Bold, daring and artistic – Rosa Nussbaum

Selling different products from her graduation project, Rosa quietly sat in a corner in an old-looking room. Her appearance was quite rebellious: sharp blue contact lenses and purple lipstick. She had an inviting smile on her face, and then we started the conversation about her creations…

Can you explain what print and time-based media is?

Print and time Based Media (PTBM) is a Fine Art course at Wimbledon College of Art. It covers a range of less traditional media such as film, performance, digital and analogue printmaking and new media practices such as programming. I think what’s core to PTBM is that you are confronted with issues of distribution in a much more explicit way than in painting or sculpture. If you are making PTBM work, you will, for the most part either make something extremely ephemeral like a performance or an act or something infinitely reproducible like digital video.

You are forced to think about your work in terms of how you want it to exist in the world – what space should it inhabit – how are people going to interact with it.

For more traditional practices the gallery just becomes a kind of default.

Why did you pick this subject in the first place?

I am interested in the stuff of the real world, the phenomenology of the everyday formats we use to structure and narrate our lives.

PTBM is much more a Fine Art than a Design subject, but that confusion often arises because the methods of production we explore have a strong history in the field that is usually the domain of design – that is people’s day-to-day experience.

What is the most important element in your designs?

Again I would refer to myself rather as an artist than a designer. I think the most important element for me is that my work always undermines itself. Generally my pieces are grand endeavours – world changing and epic. They are also generally and obviously silly. So you have this tension – the powerful and rich aesthetic and the futility and vapidity of the attempt.

Do you have any other media that you prefer to express yourself with?

Alongside my visual and performative practice, I write – mostly critical writing. I’ve recently been writing for Digicult. It gives me an outlet and a structure for my thoughts.

Where do you get your inspiration for your work?

The short answer is: everywhere. From exhibitions, from books, from the way the grass in the park is shorter in one patch than in another, from video games and conversations and lectures and from being around inspiring people.

Are there any specific topics that you feature in your work?

I am interested in the aesthetics of truth. Or maybe more accurately, I am interested in whether truth is really an epistemological issue or just an aesthetic quality. I want to know if the relationship between form and content, between surface and meaning is essential or contingent.

How do you transform a particular abstract idea into a concrete format?

It’s a background process, churning away in the infrequently visited corners of your mind, some mysterious alchemical process. You feed in all these impressions, this information, you let your mind wander, you drink coffee, read books, let the surface of your thought gently ripple against the edges of your consciousness. And someday, out of the deep, out of those dark recesses of your mind the solution surfaces, like something you’ve always known but just never thought to notice.

Rosa’s graduation project is very extensive. Not only does she dress up for the speeches she has written for delivery on different occasions, she has also prepared ballots with voting booths, pins, posters and a lot more.

Where did you get your inspiration for your graduation project?

Initially all I knew was that I wanted to make something politically engaged but also poetic and a bit flamboyant. At the same time I was consuming all this knowledge about electoral systems and US History alongside the exported culture and rhetoric.

I was binge watching the West Wing and reading books on political speeches and superheroes and it sort of all came together.

How did you come up with such format to present your idea?

The first important step for me was the decision to run for President of the United States.

Because the work was essentially performative, I ended up getting a lot of feedback so I could figure out what was working and what wasn’t. As an artist you are generally putting yourself in a position of authority – it’s one-way communication that can be quite patronising.

It was very important for me to try to circumvent that and to situate the work in a way that undermined its own authority. There was a lot of trial and error along the way and each speech/event fed back into my research.

What message do you want to convey through your project?

It’s not really a message. It’s more like a complicit experience. I wanted to create a situation in which the viewer would feel betrayed by their reaction to the work. The idea was to make the look and feel of the pieces so lush, so seductive that you be immediately sucked in. For a split second you would believe, be swept along by the words and the imagery. And at the same time, you would know that it was all surface; there was no substance underneath.

There would perhaps be a discomfort that could be the starting point for a discussion about the relationship between form and content.

How do you feel about people’s reaction?

Overall, very positive. The piece required some interaction. It is difficult to get that in an art/gallery context because people aren’t entirely sure what is expected of them. Can they touch? Should they cheer? I have learned that you have to make people feel comfortable and safe if you want them to get involved.

What was the voting result in the end?

Those who voted at the exhibition elected me president but not by as wide a margin as I thought they would. Obama held on to quite a chunk of the electorate. Most interesting for me were the voting cards. People had written opinions and messages on them and I thought it was great that it became a kind of conversation.

For such an interactive project, can you tell us how you feel about the result?

I feel like I pushed it as far as I could have gone with it and went well out of my comfort zone. It was a great experience for me but it also ate up a lot of my time. During the production and research I discovered so many other things and ways of working I would like to investigate, so I am excited to get started on those.

I always tell myself I’ll do some nice drawings and write some poetry before I embark on another epic mission – but I’m not convinced that will actually happen. Maybe after the next one.

As “Rosa for America” is her final project, the graduate has to come up with something new in her artistic life. Obviously, trying to be the first female U.S. president is not enough to satisfy Rosa’s curiosity and ambition. She is going to do a lot more to experiment and understand the world in different contexts.

Would you keep creating projects relating to politics or anything else?

Absolutely. But more in the general sense of political as engaged with the phenomenology of society, than party politics. I’m involved in a kind of young artist collective run by Barby Asante and Teresa Cisneros that is exploring issues of race and otherness in Britain, which I think will be both very exciting and educational.

I really want to use this project to find new ways of interacting with audiences and making relevant and daring work.

What is your future plan?

I am going to be Kanye West. I haven’t quite worked out the details yet, but I think that is going to be my next big project.

I am also opening a gallery in Colliers Wood in October. The gallery will be called Nice Gallery and will run a residency program for emerging artists that will then culminate in exhibitions in the Colliers Wood/Tooting/Mitcham area. I’m going to be working with great artists and I think we will put on some excellent shows.

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