EK Interview: Nuno Moreira

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Nuno Moreira‘s dark art is stirring and beautifu. His most recent series ZONA is an existentialist exploration of dreams, art, and of course, meaning both conscious and unconscious. Check out his interview!

What about photography appeals to you? Excluding film, would you say photography is the most recent art form?
As you are probably aware, in terms of history, photography appeared around 1830’s with the discoveries of Niépce, Daguerre, and Talbot. It precedes film for about half a century. For a long time the preoccupations of photography were different from those of film. Photographic practice was concerned with the preservation of memory (of the living and the dead) whilst film was more experimental by nature in the way it is able to capture movement and tell stories. One is more based in reality while the other is more concerned with fiction. It’s only in the last 30 years or so that we see these two languages began exchanging and contaminating methods while feeding of each other. Photobooks are good examples of this. The mechanics of both photography and film are of course the same, both rely on optics and playing with time yet for the viewer the outcome is quite different. Nowadays we can carry movies around in our pockets but our physical relation is not quite the same as, lets say, holding a print in your hands.
In my artistic practice what appeals to me about working with photography is the possibility of creating something that pulls the viewer away from reality. The disembodiment process that sometimes occurs when one is looking at an image (be it a photo, painting, whatnot) – I always felt fascinated with that kind of experiences, the same goes when you go to the cinema for the first time – can you remember? – there’s a sensual magic about being in a dark room by your own free–will to experience something constructed to make you dream and basically play with your sense of time and space.
Art forms that are based on image are sensual by nature because we perceive them using our senses. I like to work and explore in that territory: the uncontrollable stage where the unknown and an hint of drama come together to create something intriguing.

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For your most recent series, ZONA, why did you seek to photograph thoughts and the space between them? How would you describe that space?
The series “ZONA” appeared as a direct consequence of my previous work, “State of Mind”. Both series play with the same theme of interior worlds. In the latter I had photos from different places and they could be seen as stills from spontaneous situations. With “ZONA” I was interested in creating a space for just one character to inhabit. A single space and a single universe. Basically, I wanted to shift perspectives and instead of photographing people thinking in different places, I wanted to work in a controlled setting and get inside just one head to explore the psyche of this character from within; which is of course very much a universal character in the end.

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How would you describe that space?
The only way I can explain this is by telling you about the Japanese concept of “ma”. I’ve thought endlessly about how to explain this to people and if it’s really worth explaining at all…
“Ma” is a Japanese term to explain the concept of emptiness (or a fragment) in a given space. In Japan an empty space holds significance (and tension) and can represent something by itself. In image, and visual arts, we would call it the negative space, a place that can be kept empty and silent so as to project your own imagination.
“Ma” is very much a phenomenological effect resulting from visualizing something with intent. It is something real but requires the viewers effort and interaction.
Now if there was a stage for representing our interior conflicts I couldn’t think of a better place than this.

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As you executed the series, how did it come to be? How did the work come to resemble, or diverge from your initial idea? How would you describe your final product?
By executing ideas the work gains a life of its own. I know the motivations behind my work very well but I can never predict how the outcome will be because I keep the door open for chance and what might happen during the process is very much a construction on top of what’s being done… You know, photography happens to be the tool I’m more comfortable using but I never start shooting without writing, drawing or analyzing what I’m thinking and why I’m thinking about it.

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Did you choose a specific subject, or number of subjects, to focus on? Was there a person who’s thoughts you were seeking to describe? Yourself? Or was it generally the idea of the room in our minds?
Some years ago I wrote in a notebook the following sentence: “our mind is our home and our home is a dirty place to live in.” Years after I came across this wonderful book by French philosopher Gaston Bachelard entitled “The Poetics of Space”, in it he describes in length the associations between intimate spaces, like our homes, and our sense of memory, imagination, and being. The domain of intimacy is created by the strong bond between the physical and the interior, these are closely linked together and interdependent. I’ve thought about this a lot in different moments of my life. I always had an interest in understanding how people around me remember their childhood and how closely that is associated with the sense of space surrounding them. Memories, like photographs, are motionless. You remember things by having a fixed notion of time in space, and the more fixed and… numb these memories are, the more you remember them and they reverberate within you.

