Nika Neelova, Russian-born London-based artist working with sculpture and installation in conversation with Maria Abramenko.
When and why have you decided to become an artist?
As a child I was an obsessive collector of all kinds of found objects, chestnuts, sea shells, stones, fragments of broken things. I carried them with me everywhere every time we moved and
revisited them almost daily imagining various rituals and narratives around the collections. I think it is this very intimate relationships with the found objects that I formed in these years that often echo in the way I approach working with objects today. Curiously I cannot pinpoint the moment of consciously verbalizing the decision to become an artist. I am always drawn to root structures, sources, embryos, ancestries, etymologies but not necessarily as a point of origin but rather a concealed stage within a greater and longer phase of development. Similarly I think this idea has materialized alongside me as I grew older and developed, as the objects around me aged and evolved their own way, and as the spaces I was attached to moved further into the past or disintegrated.
What is the concept behind your lemniscates loop sculptures and where does it come from?
The lemniscates ∞ are objects made from several flights of stairs of reclaimed handrails. The pieces are reassembled in a different order repurposing the spiral of the stairs into a a loop, coiling upon itself and taking the shape of a distorted mathematical infinity symbol. I was first attracted to the handrail as it is an object moulded specifically to fit in the palm of the hand, it is an architectural feature intended to form an intimate connection with a body. It guides the hand into three-dimensional space, choreographing fluid and familiar movements all around it. Always guiding but never itself in motion, it is a support structure that connects through touch and has the ability to lead from one place to another. Its wooden surface, crafted by hand over hundred years ago has been altered by its prolonged exposure and interaction with other hands. Through touch it acquires the DNA of hundreds of people becoming a collective portrait of the absent human bodies. This relationship between the skin and the wood, between the hand and the rail, between a person and a building signals a continuity that runs through the human body, architecture and space. The multidimensional infinity symbol that appears in all the pieces in the series brings back the notion of cyclicality and eternal returns. The symbol has become identified with a variation of the ouroboros, an ancient image of an alchemical snake eating its own tail that has also come to symbolize the infinite repetition of life and death cycles, the binary duality of existence, the theory of eternal recurrence through space and time.
The ‘miracle of the lemniscate’ appears in Nabokov’s poem Pale Fire as the figure eight traced by bicycle tyres on the sand alluding to the disappearing memories and evaporating outlines of half-remembered people.
Your research, is connected to architecture and geology. What city of all those you lived in do you have in mind while you work, and why?
I don’t think any of it is connected to one specific city or place. Its often snippets of past experiences, lived environments, something seen, something lived, something forgotten that come together as bases for the various works. I rely on memory a lot as the entity that defines one’s relationship with the world. It is a sort of filtering mechanism, selecting from an infinite flow of images, impressions, voices, connections, sentences, words. It helps collect, contain and edit out the information that is then synthesised and edited out to form new perspectives. The resulting works are often tactile reconstructions of spaces through memory. I imagine objects exported from the past and projected into the present future. They are decoded reenacting the processes that were used to shape them in the first place. Their structures are sufficiently altered to liberate them from their meanings. I am often interested in exploring what the objects may remember from their deep archeological pasts to their day-to-day interactions with human bodies.
Who are the artists of major influence on your artistic development?
I think influences often come in phases. We are privileged to live in a time when so many artists, spaces and institutions are sending waves through the art world and pushing the boundaries in all directions. I think witnessing this evolution is often the biggest source of inspiration. One of the constant presences for me has been Tarkovsky. I often go back to reading his diaries and rewatching Stalker and Nostalghia. What he referred to as ‘sculpting in time’, his fluid takes, his poetic logic, his treatment of memory as something both lucid and amorphous, his proficient use of metaphors and metonyms have among other profoundly influenced my approach and sense of space and aesthetics.
What are you next projects?
Learning to accept the ‘tbd’ prefix that 2020 has endowed each and every project with:)