The Essence of Making: An Interview with Designer/Architect Paul Mok

ANTE – Thanks, Paul, for speaking with us today! Your practice spans Architecture, Design and Art; yet, you’ve noted in past interviews that you work across different disciplines in order to best translate a “concept” into reality. Can you explain more about this philosophy of working to adapt concepts into the real world, and how that has manifested both in artistic projects and commercial projects with clients? 

Paul Mok – There are two tricky terms here: concept and disciplines“Concept” is tricky because it usually means a “clear idea”, and that is precisely what I have gradually walked away from in the past few years as a designer. I was trained to derive iterations of design from a clear concept very early on in my career. However, the more I worked in the design field, the more I have come to realize that concepts are too often just alibis to rhetorically justify certain irrational, personal design decisions. I find the irrationality productive and even necessary, but not the alibis. 

To unlearn anything would be a years-long process. I started rejecting my acquired design method, subconsciously at first, then consciously, gradually replacing the void that used to be the “concept” with collections of seemingly unrelated elements – short writings, aimless strokes on paper, gestural forms made of clay and a few other projects – some art installations, some small commercial projects, and some academic works – have been delivered through this process. So, in a way, the concept I am adopting now is precisely the lack of it [the lack of any defined concept]. It is not about bringing a concept into reality. It is about letting reality – a specific set of circumstances – be translated into and – more importantly – addressed through the design process. And because of that, I am skeptical of the confinements implied by the notion of “disciplines”. Architecture, design and art are different only in a practical, circumstantial sense, I think, not in the essence. 

New York-based Hong Kong architect/designer/artist Paul Mok
Installation image at Gallery GAIA: “The Story of Mundane” a solo exhibition by Paul Mok

 

ANTE –  The value of the projects you’ve worked on is not only respected by clients and your peers, it is also shown by the awards they have received. In 2014, you worked on a project that won the AIA’s Honor Award for Interior – just as you entered Harvard for your Master’s degree in Architecture. Can you tell us about this project? Can you also discuss how this experience informed the beginning of your studies at Harvard?

PM – That [project] was a dining hall renovation that I worked on during my two years as a designer at Index Architecture Ltd.: a small architectural office in Hong Kong led by an AIA architect. We were given an existing space with lots of pipes and ducts that were to remain along the walls, and we proposed to conceal them with some curved panels made of weaved synthetic rattan. We also embedded lighting fixtures and storage spaces within those panels. The project won the AIA International Regional Award, I think, because we managed to resolve almost all the given site conditions and programing requirements with a minimal, singular design gesture. That was one of the last projects I worked on in the office before moving on to grad-school. 

In those 2 years of practicing in Hong Kong, I was working full-time in the architecture office and, on the side, working on a house renovation as a personal project, along with a monastery renovation and an idea competition (with Dennis Chau and Florence Lam, which we won third place) all at the same time. My “normal” work day would begin at 9am and end at around 3-4am. I thought the more I worked, the clearer my vision as a designer would be. I recently saw an interview with [recently deceased artist] Ulay in which he described how he tattooed and cut his own skin off as an art project but after all that effort, he said, “it still didn’t deliver the answer”. That was how I felt by the end of the second year practicing in Hong Kong.

Entering grad school gave me the time and space that I didn’t know I needed to explore the more abstract, essential, and fundamental side of design. Instead of what and how to design, I needed to know why I design. 

 

ANTE -Your professionalism and dedication to your studies has earned you multiple scholarships and Dean’s List mentions, both during your architecture studies at the University of Hong Kong, which honored you with a prestigious study abroad exchange semester at Princeton University, and during your Master’s in Architecture at the Harvard Graduate School of Design. Can you talk to us a bit about your dedication to your academic development: what were some of your favorite classes and how have they translated to success as a professional architectural designer?

PM – I was drawn to both the theoretical and the making aspects of design education very early on. At the Harvard GSD, I took an option studio with Ken Smith, a New York-based landscape architect. It was one of the first studios in which I explored a design process driven primarily by the making process. I rhetorically titled the project “Project Noctambulism”, hinting on the idea of taking actions subconsciously. In the same semester, I worked on the Komorebi Pavilion with Professor Mark Mulligan, Japanese engineer Jun Sato, and a team of schoolmates at the GSD. It was a plexiglass pavilion that was weaved together in a somewhat ad-hoc manner. 

Both experiences had a significant impact in reinforcing my confidence in the essence of making, which later became a method to address abstract issues, and gradually becoming a core design philosophy.

Project Noctambulism, material study (below) and final outcome (above,) Images courtesy Paul Mok

Komorebi Pavilion, material study (below) and Komorebi Pavilion (above,) Images courtesy of the Harvard Graduate School of Design. Images courtesy Paul Mok.

ANTE – Can you walk us through your Harvard Graduate thesis project and the concept of “play” both as it relates to your studies and your professional projects?

PM – I titled the thesis “To Play”. In developmental psychology, “playing” could mean negotiating the perception of reality through the act of creating. 

I began the thesis by asking “how is reality perceived?” I soon came across a demolished social housing, and I found it a perfect architectural anchor point – social housing is the most objective architectural typology, but its demolition made it a highly subjective event. 

Through a series of drawings, architecture models and conversations, I reacted to a found Youtube video of the housing recorded by a former tenant of the housing who went back to record it before its eventual demolition. The final outcome was an absurd speculative proposal for a student-housing in LA based on the idiosyncratic personality I deduced from the 12-minute video. Looking back, it wasn’t a thesis that set out to resolve a specific problem, but it demonstrates a crucial self-awareness as a designer that opened up the design process to intuition, personal realities, subconsciousness, and the notion of craftsmanship. And it was from a very similar process that I have designed the installations <A Fountain Head> and <You Killed A Kiwi – A Situation Comedy For Those With Wounded Egoes>, and the two displays – <Gross Grows> and <Out Of Thick Air> – that I made for lifestyle brand WORM NY.

