Article by Vivon O’Kelly
We talk to Firouz FarmanFarmaian, the nomadic artist and gallery owner who, with his wife Camilla, are changing the cultural scene in Marbella.
Some people leave a footprint wherever they walk, and both Firouz and Camilla, are among them. His journey has taken him from his native Iran, which he left as a political exile at the age of four, to Paris, Marrakesh and Marbella as places of residence, to Finland in search of his Nordic roots and on to London, Dubai, New York and Washington, among other world capitals, as an artist exhibiting his work.
Home, for this unusual couple, is where they feel it, where Firouz can look back over his life so far, untangle the thoughts and experiences he gathered along the way and express them as extraordinary works of art, and where Camilla can dedicate herself to doing what she does best: curating exhibitions.
We spoke to them about their gallery in Marbella, Nouvelle Vague ArtSpaces (NVA), and the upcoming group exhibition “To Think of Shadows is a Serious Thing”, running from July 9th – August 16th.
Why is the gallery called Nouvelle Vague ArtSpaces? What’s so vague about it?
(Firouz) The real strength and creativity of the sixties French Nouvelle Vague movement was due to its limited means, when artists such as Jean Luc Godard roamed the streets of Paris with small cameras on their backs creating masterful works of art. It also keeps me emotionally connected to my home city, Paris, which I left six years ago.
I like saying we chose an alternative path in our relation to the art world, always looking for new waves to push art into the new century. If avant-garde was the scene of the sixties, we consider our project as a post-avant-garde experiment. “Vague” in French translates into wave. I believe everything is energy and all you need to do is to learn how to connect to be creative.
Why did you choose a space in an industrial estate in Marbella to launch it?
(Camilla) Because of the rawness. Urban industrial craziness facing the sea and Africa beyond. When we stumbled upon it just two years ago the space was turned upside down, its previous tenants having been ejected by the Narcotics Police. As we got to know later, the space had been an indoor marijuana plantation and the whole electrical system was burned out. But we loved the raw Brooklyn-style vibe with its touch of Miami industrial sun, and we set out to restructure it to our needs instantly!
We established the artspace with the help of our Estepona-based Argentine artist Daniel Jameson, locating Firouz’s studio in the back and creating space for future residencies. The story started there and then.
I see NVA as an international creative platform more than a local commercial gallery, with a focus on young artists and emerging voices from all over the world
Did you set out to establish a commercially successful gallery in Marbella or was there another motive?
(Camilla) I see NVA as an international creative platform more than a local commercial gallery, with a focus on young artists and emerging voices from all over the world, with special attention to the Middle East and North Africa, giving artists from these regions a platform in Europe. I personally think the next wave is developing in these same regions as we talk.
I believe in the idea of intercultural exchange and programs, without borders and decentralized, where the actual location would be secondary. We work on physical and/or VR exhibits, and propose what we call the NVA +1 summer residency programme. We were happy to have had Seattle-based Egyptian artist and designer Samer Fouad and Parisian contemporary artist Frederic Atlan on board in 2019.
Which artists are taking part in your July show, and how did you choose them?
(Camilla) For the upcoming July exhibition I have chosen to curate the work of four young emerging women artists with innovative and conceptual approaches. It was also important that we shared a common culture: Turkey, Greece and Iran are historically and emotionally linked.
The exhibition is to be called To Think of Shadows is a Serious Thing, and it traces the story of light and dark as an allegory, exploring shadows and boundaries. The elusive, indeterminable shadow is heavy with meaning, shedding light and blurring edges of things we cannot always perceive.
(Firouz) For us, it’s a family affair too. Camilla is curating and my younger sister Aiché FarmanFarmaian is debuting with her hand-painted panels. I am excited for both of them. The exhibition blurs the idea of boundaries through the prism of light. We hate stereotypes, and this is another step in that direction. But I will not be involved artistically.
The exhibition blurs the idea of boundaries through the prism of light. We hate stereotypes, and this is another step in that direction
Firouz, your last New York show was titled Poetry of the Tribe, and you have used the word “nomad” in previous interviews. Is a sense of tribe important to you personally?
If we’re to change the destructive course we have set ourselves upon, we need to regain our archaic identities in order to re-establish a beneficial relationship with the natural world. The true idea of tribe holds that message, linked to spirituality and the idea of the sacred. I consider myself a Planetarist, and as a child of revolution, I embrace the idea of a nomadic approach, making the world my home. In that sense, I am announcing my next site-specific installation for the autumn, hopefully, titled World As Tent, to be shown in in a sacred place in central London.
How do your Iranian origins manifest themselves in your work, apart from the obvious (women in veils etc)?
In the ancient Persian tradition, the multidisciplinary approach has always been seen as the best way to see the world. Omar Khayyam, one of our most celebrated poets, adored fine wines as he contemplated astronomy, practised as a doctor and claimed the right to immortality through his poetry.
How important is your architectural background to your art, and I mean technically rather than philosophically (if you make the distinction)?
Growing up in Paris, I was tutored by my grandfather Abdol Aziz FarmanFarmaian, one of Iran’s leading modernist architects, and that led me to study architecture for three years before dropping out. It has obviously left both technical and philosophical traces.
Technically, the process of project building is something I use every day. Conceptualization, adapted plans applied to the physical world, choice of tools and teams, production, study of deployment solutions and installation: they all come into it. I attended art school at a time when 3D was still known as spatial geometry, and had to be drawn in China ink rather than simply calculated on Autocad. It gave the imagination a trained dexterity to project ideas into space. I believe the conversation between the hand and the brain is essential, immemorial.
You are part Scandinavian. Is that reflected in your art?
Yes. Nature has a continuous impact on my global practice. I often retreat to Finland’s lakes with my wife Camilla to connect with and to study nature. The planet is a living body that I have a need to converse with.
NOUVELLE VAGUE ARTSPACES
Calle Carbon 112, 29603 Marbella, Malaga, Spain
Tel: (+34) 652 418 973
On appointment only.
To Think of Shadows is a Serious Thing
Group Show – Opening July 9th and running to August 16th.