REVIEWED: Navid Nuur: Phantom Fuel

By Gloria Wiley-Garcia
Hosted at Parasol unit, Phantom Fuel is the first UK solo exhibition of Iran-born Dutch artist Navid Nuur. The show features a wide selection of conceptually led two-dimensional and three-dimensional works, which by their very nature, attempt to free themselves from medium categorisation. In the press release, Nuur refers to his pieces as interimodules because they are ‘temporary module-like works that feed off each other when they are together’. Nuur twists, cuts and adds light, transforming the space, making the viewer think about temporalities and the importance of light itself. Light becomes fuel and a metaphor for life, death and rebirth. The transformative qualities of Nuur’s found objects reposition their function, meaning and impact. Whilst the exhibition rooms vibrate with a mysterious charm, numerous interesting details catch the eye’s attention and enable the spectator to go on a journey of discovery.
Navid Nuur, Untitled, 2007-2010                
Hand written text on Plexiglass light box, black metal framing, movement sensor
60 x 80 x 20 cm (23.75 x 31.5 x 8 in)       
Courtesy of the artist, Plan B Cluj, Berlin and Martin van Zomeren, Amsterdam   

The first piece, Untitled (2007-2010) can easily go unnoticed: A light box outside the gallery entrance reads ‘THERE’. This word metamorphoses after a few seconds to only read ‘HERE’. The phantasmagorical aspect of the appearing and disappearing ‘T’ alludes to the exhibition’s title and hints at the importance of context, a theme further explored within the gallery walls. The subtle light box also alerts the viewer to the use of familiarly uncanny objects. Untitled serves as a constant reformulation of meaning of the inanimate object.
 
Navid Nuur, These are the days, 2004 – 2013
Debris from former exhibitions and artist’s studio, torch lamp
Dimensions variable
Parasol unit installation view 2013  
Courtesy Parasol unit and the artist
Photo Stephen White
© Navid Nuur
In a large space on the ground floor, the installation These are the days (2004- 2013) appears to be an amalgamation of lamps/water pipes/ kaleidoscopes/cameras placed on a shelf. At first glance, they look like ordinary sculptures but through interaction as per instructions on the wall - by looking inside the individual pieces - it is possible to see new worlds. They reveal dark, twisted cavities with light shining through and a few pieces hold tiny human-like figures within their eroded landscapes. These tenebrous yet poetic environments can be interpreted as encapsulated memories, allegories of death, or even maps of the human mind.
Navid Nuur, Welcome/Welcome, 2010 – 2013
Sandpaper
Dimensions variable
Courtesy the artist, Plan B Cluj, Berlin
and Martin van Zomeren, Amsterdam

On the wall separating two rooms on the ground floor, a curtain-like piece made of long strips of sandpaper allows the viewer to move from one space to another. It takes the viewer outside of their comfort zone - one is forced to interact with the work in an irritating and overall unpleasant manner as the rough sandpaper comes into contact with one’s skin. Welcome/Welcome 2010-2013, the work’s name, is revealed only once the viewer passes through this interstitial piece - a touch of sarcasm indeed. 

Navid Nuur
From the eyecodex of the monochrome studies (study 92 - 95), 1988 - 2013
Road sign emulsion, reflective sheet
450 x 270 cm (1771⁄4 x 1061⁄4 in)
Courtesy the artist, Plan B Cluj, Berlin and Martin van Zomeren, Amsterdam

Navid Nuur: Phantom Fuel
Parasol unit installation view 2013 (as seen through peephole)   
Courtesy Parasol unit and the artist
Photo Stephen White
© Navid Nuur

Another interesting feature on the same wall is a dynamic peephole. As one looks through it, from one side it becomes a voyeuristic spy-hole and from the other side it lights up From the eyecodex of the monochrome studies (study 92-95) 1998-2013, a large canvas treated with reflective material. The work hangs in the darkness of the first room but as seen through the peephole from the other side, it absorbs the light from the bulb inside the peephole. It is a beautiful example of Nuur’s interimodules and a ludic fresh approach to monochrome theory. 

