the process, Dafna condenses multiple frames and collages the negatives. It’s a technique that enables her to re-centre the focus point of the photograph, placing more emphasis on the technique of layering and assembling, rather than an obvious subject matter. By doing so, elements from differing frames crossover and interact with one another, causing fragments to collide and, in essence, create a new version of itself. In somewhat of a succinct summary of her alluring methodology, this is how her hypnagogic photographs are formed. 

However, Dafna’s work goes far deeper than the intriguing process. In fact, the series references moments of photography history, such as pictorials processes, modernist experiments and film. Wonderfully allegorical, this opens up a dialogue about the role and study of manipulation, pointing the viewer at the crossroad of the analogue and digital divide. Yet aside from the questions that will arise, the work is simultaneously a beautiful merging of fact and fiction where burnt out hillsides, rusty toned bushes and treetops are combined. It’s a vision; one that transcends the 2D image into site specific vinyl wallpapers, spaces, photograms and publications. Not to mention the numerous exhibitions, including a recently closed show at Tobe Gallery in Budapest, accompanied by a book. 

Speaking of the works involved in this show, Dafna writes in the release: “Site-specific interventions have consisted of several iterations of a flatbed scan of a clear acrylic board – used to cut my negatives and protect my light box since the inception of the project – as source material. Over time, I became interested in the object beyond its practical function and the way in which the residue and traces of the incisions allude to the manual process in an abstract yet indexical way. Like a photographic plate, the embedded marks represent the manual labour and passing of time, acting as a pseudo document that continually evolves with each new incision.”

“Besides a series of spatial interventions, the cutting board has been used to produce several editions of direct colour contact prints to date,” she adds. “Alluding further to its subtle transformative nature, one could say the colour photograms bear a more analogous relationship via the preservation and reproduction of the one-to-one scale of the incisions. When printed, the orange reddish hues are in dialogue with the red flares – consequently transposed and scaled up from the cuts on the negatives – in the main exhibition prints.”

“Through the various components of the project, an intrinsic element of the work is embedded, suggested and explored within the photographic frame in a myriad of ways; diverse forms of reproduction, representation and notions of scale that get played out aim to defy a fixed point of view, in terms of how images of – and actual – landscapes, are experienced and mediated. Inviting the viewer to move in and out of the frame, aims to encourage a more active way of looking and perpetuate a heightened awareness of one’s position as a viewer.”

Chambers of Wonder

Renowned artist James Turrell constructs a light-bending installation at Swarovski Crystal Worlds

Photo by Florian Holzherr

The manipulation of light may at first sound like a dumfounded task made only possible by those born into the supernatural. Yet the reality is, James Turrell has perfected it for decades. Recognised world-wide for his installations and holographs, the American artist has long produced light-bending visuals and optical illusions on mass, on site and in situ. Atmospheric and provoking, Turrell’s expansive body of work has therefore garnered reputable status amongst the art world for its momentous depiction of light and how perception can be completely flipped on its axes – from skylight pieces providing a portal into the world above, to projections and constructions offering a new outlook on light and depth.

And now, Turrell’s latest endeavour is an installation of Shadow Space named Umbra, constructed permanently in Chambers of Wonder as part of Swarovski Crystal Worlds. Since opening in 1995, Swarovski Crystal Worlds has welcomed residents including Yayoi Kusama who premiered the infamous Chandelier of Grief, a rotating and immersive fixture composed of Swarovski crystal; or Into Lattice Sun by Lee But, an architectural translation of the utopian landscape. For this latest addition, Turrell was the perfect suitor. Carla Rumler, cultural director of Swarovski and curator of Swarovski Crystal Worlds says how Turrell’s credulous work has “always” been on her mind; “he was on my wish list,” she explains. A “logical” addiction to the site replete with its own iteration of the Seven Wonders of the World, Turrell is the first to avoid the use of crystal entirely. Instead, fragments – or “ingredients”, as Carla puts it – are adorned in such a way that it gives off a similar effect to the glassy composition found in crystals. Whether it’s the contraction of light, the reflection; “Turrell works with spectral colours a lot and in an essential way,” she adds.

Photo by Florian Holzherr

“I am very much taken to how light works in crystal,” says Turrell in an announcement. “Umbra is about the light that is in the soft shadow. In a lunar eclipse, you have the soft light as opposed to the very strong light that you saw reflected off the moon. This is a kind of light that is very soft and filling that I love. If you are looking at this piece, it is not about the light that surrounds the edge, it is the large expanse or panorama of this very soft light that actually comes from the reflection in the room.”