Above and below, alternate images from Thesis: To Play, Images courtesy Paul Mok.
“A Fountain Head”, Image courtesy Paul Mok.
You Killed a Kiwi – A Situation Comedy For Those With Wounded Egos, Image courtesy Paul Mok.
“Out of Thick Air”, Image courtesy Paul Mok
“Gross Grows”, Image courtesy of Paul Mok

 

ANTE – Since graduating Harvard Graduate School of Design in 2018, you have worked as a designer at nARCHITECTS PLLC in New York: this experience comes after you have worked at both Michael Maltzan Architecture in LA, and PARA Project in New York. Can you walk us through some of the key projects you have contributed to during each of these roles in your career?

PM – At Michael Maltzan Architecture, I worked on the schematic design of a student dormitory for Art Center College of Design. At PARA Project, I worked on the schematic design of an artist studio extension in New York.

I have been working as a designer at nARCHITECTS for almost 2 years now. The first project I worked on was a 5-story warehouse renovation project commissioned by the EDC. We were tasked to convert the 200,000-square-feet existing building into a new Made-In-NY campus for the garment industry in New York. I worked through the Schematic Design phase, the Design Development phase, as well as producing the final construction documents. Currently, I am working on the renovation of Ciszek Hall – a dormitory for the Jesuit men-in-formation in the Bronx. 

 

ANTE – Can you walk us through a few recent projects that have demonstrated your achievement and engagement as a leading architect/designer in your field? 

PM – Aside from all the professional and conceptual projects I previously mentioned, I have been working on a school design with Joe Qiu, my former classmate at the GSD, since 2015. It is a primary school design that pioneers small-class-teaching in rural China. 

The decades-long implementation of one-child policy and rigorous rural-urban migration have led to a significant reduction of students in rural China. Small-class-teaching, as an alternative model of child education, implies a reduction in teacher-student ratio and increasing opportunity of group activities among students.

In terms of layout, we proposed to break down the typical teacher office into smaller “satellite” offices, and pair one with every two classrooms to form the primary module for space planning. We further proposed to reduce classroom sizes from 45 students per class (typical in the city, as recommended by the codes) to 36. The additional floor areas are given to the semi-outdoor “pocket” spaces, distributed along the corridors, where inter-class activities could take place.

The project is near completion and was scheduled to open in September 2020. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, however, the opening date will very likely be delayed.

Erdu Primary School, Image courtesy Paul Mok

ANTE – How has building your architectural career in the US contributed to growth in your professional practice?

PM – It’s been almost six years since I moved to the States. So far I find the US – and particularly New York City – a productive context for both my professional and conceptual practice.

I have worked with quite a few collaborators and designers here. When I first moved to the city, for example, I met Isabella Bhoan, the founder of ILF Landscape. Coming from similar professional backgrounds, we saw how each of our specific interests could lead to meaningful collaboration. We worked together on the project Outside In – a speculative design proposal for Château de la Mothe-Chandeniers – before she relocated her practice to London in the end of 2019. 

It is also a city where I could find the audience to have productive conversations about my conceptual interests. I have exhibited my works periodically in various venues. The most recent exhibition – The Study on Mundane – is currently on display at Gallery GAIA.

Above and below, Views: “Outside In”, Images courtesy Paul Mok

Film Producer Federico Guarascio on Changing the Game in Contemporary Filmmaking

Federico Guarascio is a talented producer of short films and documentaries, whose film “The Fourth Kingdom” stopped us in our tracks. A haunting survey of the communities comprised by various recycling scavengers, diving into the worlds they inhabit and how their lives intersect, the film won the top prize at the Brooklyn Film Festival. This insured it would be sent on for consideration at the upcoming Academy Awards ceremony.

Guarascio’s dedication to the film directly impacted its success, as with his work on previous films such as 2014 Sundance selection, “Godka Cirka”, and the ambitious, imaginative “Only Solomon Lee.” We were entranced by the blend of projects Guarascio selects to work on, and his superior track record as a film producer, so we sat down for a taste of his process and for an insider’s perspective on working on the cutting-edge of contemporary film.

ANTE Mag – Federico, thanks for taking time to speak with us. It’s so exciting to see “The Fourth Kingdom” win the Brooklyn Film Festival! That must have felt amazing. Can you tell us some of the rewards and a few challenges of working on this most recent award-winning film you produced?

Federico Guarascio: “The Fourth Kingdom” portrays the lives of the inhabitants of ‘Sure We Can”, a recycling center where society’s outcasts can redeem cans for money.

A documentary of this kind deals with delicate issues, and it was therefore necessary to approach the characters and the reality of these lives, investigating the characters with sensitivity. It is very rewarding to see that from this contemplative and observational approach, these characters just open up: revealing their stories and their lives. Our goal was to capture that poetic, emotional, and cinematic essence of this special place and its inhabitants. In that sense I can say that we are very proud of it.

By filming some video pieces to show all the great work that ‘Sure We Can’ is doing and their impact in so many peoples’ lives, we started to get more curious about this special place, our ‘Fourth Kingdom.’ We spent so many hours there that we became invisible to the people working there. At this point, we felt we were able to create a documentary film in the way we like to tell stories so we put together the short film while we keep working on the feature. The response has been awesome.

AM – It’s such an exciting film that sheds light on these important subjects, tackling a range of delicate issues as you mention – such as homelessness, poverty and immigration. As a documentary, the film portrays an incredible cast of real-life characters in their familiar environments. There are so many topics being discussed, can you walk us through how editing played a role in this film to portray such a wide range of people involved in the recycling community?

FG – We intended to show the human part of our subjects, not their misfortunes or their misery. We were interested in delving into the emotional side  and learning about their dreams and goals.

Another rule we applied to our concept was not to leave the space while filming. We didn’t want to see these can collectors out on the street, but in their daily life inside this ‘Fourth Kingdom.’

With this film, we also wanted to address another point of view engaging with what we can call progress on our modern society. Plastics have forever changed our lives and our world. Waste, pollution, and recycling are new realities, and this kingdom portrays side effects of that evolution: the other side of the dream of progress.

