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Sara Naim Interview

Dialects of the Body, Sara Naim, 2014
Dialects of the Body Installation,
Sara Naim,

How does photography play a part in your practice?

I think photography is the closest medium to how we perceive reality. Some would say film, but when we observe, we frame things through narrowed vision, we focus on what we want to see, and we give time to sights that we want to examine. I’ve always been most drawn to photography, and even when I draw, I source photographs that I’ve taken. I love the process of photography, even the editing, and now more than ever, I make things with what I most enjoy using. Sounds basic but it took my entire MA to realise that.

What influenced you to use the human body as your subject?

We are our body- it’s intrinsic to how we experience or perceive anything, and yet, quite crazily, we will never see our interior body. We carry it with us for our entire existence, becoming an inherently unfamiliar space. I love that dichotomy.

You combine science and art throughout your work, and it often depicts an unrecognizable image. What about the unfamiliar inspires you?

I use scientific apparatus, often microscopes, as a means to create ambiguous forms. When met with my work, a lot of the imagery is quite foreign, but becomes recognisable as somehow located within or from the body. That realisation, I hope, sparks a discontinuity with ones own body and that destabilisation of what we think we know and what we don’t ordinarily see.

'Fabric of the Human Body', Sara Naim, 2014
‘Fabric of the Human Body’,
Dialects of the Body Installation,
Sara Naim,

Who is most commonly the subject of your work and why?

Myself, because I find it more problematic to use someone else. It’s also a way to experience what you want to viewer to experience, and it feeds your practice with further understandings which you don’t get from being a slightly more disconnected director.

Dialects of the Body Installation, Sara Naim, 2014
Dialects of the Body Installation,
Sara Naim,

On a very different note, I have photographed the interior anatomy of the deceased. Through doing so I experienced the complexity of the human body and it allowed me to use my own imagery which, until that point, I had used medical textbooks.

What piece of art do you admire above all others?

I think one of my favourite works was John Cage’s 4’33’’ performance. It showed how ‘nothing’ doesn’t exist. Empty sound is still full, and you really experience that through the meditative ‘composition’. But in the end, it’s still structured and that heightened consciences which you feel as your sense of sound expands, is framed with logic and science through its time restraint.

At what moment did you decide to pursue art as a profession?

I think it started before thinking of what I wanted to do professionally, but what I was eager to study. I was interested in art from high school, which snowballed to Foundation at Chelsea, to studying Photography at LCC and then my MA at Slade. It was never a black and white decision for me, just an ongoing love affair that, gratefully, turned into what I do professionally.

'Interrupted Blood Cells', Sara Naim, 2014
‘Interrupted Blood Cells’,
Sara Naim,

What is the best piece of advice you have ever been given?

I met Marina Abramovic during her recent Serpentine show and she sat me down and said, ‘find your purpose’. And that’s something that I’m trying to do within my art practice. As a Syrian, there is a lot I want to say but it has been difficult to translate that into my work authentically and not over politicised. It’s been an on-going negotiation but her words are always in the back of my mind.

Has any art movement, in particular, inspired your style?

Dadaism, as a movement and the people in it- especially Jean Arp. He wanted to free art from its limitations of realism and found art to be an authentic language that arises from a spiritual force. Like Kandinsky, he wanted his work to be “heard with the eyes and seen with the ears”. I’ve tried to adopt this in my work through the ambiguity that I strive to create.

Are you currently working on a new project?

Yes, I’m making detailed graphite drawings of metamorphic rocks, which sit alongside slightly corrupt image files of dead skin cells. I’m trying to play with abstract landscape photographs as well.

Dialects of the Body Installation, Sara Naim, 2014
Dialects of the Body Installation,
Sara Naim,

Photomatter: Disrupting the Photographic Image

“Whenever we want to force this ‘photomatter’ to yield new forms, we must be prepared for a journey of discovery, we must start without any preconceptions.

Hannah Höch, ‘On Today’s Photomontages’, 1934

Photomatter presents artworks that expand, dissect and disrupt the photographic image. Taking its title from a term coined by Hannah Höch in relation to photomontage, the exhibition explores the photograph as object, using the photographic image as a sculptural material. The exhibition brings together recent work by Holly Graham, Petra Kubisova, Sara Naim and Abigail Reynolds, artists who mine the limitations of photographic representation across a diverse range of media.

Holly Graham’s photographic puzzle boxes offer up flexible narrative structures, to explore the malleability of memory and the subjective nature of collective experience. Family photographs are translated into potentially interactive objects, that provide the promise of re-animation, releasing the photograph from its previous associations. Repositioning, dissecting and deleting photographic content allows Graham to abstract, juxtapose and ultimately alter images. This method imbues her works with a cross-fire of connections, mimicking the complex processes of recollection and unsettling the photographs’ relationship to time and memory.

In her series Interrupted Blood Cells, Sara Naim takes as her starting point microscopic images of her blood cells that have become digitally corrupted files. Although warped, these images each retain their differences, in a fusing of digital and biological information. Printed in black-and-white and resembling television static, the works are manipulated to emphasise the three-dimensionality of their paper support. Naim uses the distortion in the imagery to replicate the disconnection we feel to our internal bodies, which we can primarily only visualise through imagination.

Across her practice Petra Kubisova also scrutinises the relationship between photography and memory, investigating how remembering and forgetting can be captured and rendered into visual form. As we dream and recall events in fragments – never in full images – so fragmentation has become key to her investigation. Seeking to question and destabilise photographic representation, Kubisova explores the objecthood, surface and physical materiality of the photographic image. Her work tests the legibility of the image and pushes our perceptual capacities to their limits, as she stretches the flat form of the image into space.

Overlaying and interweaving two separate images, Abigail Reynolds’ works rupture the paper they are printed on, uniting the two sources. Carefully selecting her images from books, postcards and photographic archives, her process of folding them into each other, breaks the picture plane in order to build it again. Each photograph represents a point in time – Reynolds unpicks these moments, highlighting the fragmentary and partial nature of historic record.

Whether corrupting photographic content, juxtaposing disparate elements, or breaking down the picture plane, the works in Photomatter complicate and open up our engagement with the image. Interfering with the medium in diverse ways, the artists mobilise photography to lay bare the fallibility of perception and recollection. Together, these works testify to the limitations of the photographic image as a record of a moment in time and a fixed depiction of a subject. In subverting these concerns, these works allow photography to take on a new set of relations, resonances and possibilities.

Holly Graham, b. 1990, lives and works in London. Recent exhibitions include A Picture of Summer, Portobello Photography Gallery, London (2014), Wild at Heart and Weird on Top, Cafe Gallery, London (2014), and Pushing Print, The Margate Gallery and The Pie Factory, Margate (2013). Petra Kubisova, b. 1981, lives and works in London. Recent exhibitions include SHOW RCA, Royal College of Art, Battersea, London (2014), and Venez Fruits Presses, La Manutention, Paris (2014). Sara Naim, b. 1987, lives and works in London. Recent exhibitions include Summer Show 2014, The Third Line Gallery, Dubai (2014), Need you 100%, Display Gallery, London (2014), Peckham Sprints, Sassoon Gallery, London (2014) and Hindsight, V1 Gallery, Copenhagen (2014). Abigail Reynolds, b. 1975, lives and works between London and St Just, Cornwall. Recent exhibitions include The White Hotel, Gimpel Fils, London (2014), Box A: Accidents, Kestle Barton, Manaccan, Cornwall (2014) and Double Fold, Rambert, South Bank London (performance, 2013).

Curated by Antonia Shaw and Jessica Cerasi, in collaboration with Diversity Art Forum.