Tight(ish)
December 11, 2018

Tight(ish)

Tight(ish)
Tight(ish)

Joining forces for this fully-packed new film—an experimental cut from a beefier feature documentary—directorial partners Hijra Collective and Elliott Gonzo set out to define one of India's fastest growing sporting obsessions: the engrossing world of professional bodybuilding.

Heading to the now legendary GM Fitness gym in India's southwestern state of Tamil Nadu, the London-based filmmaking crew met Aji—one of the area's up-and-coming stars—who led them through the complex and bombastic world of male bodybuilding competitions. All across India, men such as Aji are rejecting tradition in favor of a still poorly understood and niche sport that requires not only immense dedication, but flowing money. The protein-rich diet and relentless training sessions necessary to succeed can have a major toll on the men's bodies, bank balances, and relationships.

"For the young Tamil athletes, training and competition is everything—regardless of the skepticism felt by many of their friends and family," explain the directorial collaborators. "Bodybuilding provides a window into the aspirations of a new generation, who are willing to turn their backs on tradition and compete for a better life—even if it means sacrificing their health—in an uncertain and increasingly complicated world."

Having made two trips to India, Tight(ish) represents a taster for a fuller documentary, named Tight, which is currently in post-production. "This short gives a sense of the visual language for the forthcoming feature." Mist-soaked rainforests, oiled skin, and sensorial romps through Tamil markets merge together, highlighting the intense stimulation of the bodybuilding universe. At the same time, the collaborators point out that while the industry is clearly booming, what this means for masculinity and modernity in twenty-first century India is less clear. "As globalization rapidly transforms India's traditional, conservative society, young men are increasingly responding to a crisis of masculinity by attempting to shape themselves into superhuman muscle men.

"But can this provide them with the power, prestige, women, and wealth that they desire?"

"Bodybuilding is an art—and I'm an artist"

Photographer and Hijra Collective member Mark Leaver accompanied the crew to capture the Tamil bodybuilders in full training mode

Mistico
December 10, 2018

Mistico

Mistico
Mistico

The mask of the Luchador—worn by Mexico's premiere wrestling stars—is not a commonplace accessory. These uniquely styled face coverings reference everything from modern religion to the order of the ancient gods. Many wrestlers also take their Lucha Libre identity outside of the ring, wearing the mask in public. It is in this way that their mythology is born, and the performers' identities become—ultimately—larger than life.

Attracted to the alluring spectacle of the game, Italian-born filmmaker Carlotta Manaigo set out to get beneath the mask of one particular, and much loved, Luchador: Mistico. She first encountered the champion fighter while watching the sport at the Mexican capital's centre for Lucha Libre wrestling, the Arena Mexico—a faded yellow building in Colonia Doctores that looks something like a converted cinema. Its humble exterior—the walls are scuffed and sprayed with graffiti—belies the dramatic intensity of the action that takes place inside, mostly once the sun has set.

"Mistico caught our attention for his physique and charisma on stage," explains the now New York-based photographer and director. "After that night of spectacle we became interested in finding out more about this sport, but also about the everyday life of the luchadores, wanting to know them as people, and attempting to reveal the mystery behind their mask." What follows is a colorful account of one of the world's most mythologized sporting traditions, and the story—part real, part staged—of the man known as Mistico.

"We follow him as a grown up man in his everyday routine," continues Manaigo: "Exercising, washing his car (the Mistico mobile), going to the market, and dancing with his girlfriend at a cabaret. We witness Mistico's dedication to his faith and his mission as a fighter in the 'Sacred Ring.'" And, ultimately, we understand the way in which the Luchador becomes a reflection of his city—"one of the biggest and most colorful in the world."

The Portalist
December 9, 2018

The Portalist

The Portalist
The Portalist

This hypnotic journey from filmmaker Tim Georgeson follows Tokyo native Satoshi on his vintage motorbike through the city's streets at night, while he reflects on all things nocturnal. At turns mystical and haunting, the film takes us through a portal in time, space, and toward a feeling that we didn't know existed.

What emerges is a surreal sojourn into the unknown spaces of our everyday urban spaces—bringing new life to the filmic tradition of the road movie.