Editing as always in documentaries is one of the most crucial parts. It’s not just about delivering a sequence of scenes already decided at the start: rather, it concerns creating a singular language and defining poetic choices. As a producer,  I had the honor of supervising post production and therefore helped to define the final form of the film.

AM – This is not your first time working with Alex Lora. You also served as producer on the films “Godka Cirka” and “Only Solomon Lee”: the former was a Sundance selection which also showed at the Brooklyn Film Festival. Are there common themes or similarities in how you encountered the subject of each film? Did your role evolve from these first two films with Lora to your work as a producer on “The Fourth Kingdom?”

FG – Totally, my personal path is defined by thematic recurrences that have evolved over the years in a manner consistent with my dual professional and human growth. And I must say that I was lucky to have ever found such a prolific partner as Alex, with whom I share most of the thematic and moral choices – this underlies the work we have done together.

AM – “Godka Cirka” centered around the daily life of Alfa, a young woman based in windswept Somaliland. What were some of the challenges working on this set in a foreign country miles from home? What were some of the rewards for working on this project?

FG – “Godka Circa” is definitely one of the biggest challenges I have faced in my career.

It started with many logistical and financial difficulties and ended with a work of high poetic and human value which I am immensely proud of.

Certainly filming in Somaliland was another great challenge from a production point of view, because the permits were difficult to find and because of the topic we addressed. The women in the film live in a country where women’s rights are almost nonexistent; therefore, we had political impediments from the local government. But in the end we brought home an excellent result.

AM – So many of your films have seen success on the festival circuit, from “Godka Cirka” to “The Fourth Kingdom”. Have you found some plan for success that you follow? Do you have tips for other film producers seeking similar success?

FG – I like to define myself as man with his feet resting firmly on the clouds. Meaning that I can work only on projects that I really like and I consider appropriate to my spirit: projects that sync with my moral outlook. Once I have ascertained this aspect, I try to understand the economic potential that the project can have and how I can raise the funds necessary to produce it.

In general I would say, after you refine your craft, go for what you like. Do not accept any compromise. Be brave and unscrupulous too: all or nothing. As went the British Air Force motto of the Second World War: “Who dares, wins”.

Film producer Federico Guarascio shares behind-the-scenes insights

AM – Can you give us 2 or 3 highlights from your nearly 10-year career as a producer working on films in partnership with crews based in the United States?

FG – One of the best experiences I have had here has been working with Academy Award-winner Ellen Goosenberg Kent for her latest documentary now on HBO, “Torn Apart,” which was a real gem, and gave me a concrete example of the efficiency of high-level American productions. I was lucky enough to work from Italy in partnership with US-based crews, then relocated to the US from late 2018, joining my colleagues in the US that Fall to work hands-on on this and similar projects. Being in step with the US film crews opened my eyes to how incredible working in film in the United States could be professionally. 

AM – Through your career working on over 20 films, what are a few films you have worked on that have really stood out to you in forming your career and your mindset as a producer?

FG – “Odysseus Gambit” was certainly the first job that made me understand the rules of the game and showed me my potential as a film producer. We had started the project without a budget and arrived at Sundance. A great success that I still remember with pride!

AM – What projects do you have in the works now, and what do you hope to work on in the near future?

FG – With Alex we are thinking of transforming “The Fourth Kingdom” into a narrative work. I am already seeking funding for this next step in Italy; stay tuned..!

Female Agency Reaches a Climax in “Female Trouble”, Western Exhibitions, Opening January 10th

Hysteria is a dirty word, and those who use it may not be aware of its context as a means of subjugating women to prejudice for.. millennia. As long ago as Ancient Greece, philosopher Hippocrates applied a related Greek term to women as a means of classifying them as incapable of rational thought. Vogue notes, “The womb, thought Plato (and Hippocrates), was believed to lurch up and down the body, upsetting a woman’s delicate constitution. This illness was called hysterike pnix, or “the suffocation of the womb,” and was believed to cause erratic and unreliable behavior.” The exhibition “Female Trouble” opens January 10, 2020 at Western Exhibitions, co-produced by the women-led Elijah Wheat Showroom, features artists Amanda Joy CalobrisiLilli Carré, Qinza NajmKathryn Refi and Frances Waite in dialogue with the legacy of misogyny pervading modern and contemporary culture, directly challenging this long-held belief through a conceptual, interdisciplinary lens.

Qinza Najm, “Red Cross” 86×63” acrylic on carpet (2019)


The topic of women’s bodies is addressed with particular fervor in “Female Trouble.” Works by the artists depict the implied body, or the power of the presence (or absence) of the female body in their works. The pervasive power balance delineating gender is at play in these works, on view at Western Exhibitions through Feb 22, 2020.

Frances Waite approaches the body as it relates to the larger environment, inhabiting both the corporeal and the Anthropocene in equal measure. The artist presents drawings that inhabit both reality and the hyper-real, envisioning humans as mammals inhabiting their larger realm.  Kathryn Refi inhabits the realm between information and interpretation, where data meets translation into results. Her work, while abstract, presents images that create an abstracted visual of our everyday lives.



Amanda Joy Calobrisi explores erotica and female empowerment- a means of embracing women’s genitals as a means of impressing power forward onto the viewers’ psyche. Lille Carré similarly implies women’s’ bodies in her interdisciplinary practice. Her clay works especially embrace both the abstract and the implications of gender simultaneously.

Qinza Najm, “4 Grey Road” 48×24” acrylic on carpet (2017)

 

Artist Qinza Najm approaches the misogynist roots of hysteria with a lens as a woman with roots in a culture historical marginalized over centuries of colonialism. She notes of her approach to the body as primary mode of interpretation in her interdisciplinary works, “I often use motifs of bodies stretched, deconstructed, distorted, and pushed beyond their limits. A manipulated body is a reflection of how power is exerted upon our being.” Perhaps there is no more appropriate encapsulation of the necessity of claiming female bodily autonomy and agency in an era in which women’s rights to claim their body as they wish are constantly being eroded by privileged men in positions of power.

