Galleries are elbowing one another to have him as one of their artists. Navid Nuur (born in Tehran, now living in the Hague) is a major talent in Dutch art. His work is as broad as it is poetic, both relaxed and well-wrought. He is an intelligent handyman with broad visual capability, operating at the edges of what can be said and shown.
When Navid Nuur (b. 1976) speaks about his work, he often uses such terms as ‘beautiful’ or ‘pure’, and sometimes even ‘warm’. The way he relates to material, the space around him and his own observations can almost be called devout. His attention to detail and the careful rapport between the different elements of an exhibition make the viewer part of an ‘internal’ world.
His first solo presentation, held recently at Stroom in the Hague [with a concurrent exhibition at Moira in Utrecht and publication of his book with Veenman Publishers in Rotterdam –ed.], clarified a very personal visual engagement centred around how a question is posed: how a given phrase ultimately requires a specific form, for example, or how, by way of red and blue in variable tones, one can evoke different colors of purple. Can colors ‘swell up’ out of a shadow under a plank, if you focus in on them? – a work for which he rolled thousands of little balls of coloured clay.
Then there is suddenly another image that ‘swells up’ between the walls of brown cardboard boxes in the exhibition in the Hague: a 16mm film of a crumpled-up garbage bag on a pedestal, which slowly unfolds itself, as if it were a dynamic sculpture. The fascination that Navid Nuur shows for visual processes is one of childlike enthusiasm, but it is equally founded on analytic and conceptual principles.
Irrational thoughts should be followed absolutely and logically. *
What Navid Nuur has in common with the conceptual artists of the 1960s is the relationship between concept and form, but in his case, the form is not a self-evident extension of the idea. It comes about by means of a subjective programme of conditions or rules in which intuition has the dominant role. ‘It is a certainty rising from a feeling, which I can only rationally explain after the fact. But it is not the case that the work only achieves its right to exist after the explanation. That would make it conceptually dead.’
Nuur does see factors he shares with the principles of minimal and conceptual art, such as looking for solutions within given circumstances, but he considers the ultimate solutions or forms of expression from the famous art movements of 30 years ago too orthodox. ‘In my case, the visual aspect is more playful, more approachable, even though my work is essentially within a framed context.’ This gives him more space in which to maneuver. ‘This way, you can go further than the predetermined concept, even when the work has been determined this way, from the inside.’
The conditions that Navid Nuur uses as his frameworks are often found outside his studio, in the context of the exhibition, ‘where it can be supported’. Not all his ideas, however, are suited to or function in an exhibition context. During the process preceding the exhibition, they are ‘filtered’. All the ideas that do not fit into that particular context have to be given a place somewhere else, in a publication, for example. With some works, this goes so far that the works cannot be completed, because he does not know how they should be presented. Nuur sees his exhibited works not as an endpoint, but as the thing that is made public, or is placed somewhere. They function as in-between points or ‘interimodules’, as he calls them. ‘The need for this term arose because my works often only exist temporarily. In this sense, sculpture is too laden a word, and ‘installation’ is not intimate enough. I have, as it were, reformulated it.’
The conventions of art are altered by works of art.*
It was only six years ago that Navid Nuur came into contact with the practice of non-applied visual art. Prior to that, he studied graphic design and illustration and was preoccupied with skateboarding and graffiti. During an art history class in his last year of art school, he suddenly realized how limited and internalized the skateboarding and graphic design scene was. ‘I wanted to achieve more depth in my work and saw that people in the autonomous arts dared to take greater risks. That was mostly because of a painting that I saw at the time.
Paintings from around 1900 all look alike: sweet pastel colors used to capture light as accurately as possible. But this was different. It was an interior of a house painted from the outside. What you see is a big black surface in which only the highlighted edges of shapes are indicated. It is actually a really light painting, seen from the inside. When I saw that, I thought, “I am going to do my own thing.” I gave everything up and transferred from the design department into fine art. It was only later, at the Piet Zwart Institute in Rotterdam, that I found the space to reflect on what I was doing, on my position. It was important to create a slow-down between making something and exhibiting it.’
The artist’s will is secondary to the process he initiates from idea to completion. His willfulness may only be ego.*
Each of Navid Nuur’s presentations stands on its own. After a temporary installation in an exhibition space, the works no longer exist in the same form. Nuur emphasizes the different aspects of the temporary character of his work. For him, it is in the lighting conditions, for example, that causes some works to look different in the mornings than they do in the evenings – a principal that he exploited in Glow in the Dark. But it also has to do with the kind of ‘respect’ that he has for a location, as in the case of a work that he made especially for the large back gallery of TENT. in Rotterdam.
‘There is such a blaze of light coming into the space, that the old wall of the former gym is very clearly visible – including the patches of mould, for example. I felt that I couldn't just show a work there. That would be too self-centred. I had to find a relationship between my ideas and forms, and how they related to the conditions of that space and the materials I could use. In the end, all I did was add a floor to the space, which rose up with lots of protrusions that connected into the grooves in the wall, so that the pieces of mildew and mould became a kind of object. I rubbed wax into other sections of the wall, so they became shiny. In the end, the work exhibited the space itself, was subordinate to it.’
Navid Nuur does not always take that same, ‘subordinate’ position in relation to a location. ‘In a group context, I often show more “coagulated” work, work that can stand on its own, such as the small looking objects. Then it becomes something totally different. For instance, I asked myself what I could do in the context of a group show in which I was invited to exhibit. I distributed little buttons to everybody. The text, “we share air”, was printed on the buttons. In the end, it turned out to be a really big work, without literally demanding space in amongst the others.’
The concept of a work of art may involve the matter of the piece or the process with which it is made.*
Texts are an important factor in Navid Nuur’s work. ‘I have written a lot of small fragments of text that are a good indication of how you sometimes cannot quite touch a work. Sentences have that wonderful quality: you can almost get a grip on them – or maybe not. Those little texts are very important and dear to me. It is only very recently that I have found a way to get them out of my notebooks. There were so many of them, and it frustrated me that I didn't know what I could do with them. The solution often lies in technique, in finding materials that make a translation possible. I am now working, for example, with thermal ink. If you touch it, it disappears. It first becomes red, then white. With that, you can do something with a text.
Another form is the one I used for Absence of Evidence Is Not Evidence of Absence. It is a text written on linen, with a felt marker, and where water was used to extract the different colours that comprise the black. That way, I could extract the potential that lies in a word by means of the way I use materials. Together with the material in the work, text, water and light become the work.’
The process itself is a part of Navid Nuur’s work, as is the text on whatever is used to support it and the material employed. They create a kind of holy trinity. ‘Sometimes I find it so egotistical that all a piece of paper carries is a drawing. There is just so much more than that going on, and this way, you can make all that visible.
I completely researched that process, with various materials, canvass and cotton cloth as well as paper, because of their high absorption rate, in order to extract as much colour as possible. For that, you have to add water at given times. The lovely thing about that work is that it had power over me. I had to add water every three hours, and very carefully, so that the colours wouldn't separate. That meant I had to keep getting up in the middle of the night. I wrote a text about that process. It goes right back to the sources of the material.’
The artist may not necessarily understand his own art. His perception is neither better nor worse than that of others.*
*Sol Lewitt, Sentences on Conceptual Art, 1969
The Armory Show, 27 through 30 March, New York (in collaboration with Plan B Gallery)
Leap Of Faith, May 2008, Hotel Mariakapel, Hoorn, NL
ETIOLTION I, Veenman Publishers, Rotterdam 2007