The Turrell and Swarovski pairing is an apt one at least, not only in the attention to detail but also in the likemindedness between both company and artist. “He doesn’t work with everybody,” shares Carla, “we are very honoured that he’s worked with us.” It was a harmonious discussion as to what would be included in the installation, wherein both sides deliberated the medium that would best fit the space and purpose of the artwork. “It turned out that Shadow Space is the perfect one for us,” she adds, taking into consideration the size and audience experience. “We said, ‘what colours would you like to use?’ He said how it was a surprise.” Causing no moment of hesitation or worry – it’s James Turrell, after all – there couldn’t have been a more suited and enjoyable outcome. This is a thought reciprocated from both sides. “He was very happy with the output because most of his forms are made to be temporary,” adds Carla, “so the quality of the room here is so perfect. It’s like approaching an artwork or a picture that will not go away. He was so impressed by the quality of the room because he’s never experienced it so precise.”

Hair of the Future

Zhou Xue Ming explores otherworldly structures and techniques in his crafty hair designs

Land on the Instagram account of Zhou Xue Ming and you’ll be instantaneously enamoured, scrolling and pausing – with curious hesitation – as you start to question the process behind each of his creations. A hair designer by title, Shanghai-based Xue Ming is more of an artist-stroke-wizard as he expels his craft on the artful placement of a do, from the decoratively lavished to the perfectly coiffed. Proving that there’s more to hair than hair itself, Xue Ming has been working in the industry for almost 10 years now. And ever since his first hairdo, he’s since been published on the covers of Nylon China and Modern Weekly Style, and has collaborated with an abundance of makeup artists, from Shuo Yang at Jonathan Makeuplab to Yooyo Keong Ming. 

Xue Ming’s impact is mammoth, not least in the creative application of colour but also in the use of materials. It’s not just hair that’s incorporated into these designs, for there’s also the unexpected addition of metallics, wires, peacock-like feathers, spikes or a material that appears like the cracks in a frosted lake. With a vast “enthusiasm for artificial hair”, he tells me, it’s no surprise that his portfolio succeeds in pushing the boundaries as to what can be worn on the top of a head. Sadly, we’re not going to be getting any answers as to how he makes his pieces – “this is my little secret” – so instead, we invite you to marvel and leave the methodology to the imagination.

One of the most recurring motifs of Xue Ming’s is the periwig, known as a highly styled wig worn on formal occasions, often sported by judges or barristers as part of their professional attire. Explicitly artificial, these wigs usually tend to have unmissable height and weight to them, placed atop a head in a composed and careful manner. The periwig was most popular from the 17th to the early 19th century, typically composed from long hair with curls on the sides. The colours are usually dyed in more realistic hues, whereas Xue Ming’s are quite the opposite. 

In fact, Xue Ming’s take on the periwig is widely juxtaposed with the more traditional concept of the wig. In one design, the hair appears like an explosion of fireworks with its vibrant yellow tones and splaying textures – the type that makes you want to reach out and touch, even though it looks like it could burn you. Others are more multi-toned and soft, displaying a palette of blush pink, sky blue, purple and sunshine yellow; while some – with pointy edges similar to a sea urchin – look completely unwearable. Or so you’d think. Not too long ago, the designer worked with a “young lady called ‘Princess’”, wherein he was “pasting posters with ‘princess’ cartoon images to prepare the periwig”. He ended up covering the entire periwig with these posters; “I was really interested to see the result”.

The work is a wonderful merging of old and new, where traditional headgear has been transformed, warped and lavished in the modern style and technique of Xue Ming. You can easily see some of the silhouettes being worn in the past, most likely the Regency era, while others are drawn from a far-reaching trend found in the future. Perhaps he’s ahead of his time, and world of hair might become little more creative in the years to come.

Just Dance: 7y98D

Ouro, the Vancouver-based dance collective, addresses the climate emergency in its hypnotic dance project with RubberLegz

Global warming on the cusp of becoming irreversible – or perhaps it’s already there. As I’m writing this, I’m gazing out the window at a divided sky; one half is clear blue, the other is expelling snow. Today marks the beginning April, and this icy, interchangeable weather is highly unusual for the dawning days of spring. This is just another noticable effect of climate change.