“Female Trouble” remains on view from its opening Friday, January 10, 6-8 pm until February 22, 2020. More information is available on the gallery’s is website: https://westernexhibitions.com/exhibition/female-trouble/

Artist Y.R. Egon Translates Longing Into Paintings

Y. R. Egon (Ruchira Amare) cuts a stylish, erudite figure.

Based in Brooklyn, NY, the artist arrived on the New York scene from her native Mumbai with an artistic and creative practice balancing influences from Europe and her native India. Her creative leanings are underpinned by a formidable education background in Engineering and Fashion Design. Learning under established Mumbai-based artists while concurrently pursuing a degree in Engineering from the University of Mumbai, Egon distills a wide range of influences into her impressionist, yet geometrically balanced, paintings. The artist holds a Fashion Design degree from the Parsons School of Design.

The artist sat down with ANTE. to discuss themes running through her work and what’s upcoming for her on the heels of exhibitions at Dacia Gallery, Six Summit Gallery, Rochester Contemporary Art Center and The Greenpoint Gallery.

Painter Y R Egon

ANTE.: Your work shows formal qualities linking to modernist greats such as Piet Mondrian. Do you see your practice as continuing a dialogue with modern abstract artists from the mid-20th century? 

Y.R.: I agree – yes. I have always followed Mondrian, Kazimir Malevich, Mark Rothko and Wassily Kandinsky. As Mondrian once said, “Abstract art is not the creation of another reality but the true vision of reality.” I try to have my own language and to express my emotions through my paintings.

ANTE.: Color and shape are important aspects in your paintings. How has your approach in forming connections between color and shape evolved from your studies to the present moment?

Y.R.: I have always cherished the emotion that comes out of nostalgia and longing for the past. I attempt to capture and preserve these emotions through my paintings. Over time I realized that there is a word for this behaviour in Finnish; that word is ‘kaiho,’ meaning a hopeless longing in which one feels incomplete and yearns for something unattainable or extremely difficult and tedious to attain. I use colour and shape and geometric-like patterns which are not truly geometric: these (patterns) have evolved over time and show some traces of reality.

ANTE.: Your formative education in art occurred when you were learning from painters based in India. How do you see your work forming a bridge between the Indian art canon and the Western art canon?

Y.R.: I did not have a formal art education but I studied under great and successful artists in India. I learnt many techniques from them that helped me translate and formulate my ideas using the medium of painting. I try to use my knowledge, my ideas, my inspirations and life experiences to formulate my thoughts. In the process, unintentionally I end up using different techniques and practices that span both the Indian and the Western art canon.

ANTE.: As a full-time artist, you are dedicated to painting and making art constantly; what are some of your goals in terms of exhibiting your paintings? Do you have a dream gallery you’d like to show with and/or museum or similar venue to show your work?

Y.R.: Being an ambitious artist, my goal is to better my art practice and art technique, evolve as a person through enriched life experience and to then translate that into my art and paintings. I fell in love with Gallery Perrotin the first time I went there to check out a show. The space is beautiful and dreamy. My artworks have a lot of colour but come out of the concept of dreams and it would be a dream to be able to exhibit at this space.

Lost Journey, Y.R. Egon Gouache on paper, 16″ x 20″, 2019

ANTE.: You are a poet and have trained as an engineer, alongside your work as an artist and fashion designer. How do you unite all of these disparate elements in your painting? Has it shaped how you approach art-making?

Y.R.: Yes, I studied Engineering and graduated from the University of Mumbai. I write poems but only to express my ideas through another medium. I studied Fashion Design from Parsons School of Design. I am in process of launching some garments/apparel that are inspired from my paintings from the ‘kaiho’ collection. Hence, I feel that even though they all are separate fields, it all boils down to an expression of ideas as they come together in a product or in works of art. I try to carry the same romantic feeling and emotion in all my works including my fashion illustrations. I specifically use watercolours for these, and in my next series of paintings, I plan to experiment more with watercolour in order to capture the haziness of the lost memories.

ANTE.: How has working in fashion impacted your work as a painter? Do you work with a variety of materials as a result? 

Y.R.: As a fashion designer, I stand by the principles of creative construction and sustainability. I use only natural fabrics and natural dyeing on them. I also use fabric as a medium to paint and specifically natural dyed fabric which is dyed with the colours made from plants such as logwood, madder and flowers such as marigold and berries as well. I also plan to make my own natural pigments from these plants and flowers and natural materials to paint on stretched fabrics such as cotton and silk.

ANTE.: More specifically, does your work as a painter shift in scale due to your background in the fashion industry?

Y.R.: I actually am not that experimental or easily accepting to change. Hence, I try to usually paint in a certain style and on a certain size as well. But again, the scale changes a bit when it is translated on apparel or fabric paintings.

Colorful Houses, Y.R. Egon Gouache on paper, 16″ x 20″, 2019

ANTE.: You’re now based in Brooklyn, NY, and have exhibited with The Greenpoint Gallery and Dacia Gallery. How does living in NYC impact your practice as an artist?

Y.R.: NYC is very dynamic and inspirational, Brooklyn specifically is the epicentre for the modern, contemporary and experimental art that is not commercial. I recently exhibited at the ‘Space 776’ as a part of their Bushwick open studios which was covered by Hyperallergic magazine! I find Brooklyn as a very important factor of my stay in the city and is very inspirational and also motivational to see and meet other artists and their work. I have exhibited at various galleries in Manhattan and Brooklyn and that serves as a booster for myself and my art practice.

In Its Right Place: The Playful Collages of Nat Girsberger

Swiss artist Nat Girsberger is no stranger to creating visual harmony from the seeds of chaos. The artist, currently based in Brooklyn, New York City, holds a degree in visual communication from NYU and specializes in analog collaging, taking commissions in her Bedstuy studio for clients such as Universal Music Group, NYU and Magilla Entertainment. Girsberger also works as an installation artist and production designer, and is a committed student of meditation and yoga.

