Born in 1977 in Bedfordshire, England, now lives and works in Canada
ABOUT THE ARTIST
Working in homes and buildings slated for demolition, James Nizam photographs the constructions and interventions he creates in them, thereby redefining their function from a sheltering to an aesthetic one. For his Anteroom series, Nizam turned the empty rooms of soon-to-be-demolished domiciles into camera obscuras, capturing the living, outside world on the unhinged doors and broken walls of a derelict past, which he then photographed. For his most recent photo series Memorandoms, Nizam worked in an abandoned housing project to explore the site’s echoing histories and lingering physical traces. Its rooms became backdrops for the discarded contents and architectural debris (doors, cabinets, light fixtures, etc.) that he accumulated and constructed into sculptures of elegant complexity. Because the sculptures were destroyed when the buildings were demolished their photographs have an urgent temporality. They acknowledge the relationship of architecture to the body, the interior to the self, and recognize the human drama of displacement, the power of transformation, and the poignancy of memory.
Born in Bedfordshire, England, James Nizam now lives and works in Vancouver, Canada. Since completing a B.F.A. at the University of British Columbia in 2002, his work has been exhibited throughout Canada and the United States. Upcoming exhibitions include Christophe Guye Galerie (Zurich), Maison de la Culture Frontenac (Montreal), L’espace F (Matane) and Birch Libralato Gallery (Toronto). Most recently acquired for the Bank of Montreal Collection, his work is also included in private collections in Canada, the United States and Europe, and has been reviewed or published in Flash Art, Border Crossings, Canadian Art, and The Globe & Mail.
James Nizam’s art practice investigates the workings of memory by exploring the relationship between photography and architecture and their capacity (alone an in conjunction) to comment on the vagaries of the mnemonic artefact. At the heart of this inquiry lies Nizam’s understanding of the photograph as a “trace”; a documentary image that comes to act as a ruin or a relic, a fragment or a memory by virtue of its engagement with an altered (and absent) site. For example, in his Anteroom Series, Nizam built makeshift camera obscuras in buildings slated for demolition wherein he photographed a final view of exterior landscapes juxtaposed against the disappearing architectures of interior rooms. In another series entitled Memorandoms, Nizam took pictures of ephemeral sculptures or momento moris, which he constructed from the architectural furnishings and debris found in a soon-to-be demolished social housing complex. In his most recent series
of work entitled Trace Heavens, Nizam cut structural incisions into an abandoned house in order to manipulate the sun into light sculptures, which he then photographed. Intrinsic to all these works is the idea that the installation or the sculpture is destroyed in the act of demolition, save for the photographic record – making the documentation itself the artwork. In its capacity as mnemonic artefact, the photograph makes felt the presence of the spectral narratives arising out of the transient sculptures-in-spaces captured in it. The photograph itself is always a memorial, writes Roland Barthes, anticipating the historical death of its subject. In Nizam’s artistic practice, however, the purpose of the photograph is not just to commemorate. Rather, it comes to mirror the working of memory itself. By revealing several temporal layers and conflated narratives (e.g. the artwork in the formerly architectural realm) that we apprehend in the moment we fix our gaze upon the image, the latter functions as a trace of the haunting arising out of its subject’s destruction. Commenting on memory’s quality as being simultaneously subject and medium, Nizam aim to show how its referents co-exist in the photographic frame, sifted forever through the time (and the spaces) of the present.
These sculptures were never shown, and no longer exist except as their incorporeal pictures. To Nizam the distinction between his being a photographer who makes sculpture, or a sculptor who takes photographs is irrelevant. So even though there's an agreeable tension between whether what we're looking at is supposed to be understood as sculpture or photography, we won't pursue it.
As with his previously recognized work, Nizam makes a vacated domestic interior its backbone in Memorandoms. With the management's sanction, Nizam walked into the former Little Mountain housing project (Vancouver's oldest until being demolished for a higher density combination of market value condominiums and social housing) and turned the living room of one of the dilapidated third floor apartments into his studio for three months. The result is a series of photographs of the temporary assemblages Nizam made from the standardized, impersonal fixtures like doorknobs and stove rings that he collected from the apartments. As an architectural metaphor for the body, the loss of home is the disenfranchisement of the spirit. Into this precondition of loss, Nizam's work introduces the idea that through the performance of certain transformative, memorializing gestures, like the construction of sculpture or the taking of photographs, loss can be given some purpose and meaning.
Nizam turned the interiors of abandoned, soon-to-be-demolished homes into room-sized camera obscuras. He then photographed the results with a 35-mm camera. In his photographs, we see the character of the rooms and the jumbled leavings of the former occupants. They become backdrops that sometimes blend with the imagery projected on the walls, ceiling and floor, and sometimes fragment it beyond recognition... The result is a series of photographs that is compelling and evocative. The discarded shells of these Vancouver homes are given a final, surprising purpose - beauty.
Nizam’s background in installation art and his ongoing sculptural practice are evident in Stack of Doors and Pile of Cabinets in Room, shots that appear as much constructed as found. Pile of Cabinets is visually more complex and thematically richer. In this image, torn-out cabinets and other building forms and materials dumped outside appear to interpenetrate similar debris piled up inside the room. The intersecting and intermingling of these used and bruised planes are evocative of many forms of early Modernism, from Cubism and Constructivism to a Kurt Schwitter’s Merzbau
2011 Research Residency, University of Windsor, Ontario
Long List, Sobey Art Award, 2011
University of British Columbia Honorable Mention for the Helen Pitt Award, 2002
TALK & ACTIVITY
Jury Member, Public Art Commission For Esperanza Homes, 2011
Artist Talk, University of Windsor, 2011
Artist Talk, Buschlen Mowatt Gallery Scholarship Program, 2011
Artist Talk, University of British Columbia, 2010
Artist Talk, Vancouver Gallery Hop, Gallery Jones, 2010
Artist Talk, Contemporary Art Society Vancouver, 2009
Artist Talk, Toronto Image Works, 2008
Louis Vuitton Collection
Toronto Dominion Bank
Bank of Montreal, Toronto
Various Private Collections, Canada, USA, Europe