In response to the impeding doom of the heating planet, many artists and creatives are utilising their practices as a way of steering action. It’s far less about raising awareness, now, for we’ve gone far beyond conversational points or discussion. Now, it’s about actionable response. Ouro Collective is doing just that in its work, a Vancouver-based dance collective merging hiphop, waacking, breaking, popping and contemporary dance in its evocative works. Founded in 2014 by Cristina Bucci, Dean Placzek, Maiko Miyauchi, Mark Siller, and Rina Pellerin, the collective has since evolved from a group of artists “looking to share and learn from each other” into something much bigger, and more impactful. The group have collaborated with artists spanning all mediums over the years and, in its eighth season, this is its most exciting yet with its roster of Ash Cornette, Cristina Bucci, Eric Cheung, Maiko Miyauchi, Rina Pellerin, and Shana Wolfe. All of which hail from diverse cultural and dance backgrounds, wherein they forge a collaboration that demands a need for “dialogue, creative innovation and community building”, the collective explains. 

The result of which has been merged into project named Just Dance: 7y98D, a mesmerising piece composed in collaboration with Rauf “RubberLegz” Yasit. The work is inspired by The Climate Clock, a public installation created by an Golan and Andrew Boyd located that counts down the days until unrepairable climate catastrophe – where no longer can we reverse the burns, scars and wounds of humanity’s impact. Below, I chat to the collective about collaborating with RubberLegz, who’s “well known in the street dance community”, learning the hypnotic choreography over Zoom, and how dance can be a vital tool for addressing the climate emergency. 

It’s interesting to hear that you learnt the choreography through Zoom, how did this pan out?

In 2020, we received the Chrystal Dance Prize, an award from Dance Victoria, which supports projects with international collaborators. We began rehearsals through Zoom, in our own homes, as Vancouver was on lockdown during the COVID-19 pandemic and RubberLegz was in Los Angeles. As rehearsals progressed, the ban on international travel was not yet lifted, and we were forced to continue the project virtually. 

Learning movement online is challenging in a number of ways, but learning RubberLegz’s movement online is a game-changer. His movement vocabulary stems from breaking and threading concepts which results in various limbs folding and threading into one another, and with Zoom, everything is backwards. Though challenging, this opportunity created space and trust between the dancers and choreographer.

This trust also extended into the film’s direction as the storyboarding and filming preparations took place online. Co-director David Ehrenreich said: “It’s the first dance film I’ve made, and I enjoyed the unique collaborative process. I imagine it’s similar to adapting a play into a film; this live performance is being created, and we got to go watch it and design the film around what you see at the rehearsals. Rauf approaches movement and the human body in such an idiosyncratic way—we wanted to champion the exploration they were doing.”

The project raises awareness about climate change, a highly pertinent and relevant topic of today. How do you do this in the choreography and wider project?

The title of this project was inspired by The Climate Clock, a public art installation created by artists Gan Golan and Andrew Boyd set on Manhattan’s Union Square. The clock counts down the time left to avoid climate disaster. Ouro became aware of The Climate Clock in 2019 when seven years and 98 days remained. Faced with this stark knowledge, OURO was inspired to bring “the most important number in the world” – as described by the creators of the clock – to dance audiences. 

During the filming of 7y98D, we endured extreme weather conditions. On one of our filming days, Vancouver had the worst air quality in the world, and on another, temperatures reached over 40℃. The air was thick from the smoke of neighbouring forest fires. We had to alter quite a bit of movement to adapt to the environment, so in a way, the choreography underwent its own type of natural selection.

The choreography begins with dancers moving in a harmonious link, mirroring the cyclic nature of the earth. As the piece progresses, the dancers begin disconnecting and linking onto themselves. The tone shifts and movement becomes faster and more urgent as they adapt to new environments. We are currently in rehearsals for our full-length theatre piece and are adapting the choreography seen in the film for a live audience.

What reaction do you hope to receive from your audience?

We hope audiences reconnect as a community during this critical window for action to prevent the effects of global warming from becoming irreversible. Making small personal changes in our lives can pave the way for a better relationship with the earth. 

“It’s a challenge to make a film about how little time we have left to save our planet without it feeling depressing or preachy. Dave and I wanted to present this film in a way that allowed the audience to connect to the movement of the dancers on an emotional level first and wait till the end to provide some context.” Co-director, Jeff Hamada explains. “Hopefully it leaves people feeling just as inspired to go out and do something.”