Gisberger notes, “applying an instinctive process, I artistically adventure into the infinity of my psyche to break the structures that externally limit my inner vastness.” Her work utilizes collaging to create new links between the subconscious mind, juxtaposing elements which do not usually go together. Girsberger’s New York City exhibitions include solo shows at the Storefront Project (2018) and at Ivy Brown Gallery (2017) and group shows at Carrie Able Gallery, and Wallplay, and her work has been covered by Bedford + Bowery and Whitehot Mag, among others.

ANTE. sat down with Nat to discuss her practice, learn more about what influences her conceptual approach and gain insight into her evolution into an ever-present emerging artist on the New York art scene.

rising stars, nat gisberger
“Not What I Expected” (2018) Nat Gisberger, analog collage (image courtesy of the artist)

ANTE. We’ve been following your works for some years now and noticed that you center your artistic practice around the medium of collage. Have you always been drawn to this process?

Nat Gisberger. I arrived at analog collage after playing with many different mediums. I went to school for photography and worked in film, behind the camera making sets and constructing installations. In 2017, I held an exhibition at Ivy Brown Gallery which integrated all of these mediums into one environmental installation. Shortly after the show, an old copy of LIFE magazine caught my eye at a local thrift shop. I have always been interested in magazines, even utilizing them for source material in the past. With the encouragement of my collaborator Kurt McVey, I began collaging found photographs and commercial images to make my work.

I really enjoyed the intuitive process of collage, and how it managed to combine diverse aspects of my previous work. Looking through that particular LIFE magazine – as well as the many more I found after that – I began to notice patterns: a visual subtext which revealed a lot about consciousness of a certain time. Much of my work prior to using collage revolved around describing a collective consciousness, so this is something that immediately inspired me. One of the first things I noticed was the sexually charged portrayal of women. I made it my quest to alter the historical narrative and drawing attention to these faults through collage.

After that initial project which centered around reclaiming the female image, I was hooked. I instinctively ventured to do the same in regards to my own inner world I started making work that expressed the transient, expansive terrain of my psyche, something which is influenced by what I consider to be ‘the collective unconscious’.

ANTE. What are some techniques you use to construct an image?

Gisberger. I fell in love with the process of analog collaging, hand-cutting found imaged and composing them into new planes, new realities. I found a parallel between the process of analog collage and how the psyche stacks and re-arranges experiences. I find it incredibly satisfying to layer my own psychology through found imagery. Through collaging, the subconscious mind finds new relationships, juxtaposing images that do not usually go together and then liberating them from the boundaries of rationalism. My collages challenge reality by encouraging the dialogue between ego and that which is unknown to it. Because I am limited by my material,  when I make my analog collages I try to apply an ‘automatic’ unconscious process. I naturally pick and choose images and then assemble, rather than having a clear plan in which the ego would interfere. By doing this, it allows for all of the imagery to ‘pour’ out of me.

 

“Intruders of the Night”, (2018), Nat Girsberger, digital collage (image courtesy of the artist)

 

ANTE. You also translate your artistic practice goes beyond visual arts and into your practice as a yogi. Can you explain the crossover between image and physical body, and how this crossover manifested in your recent solo exhibition “Close Your Eyes” at Storefront Project?

Gisberger. For me, art has a lot in common with yoga and meditation: it’s about tuning into the multiple dimensions of being to enhance our overall experience and better engage with the physical world. Both art and yoga nurture our physical, spiritual, and psychological layers to keep them all balanced. Breath is a helpful tool which helps one drop down deeper beyond those physical layers and begin to appreciate the subtleties within vastness. This concept of vastness allows me to expand beyond my inner world to connect experiences with a new level of consciousness.

The shared goal between my visual arts work and my yogic practice is to create a reality which inspires others to tap into their full potential. I structured (the exhibit) “Close Your Eyes” as a visual meditation, following the typical chronology of meditative practice. This creates an experience: something that gets a viewer into an expansive feeling by visually drawing her inward into herself. My work shows unconscious energy, freed from the structures of ‘reality’ for an ultimately fuller experience of life.

ANTE. As a Swiss artist living and working in New York City what was it like to develop your practice? Looking back on your experience what advice would you give your past self?

Gisberger. Run while you still can? – just kidding. At least, mostly kidding. The thing is: I couldn’t have. If I could wake up one day and have the desire not to be an artist, that would be a relief in a lot of ways. I find it quite painful at times to create. The words, “only pursue art if it is an absolute necessity”, from Rainer Maria Rilke in Letters to a Young Poet really resonate with me. Making art is a deep, inner work – a process that is never easy. At the same time, it is fulfilling to my whole being. Life being alive, experiencing the human condition— it’s so difficult and yet infinitely rewarding at the same time.

New York City has had an influence on me from an early age perhaps because it embodies a powerful energy: it’s pulsating nature, diversity, magnitude, and honesty fascinates me. Even though I am Swiss, I often feel like I ‘grew up’ in NYC — I moved here when I was 18, right out of high school. I feel that I learned many of my bigger life lessons here, and I feel inspired to establish a dedicated art practice here. I also view the adventures and difficulties of establishing myself in a new country as a part of my inspiration. In the end, I believe that all my mistakes benefit my wholeness and growth. I would want myself to make them all over again. I’d be that annoying person that wouldn’t give young Nat any advice if I met her.

“Road Trip”, (2018), Nat Girsberger, analog collage (image courtesy of the artist)

ANTE. Talk to us about your social media presence: you’ve managed to amass a large Instagram following (almost 12K and counting). How do you utilize social media? Do you consider it an extension of your practice or a marketing tool?

Gisberger. I finally caved when I knew I wanted my art-making, my collages, to pay my bills. In art world circles it can feel as though social media carries a negative connotation. I think this belief is rooted in nostalgia, and that notion that technology is disconnecting us from our physical reality. Although I’ve felt that in the past, I am quite interested in the invisible energy and psychology surrounding the rise of social media. I saw how empowering it could be as a tool after watching a close friend of mine, Julia Hunt, make a full-time living as a blogger. She is someone who is doing what she loves on her own terms.

