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In Conversation with Nadine Shaban

Nadine Shaban speaks with Alexander Stavrou about the materials she uses in her sculptures and her relationship with them amid the Coronavirus pandemic.

Substance Bundle 2020 NadineS6.jpg

beta blocker (2018)

Pins & cotton thread

Q.  Can you tell me about the objects you use and what they become? 


Nadine Shaban:  I manipulate materials found in everyday life which tend to have an industrial or synthetic quality.  These surfaces provide a masked and concrete way to express that which is personal or can’t be articulated.  I have an intimacy with texture and surface which is perhaps why certain objects speak loudly to me that would ordinarily pass people by. 

Q.  Would you consider your approach to sculpture to have an exorcising sensibility? 


NS:  It is often through some kind of repetitive motion that I bring together lots of individual parts to create new structures.  Making is a way for me to process and untangle internalised feelings and experiences. I wouldn’t go as far to say it exorcises them, but it does allow for some release and expression out in the open. 

Substance Bundle 2020 NadineS1.JPG

Performance including Petra Casale

Q.  In the pieces you exhibited as part of Substance Bundle it is possible to identify such synthetic and industrial materials in the form of latex gloves and foam ear plugs which can be commonly found in hardware shops.  Since these works were made, products such as the gloves have been utilised as an effective form of PPE in response to the Coronavirus pandemic.  They now seem to be part of everyday culture in a way they were not before.  I wondered if and how this change in the midst of the pandemic has affected the way you view these materials and your sculptures? 


NS:  Yes I’m very attracted to hardware stores and a lot of what can be found in them.  Latex gloves have been a big part of my life for the past couple of years.  They’ve been coming everywhere with me.  I also have pieces I started a while ago using dust masks and ear plugs. 


I have been sewing the gloves together to create latex skins which have been used in a series of performances.  Some of the concepts I explore to do with protection, contact and avoidance feel very relevant, but at the same time this particular work was made in a completely different context prior to corona virus.  It comes from a personal place and the work still holds importance but my creative endeavours definitely aren’t saving lives and it feels quite irresponsible to have been making hundreds of gloves unusable when they are now in such high demand for PPE. 


I was collecting and using latex gloves in mass quantity.  If I am inspired by objects which are essential in everyday life perhaps I need to find alternative ways to translate them rather than stock piling the actual products.  There were plans for the skins to keep growing so it will be interesting to see how the project now develops.  I imagine a latex glove will immediately be viewed as a symbol for corona virus. 


What the skins represent has changed as they’ve grown, but initially I was triggered by thoughts about how people avoid coming in to contact with themselves; blocking out what may need to seen and heard.  Many of us to some extent spend our lives distracting ourselves and diverting attention so not to have to face ourselves; self isolation challenges this. 


The pandemic and the changes it has brought highlight just how much the work I create is often an immediate reaction to my emotions, experiences and environment at that current time.  My work transforms as with the changes in my life. 


Despite online life in some ways becoming essential right now, an automatic resistance and discomfort I have to engage and get excited about it especially in terms of art emphasises how important physicality and tactility is within my work. 


A beauty of the lockdown is that nature is getting a chance to breathe and I am waking up to the natural environment around me.  Although I use found material and recycle work as much as I can I still collect a lot of new material which despite being conscious of I still do.  I am questioning further my excessive use of material, especially that which is synthetic.  I have been away from my studio, belongings and the spaces which I’m used to for a couple of months. All of this is forcing me to think what my art is, it’s purpose and alternative ways of it existing. 

Substance Bundle 2020 NadineS2.JPG

Q.  So do you view the latex skin which was incorporated into your performance with Petra Casale as kind of protective barrier, restraint or maybe both? 


NS:  Definitely both.  They explore how the walls we build can protect, trap and create a disguise through which to escape. 

Q.  Are you able to shed some light on why some works of yours exist as sculptures and why others become incorporated into a performance?  Do you see a distinction between these forms of work? 


NS:  I’ve always envisioned pieces becoming sculptural on the body or moving.  Over time it’s something I’ve experimented with and naturally collaborations arose with performers.  There is a distinction because the making of the pieces begins in a personal and solitary space; this is a vital part of the process so it is important that the sculpture can hold a presence in this static and isolated state.  Once the work is in contact with performers it comes out of that world and enters a new life through interaction and movement. 

Substance Bundle 2020 NadineS4.JPG


Q.  Does the context of a performance change the sculpture’s meaning? 


NS:  It allows the sculpture to develop and transform further.  So much can be expressed when the material is in conversation with the body.  It is interesting to see what narratives others create.  When I collaborate I like people to get their own sense of the objects before I say too much about what is behind the making. 


Q.  Does this fluidity of context provide the object with a constant renewal of agency? 


NS:  Yes my work has always been about transformation and destruction.  Every time work enters into performance it ignites new ideas and then each performance can be reflected on and deconstructed; its a constant cycle.  The nature of the pieces I make is versatile and I am not precious about taking things apart or destroying them if needed.  Stillness or things having an end isn’t a satisfying state for me so I keep them in motion. 

Interviewed by Alexander Stavrou

Substance Bundle 2020 NadineS3.JPG

Photo of beta blocker by Rocio Chacon at The Koppel Project Central

Photos of performance including Petra Casale by Leila Ziu at The Koppel Project Central 6th March 2020

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