In what ways can dance and art be an agent for change, especially in relation to the warming climate?

Art can be an agent for change, as it inflicts subconscious responses and emotional connections that impose lasting meaning for the viewer. With a topic like climate change, it is easy to feel disconnected and complacent, as its effects are often regarded as gradual and not fully visible. We wanted to find a way to encourage our audiences to recognise our current situation and empower them to make changes while we still have time. Jeff Hamada said, “The rotations that happen throughout the film are meant to be a reminder that the climate clock is always ticking, but also to convey that there is still time.”

What’s next for you?

We are currently adapting 7y98D into a full-length stage piece, which will premiere in summer of 2022 in Vancouver. Following that, we will be touring the work, and running our summer programming and workshops.

Dates for our community and ocean cleanups will be released in the next few months. They will be open to the public and followed by workshops led by our team and collaborators. We encourage everyone to come, learn and contribute to reversing the Climate Clock. 

Making Strange: The Chara Schreyer Collection

DelMonico Books’ new publication asks us to rethink the world through art. Its curator, Chara Schreyer, tells us more

Carrie Mae Weems

In a new publication from DelMonico Books, the viewer – moreover the whole of society – is tasked to see the world through a refreshed lens. Entitled Making Strange: The Chara Schreyer Collection, the magnanimous tome collates nearly 250 artworks that span over 100 years, formulating a deep and comprehensive study brought to us by Chara Schreyer, the curator of the project. Compiled over three decades, Chara examines the definition of perception, where we, the audience, are encouraged to rethink the everyday in accordance to the trailblazing and irreverent work of French painter Marcel Duchamp plus the Russian literary critic Viktor Shklovsky and his conception of ‘making strange’.

A multitude of works on this topic are brought to the fore, including Andy Warhol, Glenn Ligon, Lawrence Weiner, Jenny Holzer, Diane Arbus, Cindy Sherman among many others. The book is edited with text by Doulas Fogle, Hanneke Skerath and includes a foreword by Chara Schreyer with an introduction penned by Fogle. Additionally, the tome features newly commissioned essays by Geoff Dyer, Briony Fer, Russell Ferguson, Elena Filipovic, Bruce Hainley, Eungie Joo, Sarah Lehrer-Graiwer, Annie Ochmanek, Jenelle Porter, Joan Rothfuss, Lynne Tillman, and Mika Yoshitake. Below, I speak to Chara on the topic of the collection, how she curated such a vast project and the specific ways in which art can be used to change the course of history: “We all really need to be challenged today whether it’s by visual artists, poets, or musicians. The world needs artists to shake us up.”

Richard Artschwager

What inspired you to start working on this book and collection, was there a reason or moment that sparked it?

Regarding Making Strange, I was motivated to commission a book about the collection for two reasons: one, the works in the collection are spread out over five different locations, so I was curious about what the works that are not in the same house might say to each other when brought together in a book format; and two, I realised that, one day after I’m gone, these works will be dispersed with a number of them promised to museums, and so on. I wanted to have a record of their intimate relationship with each other together in this collection before they one day go on their own individual journeys to new homes.

Having worked with the collection for 30 years, what challenges or surprises did you encounter?

One of the most interesting things for me in seeing the works brought together in Making Strange were the serendipitous synergies and unexpected conversations that came about from bringing these works together virtually in a book format. I really loved seeing how the authors Douglas Fogle and Hanneke Skerath brought very different kinds of works together under provocative curatorial propositions. It was really thrilling, for example, to see Ruth Asawa’s hanging wire sculpture Untitled S.437 (Hanging, Seven-Lobed, Two-Part Continuous Form within a Form with Two Small Spheres) (1956) in a chapter called ‘Minimalism and Its Discontents’ with Donald Judd’s Untitled stack (1969), Catherine Opie’s landscape photograph Untitled #5 (Icehouses) (2001) and Felix Gonzalez Torres’s light string sculpture Untitled (Tim Hotel) (1992). And there are many more surprising moments in the book.

Renate Bertlmann

What was the curatorial process like over this period; where did you source your artworks? What did you seek to include and what didn’t you?