I began viewing social media as a simple part of my overall marketing strategy. I felt it was really powerful sharing what I care about without it being edited by someone first. We no longer need agents to do our advertising for us. Instagram, because it is so visual, already lends itself to artists. It’s a low-stakes portfolio review, basically, that informs your audience as to who you are. My followers didn’t appear overnight, and I put in a lot of work to understand the best ways to get my works seen. I read about the subject and learned how to encourage growth on the platform – i.e. how to use hashtags and when to post: all of that stuff that makes most people cringe. Eventually, my following started growing on its own. I now make a large part of my income through Instagram – either through direct sales or commissions. In regards to my practice, it pushes me to produce work and to respond to themes I observe.

ANTE. Who are some contemporary influences on your work? What’s next for you in 2019?

Gisberger. I am a lot more inspired by life than the art world, actually. I have synesthesia, and so my senses constantly explode: I get inspired by my interactions with the world itself. Psychology, especially Jung, and philosophy and spirituality influence me. Don Miguel Ruiz and Michael E. Singer have both impacted me. To be honest, travel is probably my biggest passion next to my artistic practice. By changing environments I get to see the world in a new way which then inspires what I create. I am also really inspired by music — I love The Beatles, Queen, Pink Floyd, Patti Smith, Dylan, David Bowie and more modern bands like Beirut, Beach House and First Aid Kit – their sound gets me going. That’s why I’m very much into making album covers too, I love giving a musical piece a visual. I am currently working on a number of commissions including some album covers. I recently started a long-term project in the studio which will merge the 78 cards in Tarot card with my analog and digital collage sensibilities. If all goes well then later this year I plan to make an immersive 3-D installation which cross-pollinates my collages with a performance artist, so stay tuned. Lastly, I plan to take the “Close your Eyes” exhibit abroad.

 

The Other Art Fair LA: Five Standouts at the Fair Oct 26-28

Ah, the Art Fair: subject of intense scrutiny, disdain and even obsession in recent memory, art fairs have reached Olympian status as the enduring sign of success for participating galleries and art advisors. Exhibitors at the top fairs proudly display this status, shelling out thousands upon thousands to do so. Saatchi Art‘s The Other Art Fair (TOAF), however, is in a league all its own. A deftly curated selection of artists whose works are on view for collectors to savor, collect and gain insights (from the artists themselves!), The Other Art Fair marches to the beat of its own drummer. The fair is currently on at four different international locations: London, New York, Sydney and – most recently – Los Angeles (Barker Hangar – 3021 Airport Avenue – Santa Monica, CA 90405; hours Sat/Sun; Sat 11 am-8 pm and Sun from 11 am-6 pm).

That’s right – Los Angeles. Where better to savor genuine, talented and diverse selections of emerging art than in LA itself? A city that has truly embodied the buzz of ‘contemporary art’, LA has hit the scene and Saatchi Art is in on the secret – The Other Art Fair LA is currently on, with artworks on view through Sunday, October 28th. We took to the scene, and selected the five artists worth watching as rising stars that this current iteration of TOAF + an extra viewing experience, read all the way through to get to the fun bonus!

 

Erin Ko, Disconnected 004 – 11 x 14, Mixed Media, iPad painting + digital collage on Aluminum with Augmented Reality Layer, 2015

#1: Erin Ko (New York, NY) TOAF LA STAND #55

Erin Ko’s work reflects a masterful blend of emerging technologies and a talented traditional arts practice. Lying at the nexxus between memory and possibility, Ko creates magical, often immersive, experiences for fans of her work. Whether incorporating Oculus Rift into her practice or allowing viewers to experience Augmented Reality layers that supplement her dexterous paintings and mixed media collage, Ko never disappoints admirers of her work both old and new. Working across technology, urban art, mixed media and more, Ko’s artistic practice reflects something for everyone. Her work also incorporates strong impressions of feminism and inclusivity: often depicting strong women or growing girls reaching for their goals, Ko’s inspiring work reminds us that everything is possible if we dream.

Evincing a particularly keen eye for detail and balanced compositions that span from figuration to abstraction, Ko’s works have been exhibited both internationally in China, Europe and domestically in the United States. Ko will be part of the Akumal Arts Festival, taking place in early November in Akumal, Mexico, and she is part of the prestigious Milan-based artist group Krema Kolletiva.

 

Sammy Kimura, “Diner Girl”

#2: Sammy Kimura (Los Angeles, CA)

Based in Silver Lake, artist Sammy Kimura creates evocative artworks rooted in the human experience. Her impressionist glances of moments spanning her subjects’ lives results in vivid and otherworldly portraits. Allowing painterly gestures to delineate the space, Kimura’s soft-focus glow and warm tones invite the viewer to empathize with her subjects, encouraging the imagination and stimulating the senses.

 

 

Fei Alexeli, “Cosmic Holidays”, 2016

#3: Fei Alexeli (Thessaloniki, Greece)

Vibrant photocollages reveal a world of dreams in works by Fei Alexeli. Immediately Pop yet avoiding kitsch stereotyper, Alexeli’s fantastical compositions invite viewers along on a magical ride. Both visceral yet elusive, Alexeli’s expansive vistas enmesh viewers in enigmatic journeys worthy of Ford Prefect and Guardians of the Galaxy – with a decidedly Venice Beach twist!

 

Sanghee Ahn, “CAKED 532” 23.8 H x 28.6 W x 0.8 in, 2018

#4: Sanghee Ahn (Suwon, South Korea)

Fun Pop stylings and vivid colors permeate the works of Sanghee Ahn. Departing from the world of everyday objects into bubble-gum pink fantasies tripping down the gradient fantastic, Ahn’s works are simple, straightforward – and bright. Evoking landscapes yet focusing on Dada-esque journeys through everyday life, Ahn envelopes her objects in bursts of colorful abstraction.

