Nissa Nishikawa, In-conversation.
I went to meet Nissa at her home, half way between Bethnal Green Station and Broadway Market.
From the outside Nissa’s place appears vacant, a boarded up shop on an empty street. Inside it’s cosy; exposed floorboards and natural light, burnt out fireplace, miniature Victorian bathtub and black coffee.
I learn that the dwelling, in its inhabitance of an unexpected space, resoundingly echoes the artist’s life experience.
Nissa has quietly rejected both the definition, and the institutions that define, the artist. The stark difference between her and her abode is that she is very much visible, her opinions amplified by her performances that explore and question existing structures and social expectations. She spontaneously delivers the unexpected.
In turn, Nissa’s life experience emulates the spirit we hope to release at Colony. It’s tricky to describe, Attlee depicts it, ‘animating downtown New York in the 70s’. It’s Matta-Clark’s spirit; of rebellion, freedom of the individual, and … doing things a little differently than the norm.
Where are you from?
I was born in a place called Medicine Hat, Alberta, the great wide open, as people call it. I feel a deep connection with this landscape. My mother is a painter from Yamanashi, Japan, where my parents first met. My father was researching ceramics there. He went in search of the great potter Shoji Hamada. Hamada died the same month he arrived. They moved to Canada shortly after. I visited Japan regularly as a child. My earliest memory is the smell of sulphur from the hot springs in Hakone where we spent our summers. I feel at home there, amongst the ancient stone and forest.
How did you wind up here?
My grandfather was born in Birmingham, but the thought of moving to England never crossed my mind. Alberta has the largest British army-training unit. This always repelled me. After art school in Montreal, I immediately went to Japan to live with my grandparents. During this time I started training with Dance Resources on Earth (a dance organisation led by the dancer Min Tanaka). I came from a predominantly sculpture-based approach. This time marked a significant shift to focus purely on my body, through dance and farming. Everything was stripped away. During the summers a festival called Dance Hakushu took place in the village, attended by Esoteric folk dancers from Iwate Prefecture, Kutiyattum dance-theatre, Gamelan from Bali and contemporary dancers from Russia and Hungary. It was a hub for movement in every sense. These experiences stirred a desire to study theatre. Someone told me about RADA. I applied, got in, and moved to London. The school did not braid with my intentions, to say the least. So I dropped out before the first year was over and returned to the farm in Hakushu. Yet thoughts of London remained with me. I felt a pull back to the city and applied to study a master’s degree at Goldsmiths, in Performance. I thought it would only be for a year, and now, it’s been five. My grandfather says I always follow the wind, there’s a storm brewing here…
Your performances are intense, there is an element of darkness there…
I’ve always been drawn to black, the darkness, as a surface for light to expand. A few people have witnessed my performances and are like, it’s so sad. These images of darkness symbolise beauty, and yes, sadness of the beautiful. However, there is also a fine line of humour. A playful myriad of interconnected ideas… layer upon layer, creating work that is beyond just one signature.
For Colony, Nissa is collaborating with Lise Hovesen and Javier Rodriguez, of Standart Thinking. Standart Thinking promotes practical knowledge and understanding of a range of agricultural and societal issues, through multi-layered critique and artistic expression.
Did your farming experience in Japan unite you with Standart?
We are a community of friends that believe that the simplistic rural-urban dichotomy no longer works. We tend to work on similar planes, forming a better relationship with the environment. Standart are fusing their artistic expression, daily living and reverence to the natural world in a manner I deeply respect.
What do you and Standart have planned for Colony?
They are bringing in a load of the Queen’s horse shit. And I am going to roll in it (laughs). One element of London that has really moved me is that of the urban fox, living amongst the human population. They are hugely significant, like messengers. On the evening of the sixteenth I will hold a workshop. During the workshop, we’ll hit the streets and venture out in search of the fox. The performance on the following night will be informed by our observations. During our first discussion about Colony, Lise had a flash back to her childhood, of going into a barn and finding all these dead foxes. So, we tracked them down. Lise and I are going to go to Norfolk to collect them. And there will be fox fire …
A foxy concoction Nissa delighted in demonstrating…
What are you looking forward to during Colony?
Fritz Stolberg and Kohhei Matsuda. They have a powerful connection. They finely detail image and sound, opening and tuning their instincts. Nothing ever feels fixed with them.
Could Colony roam further a field?
Of course. Jude Bennett is bringing together a diverse group, engaging an autonomous audience. Many of the conversations I am having right now are with artists who have made the decision to leave the city and move to the countryside, retreating to the land. Bringing these ideas back to the centre of London is important. It’s vital to have these conversations within the urban, as ultimately there is no separation…
Nissa Nishikawa and Standart Thinking present The Familiar Earth.
Colony, 14 Warren St, Tuesday 17th of December, 8pm.