The motivating factor in all my collecting has always been one simple idea: I’ve always wanted to collect works by artists that changed the course of art history. Early on, I worked with an advisor with whom I had a fantastic curatorial relationship. We purchased a number of core works in the 1990s including an example of Marcel Duchamp’s Boîte-en-valise (1935-41) that was once owned by Andy Warhol (who is also in the collection), a classic stack by Donald Judd and Robert Gober’s iconic Deep Basin Sink (1984) which turns the Duchampian readymade on its head by recreating an unplumbed sink fixture completely by hand. In a sense, everything in the collection flows from, around, or into the work of Duchamp. Even Georgia O’Keefe and Arthur Dove, two American modernist painters we would never think of as ‘Duchampian’, were friendly with and often showed together alongside Duchamp at the time. But it’s not just Duchamp’s contemporaries. The lineage extends in all sorts of ways up through the likes of Andy Warhol to younger generation of artists from Kaari Upson, Glenn Ligon to Rirkrit Tiravanija.

Dan Flavin

What artworks can we expect to find inside, can you pick out a few favourites or key pieces?

As I always say, choosing your favourite works is like choosing between your children. It’s really impossible as you love them each in different ways. With that said, I do find myself continually enamoured with Eva Hesse’s Top Spot (1965) and Robert Gober’s Basin Sink (1984). Is Top Spot a painting or a sculpture? It pushes itself outside of the boundaries of the canvas into the space that you’re inhabiting. Hesse exploded the boundaries between sculpture and painting and did it as a woman in an art world still dominated by men in the 1960s. Gober’s sink also asked all the right (or maybe wrong?) questions. It is proudly hand-crafted as opposed to machine made. It was created as a non-working sink with all the melancholia that this suggests. It’s ghostly. As the artist created it in the middle of the AIDS crisis its lack of functionality also became a metaphor for the individuals whose bodies were no longer working correctly and who ended up losing their lives to the disease. This work has so many levels.

In many ways though, the spiritual guiding force of the collection (and of the book Making Strange) is Marcel Duchamp’s Boîte-en-valise (1935-41) as it is a collection/retrospective in its own right with its miniature reproductions of the artist’s major works including his ready mades. In some ways, this work, which is the inspiration for the title and first chapter of Making Strange, is the defining core of the collection. Many other artists in the collection can be seeing as operating in the conceptual wake of Duchamp.

Francesca Woodman

The topic of defamiliarised art is an interesting one. In what ways can art help us rethink the world? How can this be applied to a modern context?

I think a lot about many of the women artists in the collection and the way in which they’ve made the body strange, from Hannah Wilke’s vulvic ceramic sculptures, Renate Bertlmann’s photograph of the tips of two condoms that seem to resemble a pair of knees to Alina Szaponikow’s lamp sculpture Lampe-bouche (Illuminated Lips) (1969) with its alien-like disembodied mouth or Louise Bourgeois’s abstracted marble female torso Harmless Woman (1969). Each of these artists was working in a way that we might call defamiliarised. They really questioned the role of the female body in culture and how we objectify it. They made the body strange in a way that challenged us to rethink our relationship to gender. It’s clearly an extremely relevant way of looking at the world still today. In the end, I love art that has that edge that makes you get out of your comfort zone. We all really need to be challenged today whether it’s by visual artists, poets, or musicians. The world needs artists to shake us up.

How do you hope your audience will respond to this book, what can they learn?

I really hope that the readers will enjoy seeing the art historical connections between the various works in the collection. I also love how Douglas Fogle and Hanneke Skerath edited the book as a series of visual essays. The works speak to each other and have conversations that run parallel to the wonderful commissioned texts on individual works in the collection by 14 art historians, curators and critics around the world. 

Ruth Asawa

Lee Friedlander

Gilbert & George

Harmony Hammond

Glenn Ligon

Christian Marclay

Jean-Luc Moulène

Frank Stella

Kara Walker

Andy Warhol

Making Strange: The Chara Schreyer Collection is available here.

Rhapsody In The Street

A Magazine Curated By onboards Grace Wales Bonner for its 22nd issue, featuring archival and newly commissioned works that respond to the tradition of Black poetry, literature and portrait photography of the 20th century

Anthony Barboza. (1972) Self Portrait Kamoinge

Grace Wales Bonner is a polymath of sorts. After launching the eponymous fashion label Wales Bonner in 2014, the British-Jamaican designer has been actively addressing topics of identity, politics, sexuality and race through a merging of luxury and critical design – that which is informed by research and a hybrid both of European and Afro-Atlantic culture. Her graduate collection Afrique, which debuted in 2014 with a cast of Black male models, received the L’Oréal Professional Talent Award; the AW15 collection Ebonics proceeded and, the same year, she was awarded Emerging Menswear Designer at the British Fashion Awards. It wasn’t long until she was awarded the LVMH Prize of $300,000 for Young Fashion Designers, which was given just after Grace’s SS17 show Ezekiel, featuring a collection of structural works draped in beading and history, drawing inspiration from Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia. Her work often signifies mythology and cultural narratives, and has, since the dawning of her label, continuously challenged expressions of beauty and identity – her recent SS22 collection named Volta Jazz being the latest example.

