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Nastern Azadi: I try to engage the audience with my works

Nastern Azadi: I try to engage the audience with my works

In an interview with Iran Art, Nastern Azadi talked about his special interest in painting and video art, the emptiness in his works, the hidden idea of things, and curation and education.

Iran Art: Nastaran Azadi is a conceptual artist, born in 1985 and inspired by the artists of the 90s. She pursued her studies in painting until she got a bachelor's degree. In 2021, the art website of “Artland” attributed her artworks to the YBAs or the "Young British Artists" group. Azadi utilizes various artistic media to create her works, exploring philosophical ideas in the realm of phenomenology.

You can read Iran Art's interview with this artist below:

Tell us about the ideas behind your work. How do you choose your ideas?

My ideas are usually images embedded in my mind, either like visions or inspirations or as dreams. They always appear unexpectedly, so they come as a bit of a shock as well as a welcome excitement. It is, in fact, this excitement that moves me to bring them into the physical world. It usually takes me a long time to give life to each concept, and I spend a lot of time working on just one idea at a time. During this process, often other newer ideas can join the original one. Really, the more that I work with an idea, the more the idea reveals its true face to me. It is as though, through this very process, my understanding of the initial image or of those visions can truly become deeper and clearer. When I am working on a piece, my whole life becomes entangled with the work in a really deep and meaningful way. Everything in my private life can be connected to the process, and the art itself can become a part of my actual life. It is better to say that, in a way, the art gets actual life. It does not just happen at the studio; it is present everywhere in my day-to-day life. In other words, the ideas become a part of my life—my very being.

What led you to choose the concept of “Hidden”?

The possibility of being seen and what remains hidden has always been one of my greatest concerns. The hidden aspect of things is possibly one of the strangest things in the world that has attracted my attention. The very first thing I became aware of being wrapped up in this mysterious web of hidden aspects was myself. Truly seeing myself has been one of my oldest struggles, and throughout my many years, it has seeped through all other areas of my life. Little by little, I began to realize that everything in my life is strangely connected to this concept of hidden things. This is why the idea of phenomenology has become the main concept of all my works. However, how these curiosities of mine turn into a piece of art is not really within my control. It is not really my choice. They are images that pop into my head. It is almost as if these ideas are answers to my personal struggles and curiosities, coming to me all of a sudden from the realm of ideas. On the other hand, I always appreciate simplicity. Simplicity has a splendid mystery and depth in and of itself. I think simplicity is the hidden face of complexity. This is why some of the concepts in my work may come across as overly philosophical and difficult, but really, in practice, when they are turning into actual art, they take on quite simple forms. I always find my deepest ideas in the simplest forms, and this kind of seeing in my opinion, is a bit playful—it's a bit mischievous. The very fact that there are hidden things or hidden aspects to things is kind of a game—it has a playfulness to it. That’s why playfulness in form and in exhibiting the work is also an important aspect for me. I think games generally provide an opportunity to see what cannot be normally seen. Games move boundaries—remove them in a way—or stretch them infinitely—because when we play, we are allowed to step outside serious rules. Also, the very essence of a game is similar to an adventurous or curious spirit, which means there will always be progress and movement. In my humble opinion, in the face of complexity, the most important thing is playfulness.

The concept of “Vacuum” is also a recurring theme in your work, especially in regards to the exhibit titled “|There is not| Something to See”. Would you mind explaining the vacuum your work is concerned with here?

When we become aware that everything happens in secret or has a hidden aspect, everything becomes a vacuum. In my opinion, this vacuum is the most hidden thing that’s always with us. It is always accessible—always within our reach—always the surrounding space around everything—it is present everywhere. The best example is perhaps the sky above us. When we are looking at the sky, we are looking at nothingness—at what does not exist. Looking up at the sky is truly one of the things I love dearly about life. The sky is so fascinating to me. Looking up at the sky and the stars gives me the feeling or the hope that I can understand something—or anything true, or infinite, or even hidden—any concept such as these infinite terms—could perhaps be understood. That’s why in my exhibit titled “|There is not| Something to See”, everything was made of space, galaxy, and the like. Even the sounds that were played in the gallery. All of the darkness and the crystal videos were a part of creating this vacuum. To identify and understand the vacuum is perhaps the same as seeing or understanding the hidden or the infinite. A place where everything is hidden—things that cannot be easily put into words. In truth, when we think about how everything takes place in hiding, our existence becomes a vacuum itself. Then nothing exists. There, a big void is felt. A big vacuum.

You have worked with many different mediums. Which one is the most important to you as an artist?

Painting and video art. Both of them. Truth be told, I can't pick between painting and video art. I love both of them a lot. But at the end of the day, I think it is the ideas that choose what mediums they are going to be manifested in. I’m just the artist who gives them shape. On the other hand, video art and painting are almost the same thing to me. Video art admittedly, much more closely resembles the images in my head, while paintings much more closely resemble the feelings I have about the images or what I feel as I’m facing them. I think there’s a kind of expression that can exist only through painting as a medium. Even though painting is just one image and seemingly less capable of the freedoms video art can provide, it has an enchanting quality. I do not believe that this quality is something a painter achieves in one special or particular painting. I think this is something universally true about painting and inseparable from it as a medium. This is why I think painting has special or unique emotions in and of itself. Either way, both of these mediums are crucially important to me, but of course, installation art has a serious connection to video art, especially since I love using the entire gallery space for an exhibition. This is essentially why I end up using all the available mediums when it comes to my work.

It seems you have an interest in involving your audience in your work. Would you mind telling us about this?

I believe a piece of work is finally complete once it has been exhibited. Thus, the audience is extremely important to me. The connection between the audience and my work is a way for me to get to know myself. When they play a bigger role in watching and observing my work, the work becomes more and more unknown to me, and that makes me try harder to figure out what it really was that I made. I mean, truly, what is it? So I become more connected to the work as a result. That is why the audience is so important to me. I love working alone, but I love seeing my work with other people. This is why, during my work, I constantly think about the exhibit and how I am going to present it to the world. And when I finally exhibit it, that’s when the lights turn on, and what I have to understand about my work takes place there.

You have also been active as a curator and lecturer alongside your work as an artist. Would you like to tell us a little about these projects as well?

I like the study of art, and I take it quite seriously. The more I study, the deeper my understanding of my own work grows. For me, this is gaining a kind of self-knowledge. Because it helps me understand how these ideas actually work in the real world. I always enjoy seeing the bigger picture and truly observing the depths of things. Especially about something I am doing seriously. Studying gives me the opportunity to understand my path better and see things with a greater depth. Being an artist is a journey, in my opinion. It is a journey that, quite frankly, becomes extremely difficult sometimes. Studying art helps these difficulties take on another shape. This is how our challenges can turn into knowledge. Another thing is that sometimes I really have to distance myself from my work and have no connection to it for a while so that when I come back to it rejuvenated, I can have a deeper relationship with the work. This is often where I try to be connected to my community. It also provides me with a chance to do some work as a researcher—to come up with research projects and join groups to do research work with. Afterwards, I always have the chance to come back to that isolation and spend some quality time with my work from a new perspective. This whole process is how I find balance.

Iranian artist Nastaran Azadi
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