Nathaniel Rackowe

Let’s start from the beginning, how would you describe your work ?

Okay, If I’m meeting someone who is not familiar with what I do, and I’m trying to give an impression in a few words, I normally start by saying saying that my work is concerned with cities and the built environment, that it explores ideas of how we negotiate urban space, and that I use structure and light to make these investigations….


How would you define your art, do you see it as sculpture or object of art ?

I’m very used to describing it as sculpture. But that’s because my understanding of sculpture is very broad. What I really mean is that it is a three dimensional art object that inhabits the same space that the viewer does, and is not a description or representation of anything it is not. But generally it’s easier to just say sculpture.


What did you choose light to express your art ?

OK, just let me address the light thing… I honestly don’t see any more significance in the use of light than using other materials in my work! Light / steel / glass / timber / paint / concrete / aluminium. Light is a material for me, and one with great potential, like all the others I use.


What about the colour, because you don’t use just white light for example, what about fluorescent light?

Actually I do only use white light (with the rare exception). Of course there is a spectrum of white, from the warm glow of an incandescent light bulb, to the cool line of a fluorescent light. The colour appears when the white light bounces or collides with painted or coloured surfaces, or is filtered through dichroic glass. Using white light emphasises my use of light as a material, rather than as an effect.


Light appears to create space, do you think light is an important element in our way of looking at architecture ?

Light can only define space! And for that reason, yes, it is a vital element in our way of looking at architecture. Some of my works have used light, specifically lines of moving light cast from a sculpture, that appear to “read” or perhaps try and unpick the very architectural space that contains them. The advantage of light as a material is it’s reach. It allows me to blur the boundary between the artwork and the space around it. The result can be described as installation.


Also are sounds important ?

Many of my kinetic works makes sounds, the whirr of a motor, the click clack of metal parts moving. These sounds also define space in a way, while also helping root the work and viewer in the real.


You are often compared to Dan Flavin and Donald Judd, in which way do you think your work can be related to them ?

I certainly don’t hide the fact that, particularly early in my art education, both Judd and Flavin were great influences. And since then I have even made specific works that act as homages to both artists. A very honest approach to the use of materials and industrial techniques, and the re-purposing of prefabricated elements connects my work to theirs. However, while the stripped back nature of their aesthetic bleeds into mine, I feel that my work comes from a much more personal place, drawn from a direct experience of contemporary modes of living.


Do you work on your different pieces according to the space I mean even for smaller scale ?

The space is always a huge consideration. Either when making a site specific work, or choosing how to arrange existing works. Smaller piece have the advantage of being more flexible in suiting difference kinds of surroundings. The use of different types of reflective glass in my recent DG series (one of which is currently on show at Jerome Pauchant Gallery in Paris) allows the surrounding space to be absorbed, reflected, and extended in the artwork itself.


Is the process different when you create artworks made for galleries and museums and those for outside, I mean obviously it’s different but in which way ?

There are two levels to this; firstly there are the practical considerations of making an artwork withstand the challenges of the public realm. Rain, wind, vandalism, UV: all this has to be factored. But the more interesting question is how do the public engage differently to an artwork which inhabits “their” space? Because my work is a kind of commentary or interpretation of such spaces, placing my work outdoors can be very dynamic and interesting. Take for example a recent outdoor installation I did in London, called Platonic Spin. This was part of an art festival called Lumiere, held in January 2016 across central London. The sculpture was a network of lines of light suspended between huge buildings. The form both related to, and reacted against the surrounding architecture. The people working in the building walked beneath my installation throughout the day. An artwork such as this reaches people on a totally different level than something in a gallery or museum, it becomes part of these people’s lives.


You seem to play with space, how would you imagine the perfect space ?

Every space is perfect for a different function! Right now, sitting here in my studio, my idea of a perfect space would be for a bigger studio etc. But my main fascination tends to be space in flux. What I mean by that is the idea of creation / destruction / renewal of contained space. I often think that a building is at its most interesting when half completed, to see space becoming defined, but also the structure and bones of it revealed. I have many many photos of building sites from across the world!


What interest you in industrial materials ?

It’s important that my artwork is rooted in the real. I want the individual components to be recognisable. Even if the viewer has not given attention to the kind of everyday light fittings that are above them in their office every day, there will be a subconscious familiarity when they are glimpsed in my work. The challenge I set myself in my work is to take these everyday components, and arrange them in a way to create something totally new, something beautiful, unexpected, transcendental.


You are based in London, do you think London’s architecture had an impact on your way of looking at thing and through your art ?

Yes I think it has, but more related with what I describe as “accidental architecture”. I’m often more interested in how we fill the space between buildings than the architecture itself. This is why I have made so many artworks that take a garden shed as their starting point, and then I deconstruct, slice, and rearrange them. At the same time, other cities across the world also become a huge source of inspiration. Seeing a new city with fresh eyes can be incredibly exciting. Beirut, Seoul, Dubai, Lima etc, all these cites and more have inspired specific works.


Where would you like to see your work, any dream place ?

I have some pretty big ideas for the Turbine Hall at Tate Modern!


Also, how frustrating for our generation when one see your artwork and try to take a picture, we realized that it’s nearly impossible or we can’t get the full idea of your work with a picture, how do you perceive this ?

Ha! I have embraced Instagram (find me @rackowe!), but you are so right. There is no way to get a true idea of any of my works from a iPhone snap. I just hope it gives enough to make people want to see the work for real. On the other hand, when I see other people post images of my work, it’s always interesting to notice the angles they choose, the perspective that speaks to them. I like to imagine them moving around the work, searching for that perfect shot…


How would you describe the word ART and what does it mean yo you ? 

Art is what makes us challenge the world around us, what makes us see our surroundings anew.


Interview by Fiona Vilmer, writer specialized in contemporary art.

Photographs and text courtesy of the artist.