Private View: Robert Rauschenberg
December 6, 2018

Private View: Robert Rauschenberg

Private View: Robert Rauschenberg
Private View: Robert Rauschenberg

One of the most influential American artists of the post-war period, Robert Rauschenberg broke the mould of traditional fine art by making use of what he called “gifts from the street”—everyday objects that, in his judicious hands, were arranged into playful and startling new compositions. Between 1975 and 1983, the iconoclastic artist—who first came to fame when he erased a drawing by his contemporary, de Kooning—began a series of works that would become known as ‘Spreads.’ This new film, an editorial collaboration with London's Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac—who are currently exhibiting a selection of the artist's works until 26 January 2019—features Shelley Jones behind the camera and art historian Elisa Schaar in front, guiding us through the layered visual world of one of the 20th century's most distinguished creators.

Typically, the Spreads are made up of expansive flat surfaces of wood and metal on which Rauschenberg applied paint and solvent transfers, adding the found objects, mirrored plexiglass, and electric lights that typify Rauschenberg’s lifelong obsession with re-appropriating discarded and unexpected detritus. Car tyres, lightbulbs, exotic animals, and bedding appears alongside umbrellas and metal traps. In this way, the stuff of traditional still-life painting gets mixed up with the detritus of post-war America. One man’s trash became Rauschenberg’s treasure. 

As abstract as they seem, the Spreads also carry a subtly biographical element: whereas his earlier, grittier works reflected his experience of urban New York, the bright Day-Glo oranges, pinks, and yellows of the Spreads reflect his new-found life in Florida, and comment widely on technology, American culture, nature, and the built environment. It is for this reason that they take their name—spreads, referring to the spreading landscapes of the American West. 

Spilling onto floors or hanging against walls, the canvases’ planes of colour and blocks of pure white are plastered with images covering everything from floral bursts to minimalist shapes. In this way, the Rauschenberg of the 1960s had evolved his earlier explosive, gestural works into subtler and more optimistic investigations of the possibilities of modern sculpture. “I don’t care which direction anyone is looking,” observed the artist in 1981, “as long as they are seeing.”

Right To Play
December 5, 2018

Right To Play

Right To Play
Right To Play

Khalida Popal, the subject of Danish director Nina Holmgren’s latest film, is an Afghan football player fighting discrimination and promoting women’s rights in the embattled country through the world’s most popular game—one whose narratives are typically dominated by its male stars. Fired up by her love of the sport, Khalida has been motivated by one goal only: to see football reach as many people as possible. As Holmgren explains, “Khalida Popal is a modern sports icon.”

Telling the story of two generations who stood together in the aftermath of the Taliban regime and the ensuing war, the mother and daughter stood together as Khalida went on the establish the first women’s national football team in Afghanistan. In 2011 she had to flee from her home country due to death threats, and now lives in Denmark. Popal continues her fight for women’s rights, and has established the non-profit organisation GirlPower that raises awareness of gender inequality and the empowerment of women through sports—especially for minority groups and refugees.  

“The film shows how powerful a medium sports can be,” explains Holmgren. “But it also shows the incredible power of an amazing woman.”

At Home with Isabel López-Quesada
November 30, 2018

At Home with Isabel López-Quesada

At Home with Isabel López-Quesada
At Home with Isabel López-Quesada

Located in the Pays Basque in south-west France, the elegant holiday home of Spanish interior designer Isabel López-Quesada is a chic testament to everyday design and the easy sophistication of Zara Home, whose products and furnishings grace her light-filled property. For this new film, López-Quesada welcomed director and NOWNESS collaborator Max Hemmings into her private retreat to talk about how our home makes us who we are, and the importance of making someone feel 'at home'.

By turns stylish and intimate, this portrait of the Madrid-based interiorist—whose design philosophy extols the creative combination of tradition and modernity—celebrates the ways in which we feel comfortable in our own surroundings, where the home represents a repository of our feelings, emotions, experiences, and memories. 

The Zara Home collaborator, whose interior projects stretch from Philadelphia to Madrid, has been recognized by a number of accolades, including Architectural Digest’s ‘AD100’ and the Spanish edition of the same magazine’s ‘Best Interiorist’ award. 

Isabel collaborated with Zara Home on the interiors of their newly opened Bilbao store. 

Portrait of a Place: Bestas
November 27, 2018

Portrait of a Place: Bestas

Portrait of a Place: Bestas
Portrait of a Place: Bestas

Each summer in the Galician town of Sabucedo, the young people of this rural parish take part in a tradition known as Rapas des Bestas—a festival, dating back 450 years, in which participants cut the manes of wild horses. The aloitadores, those responsible for restraining the horses while the cutting takes place, do so without ropes or sticks; relying on skills learned from an early age, and based on techniques passed down by the generations preceding them. 