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You’ve focused on the body, it being our limit with the universe, are you a religious person? Do you believe we can only affect the world through physical means? Have you studied or been exposed at all to mystic ideas? Do you believe we can only connect to the world through physical means?
I’m not a religious person in any way but, like anyone being raised in Europe, it is impossible to not have religious views in some way or another.
I understand the connection you’ve made between body and religion but when I talk about the body being a limit is strictly from an existential/biological point of view – which can be debated as a religious question as well, since in catholicism there is a big emphasis on the separation between mind, body, and spirit – but that doesn’t really concern me so much in this particular work. When I mentioned this divorce between the physical realm and the mind I was not referencing any “spiritual” motif but rather the incapacity of our body to follow our thoughts thoroughly. There are of course physical limitations as human beings, and I find that utterly ironic: that we can imagine and create possibilities beyond confinements yet we are forever stuck to these shells.
As I said I’m not religious, I have a deep sense of awe and respect for religion, wonderful works or art were commissioned and based on religion but what keeps me focused and gripped in reality is more a sense of the absurd, of how the inexplicable can be empowering. The work “ZONA” was motivated by dream-analysis and although the pictures are very much rooted in reality I wanted them to reference a more poetic, I dare say “ritualistic”, or disembodied atmosphere. A suspended tone where absence is the main protagonist.

How did you respond emotionally as the series developed? What emotions do you see immediately in your work? How important is emotion to you in your expression? Where and what role does emotion play in the space between thoughts? Is there a space between emotions? How would that space be different, or similar?
As I explained earlier my work derives from writing, reading, sketches, collage… Thinking. Photography is the culminating process. This series was conceived in one single session but it came out of months of work and analysis.
During the actual process of shooting I’m mostly immersed in what I’m doing and try to connect with what I intend on expressing. I totally rely on instinct during those moments.
Everything became more clear afterwards when all the photos were done and I started to see the results not as the creator but just as a viewer. When editing the book I understood that the images needed to “live” in a respectful way and that made me think about the book (for it’s intimacy) in accordance with the pictures – this is very important, if there is a mood, I should be respectful to that mood in the way the work is presented.
Answering your question, yes emotions are crucial for living. We feed on emotions to survive and give reason to life. Of course emotions are something important in my work but they have to be sewn in the same thread and complete each other in some way otherwise they don’t hold any meaning.

You’ve said that what you seek to describe ‘lies in exploring the unknown.’ What do you know after this series that you did not before? Where did this body of work take you that you had never been? What have you brought back from that place?
The result from this series is the book as an artistic object, and with it the discovery of a language I feel is my own and that I wish to continue exploring further as I go.
When I mentioned the unknown I was talking about working with base ideas that are common to us all but that in one way or another are not addressed as we go about our lives. Either because we are shy, or because we are afraid to talk about certain issues. I believe art can be a way of addressing these topics, the uncomfortable and questionable topics that are hard to express by verbal language alone, things like: rupture, pain, closure, silence, death, impulse, fear, curiosity, control, ecstasy, childhood, absence, etc.
What’s really important for me is working with ideas, I take photographs to visually represent ideas. This means the thoughts behind the images are more important than the images. Of course if there’s harmony and completeness between the two, only the better. I’m not here looking for any answers… I’m looking for more questions to keep myself occupied, and the only place I can do that is by looking into the void with curiosity.

Why have you chosen to photograph this series in black and white?
Because this work is largely about the shadows; furthermore, I feel these images couldn’t exist in any other way…

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What is your favorite photo in the series, and why?
I like the graphic nature of the photo taken from top where we see the table, the feet and the black dress. It’s one of the first photos in the book.

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Where will you go next, with your work?
Next I plan to present my books in more places, I’m curious to take ZONA back to Tokyo by the end of this summer to listen to the feedback over there. It’s important for me to go full-circle and go back to the place of origin and make it available there as well, specially because it’s written also in Japanese along with English and Portuguese.
Apart from that I’m slowly building a small studio to work more frequently and dedicate myself to experimenting with photography in a more consistent basis, lets see how that goes.

Portuguese photographer Nuno Moreira’s latest work ZONA plunges deeply into the unconscious by visually giving form to recurrent dreams and explorations on interior landscapes.
ZONA is a series done in 2015 between Tokyo and Lisbon and best understood in book format with accompanied words by writer José Luis Peixoto.
Similar to theater, or even cinema, ZONA was choreographed from scratched and based on different sketches and diaries by the author. The live-performance was motivated by a series of dreams that were afterwards manifested in different artworks and in a single day-shooting that resulted in a book.
Nuno’s previous work, “State of Mind” (2013), dealt with people from all sorts of backgrounds absorbed and lost in their thoughts. In ZONA, a project conceived while the author was living in Japan, we see a shift from the photographers’s point of view by getting closer to his main subject matter: thoughts, dreams, archetypes, the unknown.
ZONA is an attempt to look into these dark corners of the human mind and give them shape through pictures.

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