Saul starts by asking Ugochukwu-Smooth Nzewi and Emeka Ogboh of One Room Shack about their work as artists.
U-SN: As an artist, I explore memory. I'm an installation artist, but I also paint. I deal with memory as a collective experience, and with [visual] symbols: how they work in a contemporary context.
How did you meet?
EO: We met at university, and always had an idea for a collective. There was no timeframe.
U-SN: We had both worked with memory. One-Room Shack deals with power and structure, and how power works at individual and collective levels, and how power defines the state.
One of you is based in Lagos, the other in the US. How does that work for you both?
U-SN: When I was in Nigeria, full-time, we lived together in Abuja and then in Lagos. Some of our ongoing projects, such as Aesthetics of slow food and Dinner for two, look at people in cities. We found that customers of the cheaper restaurants in expensive areas turned out to be domestic servants who did not live there in those areas. Dinner for two looked at the relationship between the first and third worlds as a dinner conversation.
EO: We collaborate by meeting up in Nigeria and the US, and talking on Skype.
How frequently do you meet up?
EO: Around twice a year. If I have an idea, I just have to get him up [!] It's been working this way for some time now. He was in Lagos in December, so we had time to work together, so we met before coming to the UK.
How did you come up with the idea for Unity?
EO: It started with the call for proposals. We started by looking at the Olympic logo, and the interconnectivity of the circles. Our idea was for it to be outdoors, but the work was to be installed in a gallery, so we retrofitted it for that purposes.
U-SN: We banded ideas back and forth by Skype, and talked about how the Olympics deals with power structures. The Olympic Games has never come to Africa.
EO: It was important to make it interactive. It should not be a sculpture piece; viewers should be part of the installation. The installation of motion detectors means that as visitors come into the space, it lights up.
The subtitle of this seminar is Space, architecture, technology. How do you work with space?
U-SN: We are fortunate to have work that can fit into a range of spaces. The brief was for the work to be flexible. Space was important in the work.
How about the importance of people moving through the space?
U-SN: Work in a gallery has the potential of people moving through it. Outdoor work gives you less control, but is always there.
What is the significance of people interacting through the space?
U-SN: We are interested in work that is very interactive, and is interacted with by human presence. Such a presence is at the heart of the project.
When you are working together and planning what you are doing next, how do you decide what to focus on in terms of experience?
U-SN: Sense and sensory perception is very important to our work, as is human emotions and concentration. We don't do static works.
EO: While Dinner for two is visual, you have to use your ears... and your nose. To create a environment with an aroma.
How is new media art in Nigeria?
EO: There's a network which focuses on new media art. Art in Nigeria is usually based on the perception of what can be sold in a gallery: mostly for collectors, for interior decoration. New media with sound and video... no-one wants to buy it. However, a lot of people work in new media but do not really realise it... creating video art. We promote video art by screenings, promotions, and are in the process of setting up a festival. We found that with a festival, having all this out there, it can be seen as art. New media artists are not so confident, so we need to promote it. It's still new.
How important is your work in that context?
EO: Where it's global, it's also local. The Internet has narrowed everything down. I live and work in Lagos, but my work is shown mostly abroad. I can put my works in a global context.
How far has technology made place less relevant?
EO: It has narrowed things down. A lot of artists that have never travelled outside of Nigeria, have their works online and they are curated through online channels. Curators are now interested in coming to Lagos to see this work.
U-SN: Our experiences have put us in a better position to appreciate cultures. In Nigeria, you are been in a position where you are allowed to access different experiences. For example, from day one we have been exposed to [TV] programming from the UK, which allows for a greater consideration of your [the UK's] place in the world.
Your work is about the animation of space through selective attention. Its viewers do not say 'It was this, it was that'. You're both [groups] dealing with people in a space, together, experiencing the animation of sound and light.
CMcG: At Kinetica, we could bring in four people at a time to the installation. The work offers quite a narrow space. If we had a bigger space, then people could walk around it. What was lovely about Kinetica was that one of us could be in the space explaining what was going on, and the other would be beside the door, hearing the visitors: 'Wow, that was cool!' The one inside didn't get any of that. It was lovely in the beginning where people could contemplate it and talk to Bruno or me about it.
How is perception of light and space integral to your work?
U-SN: We try to make a sense of democracy around the space in our work. Do you allow the audience some room?
CMcG: Even offering a little amount of space allows freedom to move around. One of the things that I feel quite strongly about is the whole business of media in general, is it's all interactive. It all requires a participant. Without them there, filling in the gaps, you haven't got anything. It's like film narrative; it's not the film itself, it's the gaps in between: creating the movement, contemplating that. People reading film are skilled: they are reading the lacuna in the text all the time, and are not really given credit for it. We are doing that, in a way.
I had a sense in both works of domestic space, and in non-human systems.
EO: As artists, we couldn't get in studios, so we just had to work with what we have, in the kitchen!
You mentioned Ubuntu before - generosity, the spirit of conviviality.
U-SN: It's a South African word; a philosophical statement. You are a person because of your humanity; you need other people to be alive.
How is working together?
CMcG: It's unlikely but a really good fit. Bruno also uses video. I don't think that we could have made this work before we made our first works in 3D, because it was tough. Bruno is more of a technician; I am more of the researcher. At Kinetica, we split the talking between us. Mine was more cold and "researchy"...
BM: ... but she can explain how the brain fills in the gaps in terms of neuroaesthetics.
CMcG: We used synchronous sound; it came out quite organically and intuitively. When we fed back into what we had done with it, we realised that we had pointed out the two movements in the Gestalt circle: the fine movement being the clicking movement, and the other, more organic sound which carried across as the beta movement. The sound helped people to differentiate between the two movements. When people came into the space, they would often jump. The thing about lighting something selectively is that they [the visitor] eventually appreciate is that they are the 'clever thing' that makes it work.
You were talking about the new media scene and starting a festival. The new media festivals across Europe have defined the territory. As we have talked about the experience of being a participant, and you are looking at the art market, how are you defining what you're doing? You have used words such as 'participant' and 'observer' in the work, flashed up on the screen.
CMcG: What struck me is that in our commonality, we're talking about our experiences but not the light and sound experience itself. Conversations in art often take place without actually having seen the work. There's a humanity about your work that 'art conversations' cannot fully describe. Things get left out and the work really brings certain questions out.
EO: We're interested in how power manifests itself. We are serious [!], but at the same time, that's not the only focus. At the same time, we're giving people a chance of experience something.
CMcG: Art should surprise. Global culture and globalisation means that although we come from very different cultures and regions, we do share the humanism, the humanity, the same neural architectures... these things are terribly interesting to explore. That's what we wanted to investigate.
Ugochukwu-Smooth Nzewi & Emeka Ogboh are One Room Shack. Carol MacGillivray and Bruno Mathez are artists, both undertaking postgraduate qualifications (PhD and MA respectively) at Goldsmiths College, University of London.
One Room Shack's "Unity" continues at Watermans until 08/04/12.