In order to capture this unique and historically authentic tradition, London-based directorial duo Jose Otero and Louis Ellison (together forming Verso Films) struck out into the woodlands of Northern Spain, in search of one of Europe's oldest equestrian celebrations and the people who keep its flame alive.

In Sabucedo, the mane cutting takes place in a masonry 'curro', or enclosure. The festival has a rich ritual element, which has attracted the interests of anthropologists and tourists for generations. The wild horses are said to belong to St. Lawrence, to whom the town commends itself at a special dawn mass —marking the beginning of the festivities. Locals and visitors subsequently head out into the surrounding woodland, searching for horses that they then lead and encourage into the curro.

"Neither ropes, sticks or any other instruments are used to subdue the horses," explain the directorial duo. "Across more than 200km of hillside, more than six hundred horses roam freely in fourteen droves, referred to in Galician as bestas (mares) and garañones (stallions). The festival involves bringing the horses down from the hillside, gathering them into an enclosure, cutting their manes and tails and tagging them. " Today, this is done with a microchip rather than a brand.

Private View: Yves Klein at Blenheim Palace
November 25, 2018

Private View: Yves Klein at Blenheim Palace

Private View: Yves Klein at Blenheim Palace
Private View: Yves Klein at Blenheim Palace

Scattered among the sumptuous scenery of Oxfordshire's Blenheim Palace are bolts of shocking blue: the tell-tale signature of French artist Yves Klein's lifetime obsession with a remarkable hue that he himself mixed and owned. From pure color-fields to coated objects and paintings, this powerful pigment contrasts creatively with the array of deep, rich, and glittering colors within the landmark property which has, as the Blenheim Art Foundation, exhibited work by the likes of Ai Wei WeiJenny Holzer, and Michelangelo Pistoletto.

Produced in collaboration with the Yves Klein Archives, the exhibition coincides with what would have been the artist's ninetieth birthday year. Combining archive footage and exhibition shots, the film—shot by Mike Nybroe—takes us on a deep dive into the ultramarine world of one of the twentieth century's most iconic artists, and is scored by Klein's own Monotone-Silence Symphony.

Photographers in Focus: Viviane Sassen
November 21, 2018

Photographers in Focus: Viviane Sassen

Photographers in Focus: Viviane Sassen
Photographers in Focus: Viviane Sassen

For Dutch-born artist and fashion photographer Viviane Sassen, it is not Arnhem or Amsterdam but a village in the remote west of rural Kenya that holds the biggest sway over her creative voice. Sassen, the subject of the latest episode of our flagship series Photographers in Focus, spent her early years in the East African country, learning much from its “bright sunlight and dark shadows.” It is a subject to which she has returned again and again.

Since heading back to northern Europe to live and study, Sassen has established herself across the fields of fashion photography and art, and is much lauded for her stylistic calling-card of geometric shapes and abstracted bodies. These images, observed the veteran shooter in an interview earlier this year, are like “puzzles,” where she “brings a few elements together and experiments” while always looking “for that little bit of magic.”

Contributing regularly to titles including Dazed and Confused, Pop, and AnOther, Sassen has collaborated on a wide range of global campaigns including those for Stella McCartney, Hermès, Miu Miu, and Missoni. And yet, despite the diversity of her photographic portfolio, her images always return to her earliest memories of light, shape, and shadow, and to the people and places of Kenya. Her 2014 photobook Pikin Slee is illustrative of this—a collection that directly referenced the village of her upbringing, which is inhabited by the ancestors of former slaves who escaped Dutch rule. It represents a studied exploration of the beauty of everyday, seemingly normal objects and arrangements—a bowl of grain; a spool of wire in stark monochrome—which are imbued with intense mystery and symbolic significance.

The same can be said of her commercial photography, where sharp contrasts, bold forms, and a close attention to the play of shadow and light, have cemented her reputation as one of the leading figures in contemporary fashion imagery. At the same time, her images—which are subtly informed by Surrealism—often have an unsettling and experimental edge, leading to the suggestion of darker themes underlying her often vibrant compositional worlds.

Sassen’s work was recognized in 2015 with the award of a Deutsche Börse Photography Prize, in response to Umbra, her exhibition at Nederlands Fotomuseum. She has also been the recipient of The Prix de Rome in 2007 and, in 2013, showed work at the Venice Biennale.

La Truffe
November 16, 2018

La Truffe

La Truffe
La Truffe

In his sprawling 1725 gastronomic compendium The Physiology of Taste, French author Brillat-Savarin didn’t hold back when it came to his treatment of the notorious truffle: “Whosoever pronounces the word la truffe… gives voice to erotic and gastronomical dreams.” Prized for their rich and unparalleled flavor, truffles grace the menus of the world’s most prestigious eateries and restaurants. However, these pungent tubers are infamously difficult to farm and, as a result, extremely scarce, as director Jack Laurance discovered with this, his latest film.