And now, Grace is wearing a slightly different hat. She was asked to curate the 22nd issue of A Magazine Curated By, entitled Rhapsody In The Street and displaying an academic and visual survey of Grace’s research spanning 200 pages. The Paris-based magazine explores a different fashion designer with each issue, and with this one, Grace responds to the tradition of Black poetry, literature and portrait photography from the 20th century. Within, you’ll find archival work and historical ephemera coupled with newly commissioned essays, poems, paintings and photography from the likes of Ming Smith, Zoë Ghertner, Paul Mpagi Sepuya and Tyler Michell, the latter of whom has captured Wales Bonner’s AW17 collection Ezekiel. It’s a tome to cherish and hold, thought of as a reference point for conversations surrounding topics such as Jamaican dancehall and the Kamoinge photographic group in Harlem, with published archives from previously unseen Ghanaian film photography and poetry by Lynette Yiadom-Boakye to name a few. Grace tells me more about the issue below.

Harley Weir. (2015) Wales Bonner Spring Summer 2015 Ebonics

Curated as a “response to the tradition of Black poetry, literature and portrait photography of the 20th century,” what does this mean exactly? How are you responding to these art forms?

Rhapsody in the Street explores Black style as a lineage and quality of beauty recorded in history by portraiture. I see the issue as a chorus: a hybridity of different voices speaking as one, and an exploration of the archive as a process of recording collective memories.

Talk me through your research process – where did you source your content, who did you seek to include?

I wanted to create a rhythmic and intellectual space underlined with a magical spirit. Starting points for research were Amiri Baraka’s In Our Terribleness and Roy DeCarava & Langston Hughes, The Sweet Flypaper of Life. Both publications explored a mixture of photography and poetry which I wanted to respond to in this issue. 

Zoë Ghertner. (2021) Selena Forrest wears Wales Bonner, Black Sunlight (Autumn Winter 2021) . Adidas x Wales Bonner (Autumn Winter 2021)

Can you pick out a couple of favourite moments from the magazine to look out for? 

I feel honoured to be able to have included Greg Tate’s reflections on Kamoinge, the photographic group from Harlem, in the magazine. A self portrait by Anthony Barboza, a former member of Kamoinge, is featured on the cover of the magazine. 

How do you hope your audience will respond to the magazine? What stories are you hoping to share?

Rhapsody in the Street is an opportunity to experience, honour and revel in a lineage of beauty that unravels and reveals itself over time. With this, I open the door to new possibilities and the continuous unfolding of our story.

Paul Mpagi Sepuya. (2021) Mirror Study for Grace (0X5A4149)

Ming Smith. (2021) Self-Portrait in Wales Bonner, Black Sunlight (Autumn Winter 2021)

Ming Smith. (ca.1977) Acid Rain – White Socks (Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology) by Marvin Gaye, Soul Purrfection Version)

Steven Traylor. (2021) Damian Marley wears Wales Bonner (Autumn Winter 2020) Lovers Rock Judah Two-Toned Tailored Jacket

Cover, A Magazine Curated By Grace Wales Bonner

Acid Coral Template

Tuomas A. Laitinen addresses important questions of ecology and climate change through a series of glass-made structures and installations

A Proposal for an Octopus, series, 2019. Photo: Jussi Tiainen

The octopus has earned a spot as perhaps one of the most visited subject matters in art. From 19th century Japanese erotica through to modern painting classics, the eight-armed sea creature has drawn many artistic practitioners in with its alluring symbology and anthropomorphic influences. Mysterious, intelligent, adaptable and fluid; the tentacled and unpredictable animal represents both wisdom and strategy. For instance, in the recent documentary My Octopus Teacher, we saw the ocean protagonist cover herself with shells to hide from impeding prey, outsmarting the sharks in an instant as she continued to poke her many legs into its gills. So it’s no wonder the octopus has caught the attention of artists and designers over the years, with Tuomas A. Laitinen being the most recent – an artist who works across video, sound, glass, algorithms, plus chemical and microbial processes.

