Nazanin Noroozi interviewed by Case Jernigan
MATERIAL WORLDS is an ongoing series at Evergreen where contemporary video artists and experimental animators discuss their relationship to tools, technology, and the history of art.
Nazanin Noroozi is a multidisciplinary artist who makes films, prints, handmade paper, and books referencing family histories, injustice, natural disasters, and the ongoing humanitarian crisis in her home country of Iran.
She scrapes the chaotic imagery of social media and the news cycle to juxtapose violence and terror against the textured Super 8 footage of benign family memories. She plays with the language of retro computer games and the frameworks established by the experimental animators of the mid-twentieth century, she brushes and pushes liquid media onto frames and stills to create layered work that defies categorization.
Based in New York, she recently finished a yearlong fellowship at Dieu Donné in Brooklyn, where she crafted handmade paper pieces and “This Bitter Earth,” a poetic short film about pain and the ephemeral nature of the documentation of cycles of global struggle. Nazanin is a New York Foundation of the Arts Fellow, a studio member at the Elizabeth Foundation for the Arts, and a powerful advocate for Woman, Life, Freedom.
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Nazanin Naroozi: What I’ve been doing is I make paintings, or stop-motions, on a separate piece. And then I impose or overimpose that stop-motion onto the footage and then I start distorting it. I cut it, crop it, make things out of it so that I can have one thing really on top of another one, but in somewhat of a translucent, transparent kind of a format.
Case Jernigan: Those moments feel like a totally different headspace. In a good way.
NN: I hope so. Right. I hope so. I hope that I can get there. I’m also thinking of maybe a certain type of shocking the viewer. Again, for lack of a better word. I’m not sure if shock is the right word. But these Super 8 moments are really sweet and as much as I feel like they are sad or heroic, there’s this sense of tension and this doom and gloom in them. But overall the reality is that these are sweet, family moments and I’m trying to think of kind of like having a BOOM! Both visually and contextually. And those shapes, and this back and forth with the spaces, can create that. Kind of a “What just happened? What am I looking at?” Something like that.
CJ: Do you think your conceptual mind is helping protect you from the intensity of some of the footage that you’re using? Because when you’re in the editing process, you were watching some pretty horrific stuff over and over and over again. Do you find yourself using a form of compartmentalization or are you naturally able to have some distance because of your role as an artist?
NN: I think it gets a little better. When I start, it’s not that great. It’s very emotional, but as I watch it over and over and over again, I get a little immune to it. I made a film a couple of weeks ago. A gallery asked me to participate in a group show for the Woman, Life, Freedom movement. And I had a lot of mixed feelings because I feel like I do want to do something but I also felt like we’re in the middle of it, how do I really react or reflect? PS 752 happened three years ago and it took me three years to be able to actually sit down and do something. Anyway, I decided to make a short film. There’s a projector, and then you see kind of a high-speed clip of all of these found videos. People in the streets protesting. Running. Everything super abstract. They’re running, they’re filming the wall, they’re filming the floor, you know, but you can hear people screaming and yelling. So it’s really a bunch of weird camera moves and then certain things that you can see here and there. And another small iPhone—on the back so you’re looking here, and then on the back there is a small tablet or iPhone—that has the videos of the actual citizens being killed in the street. People were filming them, bleeding. They go up to their head and you see them bleeding from the head. Or people carrying the bodies. And what I did was, like, the blurry images were taken from the same source. So it’s the same film. There’s a part where people are moving, running. And then they get to the bodies. So I cut it. I cut the running into one space. And then put the body into another space.
CJ: And the viewer is stuck in the middle.
NN: Yeah, and also I thought, these are gore images. I also don’t want to torture my viewers. I don’t want to force them to look at these things. But this is footage that will be erased from history. They won’t be published anywhere on social media or news sources. We will forget about these atrocities. For sure. And I felt like that was my existential question. Is art the right place? Is the art world the right place for me to capture these horrendous moments of seeing . . . like, a seventeen-year-old bleeding to death in the streets of Tehran, right? And that nearly killed me. The project that I gave . . . honestly, I don’t know how good the editing is because it was really hard for me to look at those things. It was hard for me to edit it. I don’t know how hard it is for other people to look at it. There are a lot of problems with the sound, I’m sure. But it was insane. It was so, so intense. It’s definitely less like that with This Bitter Earth. There’s much bigger distance, I feel like. Maybe because the sources are not as violent, although the concept is still very much violent. But at least what you are looking at is not pure barbarism.
CJ: Sounds very visceral. Do you find any catharsis at any point? Or is it just another layer put on top of you?
NN: I don’t know. I don’t know. I’ve learned to live with it, I feel like. Yeah, probably another layer. I guess. Probably. But I can’t really tell, honestly. At this moment that we’re talking, it’s hard to realize what is going on in my head with everything that is happening, and all of this maneuvering between events.
CJ: That’s a lot.
NN: Yeah. Life is not very simple. Unfortunately, sometimes I tell my friends that we are not the first people who are being barbarically, savagely killed and massacred and the world has watched in silence. And we won’t be the last, unfortunately. The thing is, what can we do to ensure that these things remain in history? First of all, what can we do as citizens to make things better and try to change? But as an artist, I feel like what can I do to make my contribution to these moments and make sure that they remain in our collective memory?
Fall / Winter 2023
Nazanin Noroozi is a multidisciplinary artist incorporating moving images, printmaking, and alternative photography processes to reflect on notions of collective memory and displacement. Noroozi’s work has been widely exhibited at galleries and museums across the world including SPACES, Cleveland, OH; Athopos, Athens, Greece; Golestani Gallery, Dusseldorf, Germany; Immigrant Artist Biennial, NARS, Brooklyn; Noyes Museum of Art, New Jersey; as well as NY Live Arts, School of Visual Arts, and Postcrypt Art Gallery at Columbia University. She is the recipient of awards and fellowships from New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowship (film and video), Marabeth Cohen-Tyler Print/Paper Fellowship at Dieu Donné, Artistic Freedom Initiative, Elizabeth Foundation for the Arts, and Mass MoCA residency. She is an editor at large of Kaarnamaa; A Journal of Art History and Criticism. Noroozi completed her MFA in painting and drawing from Pratt Institute. Her works have been featured in various publications and media including, Die Zeit Magazine, Evergreen Review, BBC, Elephant Magazine, Financial Times, and Brooklyn Rail.
Case Jernigan is an experimental animator, narrative game-maker, and educator. He makes work about panic, illness, nostalgia, and repressed bro culture. He shapes vulnerable worlds and values play. He’s been an artist in residence at Sharpe-Walentas and the Center for Book Arts, screened at Hotdocs and Hollyshorts, and shown paper-works across the US. He recently completed an animated documentary shorts series with Closer Productions about soccer fans. He’s currently building a stop-motion autobiographical video game about art.