Navid Nuur, Vein of Venus III, 2008 - 2013
Overhead projector, ice lollies, freezer, paper towels, glass cleaner, aquarium
Dimensions variable
Navid Nuur: Phantom Fuel
Parasol unit installation view 2013  
Courtesy Parasol unit and the artist
Photo Stephen White
© Navid Nuur

As one begins to engage with them closely, Nuur’s pieces metamorphose into objects with indiscernible depth. Vein of Venus III, 2008-2013 is an installation with yellow coloured ice lollies pinned to an acetate sheet placed over a projector. Nuur provokes the viewer with his choice of materials which may lead to an annoying perplexity and/or boredom as the piece seems to be stuck in conceptual art of the 70s. However, as one continues to observe the work, one realises that the projector lights up the window facing the patio and then another element brings a new sequence of thought into play: The patio box displays the projection of the melting, moving stream of ice lollies so reminiscent of blood flowing down veins in a human body. Nuur has therefore been able to replicate this scientific/biological moving image through the transformative capacity of materials exposed to the projector’s heat/light - enabling the viewer to re-evaluate one’s thoughts via the mere transformation of waste into art.

Navid Nuur, redblueredblue, 2008-2013                
Mobile phone, baked modelling clay
Activated by dialling mobile phone
Dimensions variable      
Navid Nuur: Phantom Fuel
Parasol unit installation view 2013  
Courtesy Parasol unit and the artist
Photo Stephen White
© Navid Nuur

On the first floor, Redblueredblue (2008-2013) comprises an old mobile phone surrounded by a swirl of red and blue moulding clay attached to a wall. There is an interactive element whereby one is invited to ring up the mobile in question. In doing so, what one gets in return is a nostalgic old generation ring-tone and a change in the number of missed calls as well as one’s own phone number showing up on the old mobile’s screen. Perhaps Nuur’s provocative stance is somewhat misplaced here. The participatory aspect of the phone call does not make the work more interesting - on the contrary, this particular ‘fuel’ can come across as tiresome.   

Navid Nuur, The arrangement, 2013
Laser print signed letter, marker used for signing,
neon containing partly burnt letter
Dimensions variable
Courtesy the artist, Plan B Cluj, Berlin
and Martin van Zomeren, Amsterdam

Towards the back of the room, the spectator finds The arrangement (2013), a lyrical piece consisting of a framed partly burnt letter on the left and a neon loop on the right. The document refers to a work the artist would like to do in future – it is addressed to an individual who appears to have triggered the idea of the piece and who may have previously agreed to take part in it. In the letter, Nuur requests a few grams of this person’s ashes once the individual has perished. The artist would like to put these ashes inside a neon tube that will then take the shape of a letter of the alphabet.
The piece is simultaneously morbid and fascinating. Combining both spirituality and scientific curiosity, Nuur gives us details of the arrangement and tells us about his motives. The transformation of the human body into ashes and the planned insertion of these ashes into an artificial light tube serve as an allegory of death and the transcendence of the soul. Whilst the agreement in question has not materialised, the powerful descriptive element of the signed letter fuels the spectator’s mind with the idea of the possibility of its creation.   
Phantom Fuel is therefore thought provoking and the use of materials and theory tends to be fresh, open to many interpretations and poetic. As long as one is willing to put in the time and effort, the provocative and insightful nature of the pieces together with the show’s interesting curation, make this an easily digestible exhibition for most audiences. It is always enjoyable to see beautifully executed work that offers new reflections on the found object whilst avoiding clich├ęs. 


·       NAVID NUUR: PHANTOM FUEL, PARASOL UNIT FOUNDATION FOR CONTEMPORARY ART, London UK. 13 March -19 May 2013