While shooting in Périgord, in the South West of France, Laurance uncovered an "intense paranoia and fear [that] seems to permeate" the tight-knit community whose livelihoods depend on the black 'diamond' truffle. The discovery of a body, and the kidnap of a prized truffle-hunting dog, shed light on the dark reality of a foodstuff whose delicious flavor hides a bitterness that goes right to the core of the trade.

Appropriately enough, the bulbous, soot-black ingredient known as the truffle grows only in the shadow of Hazelnut trees, and must be sniffed-out by specially trained dogs under careful observation from human cultivators. Due to their scarcity—and immense value—the black truffle has encouraged a nefarious trade to blossom around it, as mysterious as the aromatic fungi themselves. And in this way, Brillat-Savarin's truffle dreams can easily become truffle nightmares.

Laurance, whose film unearths the dark underbelly of rural truffle farming, quickly discovered that an air of reverential mystery pervades its cultivation. “The film is actually the product of a recce me and my producer Marie-Cecile went on a few months back,” explains the London-based director. Participants were often reluctant to appear on film, for fear their identity would be given away—and their precious crop raided in the depths of night. “I’d been reading stories about the darker side of truffle farming, where their scarcity and value has sadly compelled some people to do terrible things." 

Laurance’s time in Périgord served up an enigmatic experience: “From the local gendarmerie, to paranoid farmers and secretive wholesalers, the world of the truffle is shrouded in mystery.” The murder of a local man, Ernest Prado, during an alleged truffle raid, was just the beginning: "As we started exploring the backdrop of truffle culture against which this tragedy was set, everything seemed to be underscored by a curious tension.”

Telfar X FAKA: Not For You, For Everyone
November 15, 2018

Telfar X FAKA: Not For You, For Everyone

Telfar X FAKA: Not For You, For Everyone
Telfar X FAKA: Not For You, For Everyone

"Rarely do I get approached to be part of something where the planets align so well," explains photographer and director Akinola Davies of his latest film—which captures a powerful a capella performance orchestrated by South African musicians Fela Gucci and Desire Marea, who collaborate as FAKA. The choir's song unfolds within Mexican architect Frida Escobedo's Serpentine Pavilion: a soot black structure using hundreds of thin concrete tiles, forming an interpretation of the traditional Mexican celosia—a type of building that uses perforations to enable better air circulation. Working through and against the building's design, the choir—dressed in pieces from menswear label Telfar's SS19 collection—took a different tack, using these sight-giving slits in the building's face as a frame to address issues relating to power, race, and spectatorship.

The pavilion "became a framework for a subversive performance about the empathy of power—disciplining the viewer, [about] presence versus representation, the body, spectatorship, and ultimately subjugating the white gaze," continues Davies. "I think that framework and the care with which it was curated permeated through the performance we witnessed." Part of the Park Nights series, which takes place at the Serpentine throughout the summer, the performers moved through the assembled audience before entering the red-lit structure. Guests could only peer through the cracks, as if looking into a cage—or into a space to which they were not permitted.

"It was something akin to an ancestral service," explains Davies. "The voice and movement immersed us in a trance which felt like the divine emotional therapy we all need. To be honest I'm just super glad to have been part of something that makes me open to beauty and the resilience of the human experience and the making of life powerful and beautiful everyday."

Leap
November 12, 2018

Leap

Leap
Leap

The potent connection between art and intimacy is the subject of a new film from London-based director Stephen Isaac-Wilson. A contemporary response to Barbican's Modern Couples: Art, Intimacy and the Avant-garde exhibition, exploring the relationship between famous creative duos including Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, Dora Maar and Pablo Picasso, and Salvador Dali and Federico García Lorca, Isaac-Wilson's film picks up on the show's themes of liberation, transgression and collaboration.

Speaking about this lyrical ode to the creative act, Isaac-Wilson explains: "Leap explores the power and beauty of artistic queer relationships, their contribution to and influence on the world of art."  

"This film is about the wonderful people who enter your world, both fleeting and long-term, those who leave a lasting impression on you," he continues. "It's about the act of being vulnerable with someone, and the power and influence that has over our art— but, more importantly, over our lives."

Modern Couples: Art, Intimacy, and the Avant-garde is showing at Barbican, in London, until 27 January 2019. More information here.