In his most recent body of work Tuomas merges the line between art and science, weaponising materiality and craft to take a crystallised view at the world of ecology – that which is done so through octopus-shaped glass structures and compositions. The work, named Acid coral template, has been presented at the inaugural Helsinki Biennial this year, and he’s also recently been commissioned by Daata to create an AR artwork for the launch of the platform’s AR app – a continuation of what was first commissioned by Daata in 2020. “I had been researching protein crystallography for a few years and started to think about how I could translate this data in my work,” he tells me. “In that video work, I used the protein models to create these very baroque body augmentations for the animated characters in the video.” Simultaneously, at the time of making, Tuomas was working on coral growth simulations and eventually these two worlds collided. “The protein model for this particular coral is based on the Yersinia Pestis (plague) bacterium. So there is a weird fictional metamorphosis woven into the fabric of the work. A bacterium becomes a speculative coral. It’s not really about representing the data as such but making an interpretation, a translation, or a transmutation of it and consequently placing it into new environments through AR.”

PsiZone, 2021. Installation view, Helsinki Biennial

Tuomas grew up in a small Finnish town, a place known the centre point for glass production in Finland and in the 20th century. He started working on his installations as a teenager using junkyard materials and scraps, “so that was my fist touch to art, even though there were no such categories in my mind then,” he says. After a stint in music, Tuomas decided to attend art school and pursued his studies at Finnish Academy of Fine Arts, which is where his love of sound, moving image, 3D animation, light and installation first bloomed; his debut glassworks were created around 10 years ago and “were basically custom lenses for a camera”, while his first augmented reality piece was borne in 2016. Now living in Helsinki, he often works with various artists and researchers to question the role of ecology and production, often employing a profound mix of translucent materials such as glass and chemicals, as well las microbial processes and algorithms. 

For the last five years, Tuomas has turned his focus onto the eight-legged creature and its home: the coral reef. “I’ve been making glass sculptures for octopuses as an attempt to find ways to think with these extraordinary lifeforms and, on a larger scale, ocean ecosystems. The octopus started to feel like a relevant conductor for opening up various ecological questions, providing a tentacular and modular model for organising ideas and artworks: ‘nine minds’ in one body. There is always a core brain there, but the structure allows a certain decentralisation to happen.” In a wider context, Tuomas strives to question ecology but also to touch upon the various mythologies that are attached to it, “and ideas coming from processes of knowledge production.” He adds: “And in some way, an element of cli-fi and sci-fi is present in the entanglements of my work – especially climate fiction, where the weather or the ecosystem is often seen as a protagonist. The current path in my work started in 2010 when I discovered some key texts from feminist new materialist theorists. That moment presented a major shift in perspective, and it is still affecting a lot of my work.”

Haemocyanin, 2019. Still from the video

And now, when thinking about the relationship between ecology and sustainability, it’s universally thought of as a delicate and necessary relationship. Conserving the earth’s waters, soil and ecosystem is vital in order to remain harmonious with the environment and the incoming – or better yet the present – affects of climate change. Tuomas’ work not only proves the impact of art when it comes to raising awareness of climate change, but that it’s a an aesthetic reminder of how fragile the natural world can be, where with just a shudder, slap or bash it can break it into tiny fragments. 

“For me, the idea of ecology is something that emerges from being sensitive to processes of mutual coexistence,” he explains. “When I think of ecology, I often come back to the notion of overlapping symbiotic processes and questions of biodiversity. At the level of making art, it means that individual works (like this coral reef) emerge out of an extensive world building or thought process rather than clearly defined project boundaries. A certain bundle of actions and reactions allows a specific outcome or a life form to appear, and I think that this is a sort of a parable of an ecological process. Feminist theorist Deboleena Roy talks about this notion of ‘feeling around for the organism’ in her book Molecular Feminism, and it’s been one of the important reminders on how to look for kinship with other-than-human lifeforms. And then, on another scale, as a citizen concerned with environmental issues, I am trying to find ways to support youth climate actions, but on an artistic level, it’s all about these subtle differences and tentative approaches.

It seems to me that understanding different scales and the resulting perspective shifts are quite crucial tools in relation to thinking about ecological transformations.”

A Proposal for an Octopus, series, 2019. Photo: Jussi Tiainen

Protean Sap, 2020. Stills from the video