This week the Visual Arts department welcomed Nicolas Feldmeyer, a recent graduate from the MFA programme at the Slade School of Fine Art and winner of the Saatchi Gallery and Channel 4’s New Sensations Prize 2012, who gave a presentation on his practice and conducted one-to-one tutorials. Nicolas’ talk combined excerpts from his videos, documentation of his large-scale installations, as well as work using found postcards and digital imaging. Various interrelated themes were touched upon throughout Nicolas’s talk and explored in subsequent questions and discussion. Aside from observations about his subdued, often monochromatic palette, there were more subtly invoked ideas about the meditative quality of his work, the interest in the materiality of the image, the activation of space and the juxtaposition of formal contrasts. The work seemed to be concerned with sustaining a crossover point between an artificial or technological aesthetic and one that is ostensibly more authentic and natural. This deceptively complex point of contrast recurred in a number of different ways throughout the presentation, exemplified in work that focused on close observation, the everyday, the revelation of slow yet intractable change, subtle disturbances of superficially contemplative scenes, collisions between urban and natural environments, and so on.
Often Nicolas would describe the initial discovery of an image or scenario, and the subsequent necessity of finding some way to further “activate” it, an intervention that would make it, as he put it, “more conscious”. This was also combined with a desire to reduce the amount of explicit information provided by a given image, while at the same time emphasising its suggestiveness and potential. Echoes of the work of John Stezaker could be seen in a series of collages and eroded photographs – attempts to capture emergent meaning without fixing it in any closed or definitive statement, as if trying to create newly plausible images with the barest possible means.
Nicolas’s previous training as an architect was clearly evident in his interest in the internal construction of the image. He showed a number of images meticulously constructed using 3D modelling software, making use of the program’s photorealistic power to generate detailed virtual models of both epic mountainous landscapes and humble interiors. However, the architectural influence was most apparent in his large-scale installation pieces, such as his elegant intervention in the crypt of Christchurch Spitalfields, in which carefully articulated white sheets inverted the vaulted ceiling through the use of gravity and the catenary curve, inserting a soft underbelly beneath Nicolas Hawksmoor’s structure. Similarly, his intervention to the portico of University College London, adjacent to the Slade, wove white lines of permeable fabric between the columns in a pattern that suggested both ancient methods of construction and the wrappings of Christo and Jeanne-Claude.
The sense of scale is strikingly malleable in Nicolas’s work, as if it made little difference to the overall ‘tone’ whether it is in miniature or on a vast scale. Many of his points of discussion revolved around what he described as studio or ‘kitchen’ experiments – short sequences of video that aimed to embody or visualise a thought process, even through literal renderings of movement, such as the transition from agitation to resolution in liquid viscosity, again echoing his interest in natural forces, what he described as gravity’s “irremediable movement to the ground”. These informal, playful pieces echoed aspects of the Romantic tradition, including specific paintings by Caspar David Friedrich, as well as references to the earthworks of Robert Smithson and the photography of Hiroshi Sugimoto. In his interest in simple things that are overlooked, there is a sense that Nicolas Feldmeyer maintains faith that the contemplative simplicity of his work is able to invoke enormity, as if simple actions of looking, watching and waiting can, when activated by the considered intervention of the artist’s hand, be enough to witness, or even bring about, something like sublime experience.