 

 

Alex Voinea, “av_517” from Learning to Fly series, 2018

#5: Alex Voinea (Sitges, Spain)

Thoroughly contemporary, Voinea’s work seemingly leaps off the page. Abstract, bright and pulsing with rhythm, Voinea’s works make a bright yet harmonious contribution to any collection!  With international credentials spanning from exhibits in Spain, Italy, the US and beyond, Voinea’s vibrant works are making a splash, with both critical acclaim and popular opinion!

BONUS: The Other Art Fair LA, “31 Women” curated by Kate Bryan.

31 Women, a micro-exhibit at The Other Art Fair LA,  celebrates the 75th anniversary of The Exhibition by 31 Women, an iconic exhibition that took place at Peggy Guggenheim’s “The Art of This Century” gallery. Curated by Kate Bryan, Head of Collections for Soho House and Co, 31 Women is a mini salon-style show featuring 31 artists on view at the fair working across mixed media. Notes Ryan Stanier, founder of The Other Art Fair, “Women artists have been underrepresented in the art world for decades, so we are excited to be able to highlight a selection of talented, emerging women artists in this exhibition curated by Kate Bryan.” A bright, exuberant collection of some of the most compelling artists on view at the fair, 31 Women is a remarkable, one-of-a-kind experience awaiting viewers at TOAF LA.

Global Gateways: In Conversation with Contemporary Nigerian Artist Adetomiwa A. Gbadebo

Globetrotting, international philatropist, collector and artist Òmó Oba (HRH) Adetomiwa A. Gbadebo has demonstrated through his dedicated, multi-faceted career that he is one innovative artist. Unafraid to experiment with colors, textures and mediums while firmly rooted in a devoted spiritual core, Òmó Oba (HRH) Adetomiwa A. Gbadebo considers his artistic practice as a part of his wider mission to elevate African artists on the world stage. Òmó Oba (HRH) Adetomiwa A. Gbadebo frequently produces art exhibits and advocates for contemporary African artists in addition to his practice as an artist. Featured in solo and group exhibitions from Minnesota to Montenegro, New York City to Florence, Òmó Oba (HRH) Adetomiwa A. Gbadebo’s fearless approach to experimentation in his creative process is rooted in seeking harmony and balance and bringing the world to his culture on his own terms. We caught up with Òmó Oba (HRH) Adetomiwa A. Gbadebo in the days leading to his upcoming exhibit with Retro Africa at London’s 1:54 Art Fair, at London’s Somerset House from Oct 4-7, 2018.

Òmó Oba (HRH) Adetomiwa A. Gbadebo, Path of Oduduwa, 2015

ANTE. Thanks for taking time to meet with us! So far your work has been exhibited both in the US and abroad, in Italy, Nigeria, Montenegro, and soon at 1.54 in London. Can you explain how you hope different audiences perceive your work? Are there common threads across cultures that you hope your work speaks to? Is there a common universal language to your work?

OOAG. I actually don’t care about how they (others) perceive it (my work). It is none of my business how they see it, but the one thing is that they should not make up labels for it if they do not understand. They should accept their level of misunderstanding, or seek out knowledge from the artist directly, or seek out knowledge through the journey with the work or the culture from which the work stems from.

Meaning the culture of the artist, and his or her origin.

Quite honestly I don’t think I owe any other culture in the Western World any explanation of identity, or similarities.
I’m from a different realm, completely different civilization, the only thing I have in common with those outside my culture, “ Western Cultures,” is that I am a human being. Therefore it is my duty as living history of my culture and ancient history of my culture to teach others about my culture.

Accepting this difference means that one can come to a possible similarity culturally , which could help alleviate the ignorance of trying to force the notion of similarities in order to satisfy selfish desires. But if others choose to be ignorant about it (other cultures), they will fail their own cultures.

In conclusion this question does not justify my culture being significant. Therefore I say no to colonial mindsets and western perceptions of African people and its main indigenous cultures, I say no to neo-liberalism, neo-conservatism, and even socialism as a gateway to teaching my culture to those different from me. Frankly I think those concepts are poisonous to the creative world, while they also diminish the emphasis of the human being, or person.

There is no common universal language to my work. No to a common language, because my language is distinctive to my culture, and in fact an apex language that gave birth to others in terms of enriching the art and social practices of my people. There is a common sense to my work, which is the notion that what I create breeds life and sustains the spiritual creation of life. Which opens up the gateway for people to have permission to question their
previously acquired intellect.

 

ANTE. Your work across painting, sculpture and mixed media embraces both figurative and abstracted elements. Can you speak about your process and how these elements fit together? Do you incorporate the figurative and abstract to evoke different meaning, or are they integrally connected to communicate an overall message?

OOAG. My work is neither figurative nor abstract. It is an embodiment of spiritual knowledge and my purpose in this world. It does not succumb to categorization as figurative and abstract nor will I fit it into that institutional logic, in fact those things are limiting the honesty of the work.

These works, across all media, are a vessel: a catalyst for viewers to question everything around them, their ideologies, their manmade comfortability, and their logic around their preconceived notions. It is a very intellectual process and a very deep spiritual process, and it comes from within.

Òmó Oba (HRH) Adetomiwa A. Gbadebo, Untitled, 2017

ANTE. In your practice, you incorporate Yorùbá imagery within larger, complex compositions. Can you elaborate on the relationship of these individual objects and expressions to each work as a whole? Can you explain some of the specific symbolism used throughout your work?

OOAGIn the case of my creations, not all my creations, sculptures, drawings, or paintings have Yorùbá imagery. It would be very cliche and stereotypical to assume that all my works have Yorùbá imagery simply because I am from the Yorùbá kingdom. Although I am from this ethnic group, the essence of being Yorùbá is the ability to articulate ones ideas and thoughts in multiple honed ways, to better support a diverse narrative that goes within the culture,

Hence, my art reflects diverse narratives within my life, which incorporates, timeline (simply a diary of my life;
situations of my life) my culture, Yorùbá spiritual concept, and the way humanity treats itself in the positive and the negative. My work is a gateway for individuals and collectives to question their previously and recently acquired intellect. And also a testament in holding accountable the Western lens of false narrative surrounding African cultures globally. Which pushes for the relevance to the social importance and economic significance of African culture and art.

