Walking the line. Interview to Aakash Nihalani
[For the Italian version click here]
We’re talking about street art, but forget the shady black-hooded figures and the nicknames: Aakash Nihalani wears patterned shirts and operates under his real name. Forget also the explicit or disturbing messages, because he doesn’t want to shock the other, but to play with him.
By using bright coloured tapes, he creates geometrical outlines that are man-sized optical illusions, visual tricks through which he is able to transform a dull concrete wall in a cartoon frame and to bring a bored passenger back to his childhood.
Vantage – that will open on Saturday April 5th at the Wunderkammern, Rome – is his first solo show in Italy and is part of the project Public and Confidential promoted by the gallery. I met Aakash during the exhibition’s preparations that see him working both indoor and outdoor.
We are used to conceive street art as something majestic that involves huge spaces, or as a viral practice like in the graffiti’s case. Your work is quite different, because it places itself in the human dimension and always requires the viewer’s complicity. How did you come up to this choice?
I’ve never been interested in graffiti. I feel like there are too many factors with using spray paint that cause a negative energy around it. I picked up the roll of tape as a medium also because it can be put on the wall temporarily, so I can take full responsibility of what I’m doing and I don’t need to upset anybody’s day. I want the viewer to be with me, not against me.
Another reason lies in the fact that I grew up in a very suburban neighbourhood and then I moved to New York to attend the college. The transition was very drastic and the most prominent change was in the architecture: from a lot of grass, trees and middle class houses to the flat, repetitive and minimal forms of the city. This had a lot of influence in the way I was looking around: I found myself attracted by how colour can interrupt this monotony, by the way a building connects to another one.
Thus, is it a matter of point of view, intended in the optical sense?
Exactly, the human dimension came out mainly as a reaction to the urban architecture. Maybe it’s not a coincidence that I started to do that by using the tape, which makes straight lines. In the end, my art is a combination of my response to surrounding environment and the medium I chose.
It seems like you drew more from your life experience that from your BFA…
I can’t deny it. Actually, I started the college studying law: my parents wanted me to be either a doctor or a lawyer, so I chose the latter. Half way through my second year I was getting terrible grades and I started working with my hands, painting on shirts and shoes for my friends. For the first time I got a feeling I’ve never had, something liberating and satisfying at the same time. I decided to switch to the Art programme, even if I have never taken art classes before in my life, neither ever looked to myself as an artist – while everybody else there took a conscious decision around what they wanted to become. I had absolutely no idea of what people consider “art”, and when I started to do my experiments with tape, it turned out that they were really new and different. At the end of the day, being an outsider to the whole world turned out to be a benefit to me.
Nevertheless, the link between your artistic practice and Victor Vasarely’s one is inescapable, and not only from the aesthetic point of view. The father of optical art was very confident about the democratic potential of technology and he said: “The art of tomorrow will be a collective treasure, or it will not be art at all.” Do you recognize yourself in this?
Sure, especially if we mean the attitude of making a kind of art that can be democratically read. Let’s take the graffiti artists again: they have a tag, usually their name, which they obsessively repeat. They’re kind of branding themselves. In contrast to that, I’m making shapes that everybody already owns. You know the line, the rectangle and the square since you are a baby, and you can draw them as well. I’m not making it for myself or for my crew. Also, what I do has a direct effect on the human visual system: whether you are in China, Australia or America, if you have the fortune of having two functioning eyes you can enter in contact with my work and get its meaning. In this sense, I think geometry can be considered as a universal language.
Technology plays a large role as well: my pieces look like they’re digitally realized, but they’re actually made by hand with a simple coloured tape. This insists on our cultural acceptance and perception of what technology is and means.
Since your art is strictly related to the metropolitan context, how does your approach change when you have to deal with a totally different urban environment from yours, such as Rome’s one?
In this city, I feel there is a strong connection between the architecture and the people living in it: a room is never just a box as it often happens in NYC. Concerning me, however, I don’t see so much of a change: of course in Rome the architecture is extremely different if compared to the one I’m used to, but on the other hand the elements in the streets are the same: concrete sidewalks, brick walls, doors… In a certain way, there is always an overlapping between my way of doing and the places where I operate. In case there wasn’t, I just try to let my instinct run free and pick up the visual cues the location suggests me.
Interview by Paola Paleari
Cover picture: Aakash Nihalani, Courtyard / credits Lovis Dengler Ostenrik
curated by Giuseppe Pizzuto
art critique by Vincenzo Denti
from 5 April to 17 May 2014
opening: Saturday 5th April 2014 – 7pm.
The artist will be in attendance at the opening.
via Gabrio Serbelloni 124, Roma
opening hours: wednesdays to saturdays from 5pm to 8pm
or by appointment at +39-3498112973