There is specific symbolism I can explain. The dots you see in my work, relate to my love of astrology and mythology and even a love for archeology since I was young. In time as I grew and was more self aware I realized that using the dots, even creating in a none present way, was a calling back to my origins, which would be Yorùbá culture with an emphasis on its spirituality and its spiritual concept, Ifá. It was a calling to focus on balance and how to be a better human in a world created by a nonhuman entity. I also often use cowry shells, which is a representation of Yorùbá spirituality and also a form of currency, and was something that was worn by the Yorùbá elites. This symbol itself represents one of the strengths of my culture.

If my works don’t have Yorùbá symbols, it does not mean that it’s not work coming from Yorùbá culture. My very being creating the work is the symbol of the Yorùbá people, with an emphasis on its contribution to collective human existence throughout time.

 

ANTE. Can you explain your journey into art-making as a career? Did you begin with painting then move to sculpture, or have you always worked in an interdisciplinary style? How has your practice evolved over time?

OOAGYes, I can. I don’t see art-making as a career. For me, it is destiny to create art to reach a higher calling. A higher calling that is predestined for me. I don’t even call myself an artist. It’s a boxed-up, contrived notion. What I am simply doing is adding to human history with positivity. But, if you would like to know, I, without any one person’s advice decided to use my art to make money. I always choose who I work with, not the other way around. I understood business and saw how business and art come together, and so, in that way it is a career, but it is not the primary concept I live my life by. I’ve been making art since I was a child, it’s a part of who I am. I didn’t really begin anywhere, I just have made what my soul tells me to, and the only place I began was my mother’s womb with the blessing of Olodumare.

Òmó Oba (HRH) Adetomiwa A. Gbadebo, Ifa Ni Oba, 2016,

ANTE. Which artists or artistic styles have impacted your work? Are there any artists whose work you admire who are working today, or artists from the past whose work you draw inspiration from?

OOAGNumber 1, I dislike Picasso. I do not have a specific style that has influenced me nor do I adhere myself to any movement. I feel that they alter the truism and purity of one’s work, and output in various social contexts. Although one could be influenced by many things and many cultures directly and indirectly, it is important to realize that we can still choose and invite those things to influence us or not. Choice allows one to be a purist in one’s craft. As an artist, and creator of art, it is disheartening, that as a African man in a global setting, that a past context is
often placed upon my present content. For example, the notion that by being African, you are influenced by Basquiat. Without anyone asking you otherwise, people assume this influence and time is spent dispelling it and breaking down the historical timeline of contemporary art that didn’t even originate with Europeans.

I don’t draw inspiration from any particular artist but definitely from the culture of my people and human existence; the turmoil, the discord, the peace, the love within humanity. I will say this, I am not influenced by, but I respect individuals like Julian Schnabel, his stance on artistic autonomy I respect. Also Fela Anikulapo Kuti, his creation and output to reach out and commonize the situation of people globally to be made aware to progress. And, also my family, the strength of my family, the strength of my grandmother, I draw part of my inspiration from them. As well as the strength of black people everywhere. Most of all my inspiration comes from Olodumare.

ANTE. What themes and concepts are central to your practice, particularly in regard to your
installation work?

OOAGMy work has no category, whether painting, installation, or drawings. To clarify: I don’t categorize my
work. It is merely a sole embodiment of my being. My history, my journeys and my origin. In terms of concepts; I ask for man to question everything, to selflessly try to produce solutions to sustain betterment other than for himself or herself. I have a conceptually strong focus on spirituality and how it’s significant for the development of our planet. And not spiritually in the Western fetishized sense where it’s more so about self indulgence and narcissism instead of selflessness and the reverence to its origins.I also the focus on the concept of iṣẹ, meaning work in Yorùbá language. iṣẹ (work) is very important to the Yorùbá people. The concept of work that is beyond the concept of work , if you get my point. Work is beyond it’s definition in Yorùbá language- its expansive to philosophy, the way you live your life. It’s expansive to how you sacrifice for your family, how you lead your people as a royal. It’s expansive to create a circle of balance.

Òmó Oba (HRH) Adetomiwa A. Gbadebo

ANTE. Supporting cultural, artistic and human rights are also important endeavors for you.
Can you share some of the initiatives, both in your home base of Minneapolis and
elsewhere, that you support that are important for you personally?

OOAGMinneapolis is not my home base. Nigeria is my home base. My country is my home base. The United States is part of my journey in my life.

I would tell you about my endeavors for the future and now. My endeavor for the present is to create paths for artistic philanthropy and build cultural bridges between the United States and Africa alongside the global art world and build infrastructure in my country (Nigeria) for people in need of infrastructural presence. For example, affordable homes for people in my country who are in need of homes or have been displaced and the push for cultural re-education to understand what it means to be African for the purpose of self-sustainability.

Part of what my philanthropy focuses on is African art, with special attention to traditional and contemporary Nigerian Art. I advocate for the preservation of African culture, specifically that of Nigerian cultures, even more specifically Yoruba culture. I support African artists economically and in a way that they are seen and respected as much as their Western counterparts. Not to say we need to prove ourselves, it’s more about educating the West to how we are relevant due to our own cultural experiences and adaptations. I collaborate with other like-minded peers who want to see the sustainable growth of Africa. This is necessary in keeping with the integrity of my vision and principles for how African art and culture is valued not only in the art world but beyond, and how it can teach and influence others beyond its cultural boundaries.

I am interested in expanding touristic outreach in the arts and cultural sectors by building a museum and galleries in my country. Focusing my energy throughout the educational, cultural, and economic sectors, all of this will be done within my philanthropic practice in collaboration with other African philanthropists and visionaries.

In terms of human rights, I advocate for cultural rights, specifically those of indigenous cultures to practice their cultures freely without Western intervention.