Body of Water: In conversation with Nadia Belerique

Nadia Belerique’s practice frequently deals with the act of looking. How something looks from behind a piece of glass, from the backside, or underside can completely change our perception of that object. Using symbolic, quotidian things that surround us in the privacy of the home like beds, glassware, carpets and stickers, Belerique hints at the misunderstandings that occur because of our diverse perspectives and vantage points. In her most recent project she explores the Lower Don River, using its glassy water as yet another mediator in the constant act of looking in our limited attempt to understand reality. I spoke with Belerique in her studio to find out about her process of image making what she found in the river.

Anna Kovler: Tell me about this new project; what is the basic idea?

Nadia Belerique: Well it’s something I’ve been working on with Kari Cwynar for a couple of years as part of the Don River Valley program. I definitely decided to engage very directly with the river so I ended up shooting in the river, and making photographs. The site I’m making them for is Castle Frank station, and it’s a long, cinematic stretch of windows above ground. I like these images as a reminder that the river is there, especially at a site that is close to but not immediately on the river.

AK: How did you get around the river?

NB: I asked artist Seth Scriver, who moonlights as a “mud larker” to take me out. Mud larkers dig out old things like bottles, and there is a whole community of people who do this. I knew that he was familiar with the river, so I hired him as an assistant to navigate, and we went out in a canoe. Then you get out of the canoe and fish through the mud. I had a really good time going into the river. A lot of the time things are actually sticking in the banks of the river, where they are lodged. The objects that are more recent, like golf balls, tend to be at the bottom… there were a lot of golf balls.

AK: Looking at these photos makes me wonder if you are overlaying the image with things that weren’t actually there?

NB: No, these are just straight photos of the river. Some are inverted or upside down. I added certain things to the water too, like this glass flower from my studio, and a real flower from a flower shop. And they were taken over multiple excursions. I ended up going back multiple times to the same spot.

AK: Did anything stand out to you in the water?

NB: We found a sole of a shoe, so just this iconic shape of a shoe that I was attracted to. And I’ve worked with that before, and bottles also. Then I restaged the scene, floating the flowers on the water, and re-photographing. I was trying to think of the water like glass because you’re able to see through it, and see to the bottom of it, but at other times it is reflective. I was particularly drawn to this spot in the river where there was a bridge that cast a shadow on the water, so it looked like two photographs in one frame.

AK: Did you add anything afterwards in the studio?

NB: I brought the photographs back to the studio along with other objects that I found and then I took pictures of the objects and made stickers out of those. I used a piece of glass and photographed them on the surface of the original image to create a new shadow. I wanted to respond to the site of a bus shelter in general, because it’s a series of frames, so I wanted to flatten the photographs more by shooting with glass and stickers.

AK: These photos remind me of Tarkovsky’s use of water in his films as a symbol for the subconscious.

NB: I am hugely influenced by his work. This is my second or third project thinking about water and water levels. They don’t necessarily refer to water levels rising, but at the same time they do. I think of it metaphorically like a swelling subconsciousness. I have definitely been thinking of it in terms of psychology.

AK: Like the subconscious, these images have layers of depth and things occurring at different levels of my perception.

NB: Yes, and they are super flat at the same time, because they are photographs. My hope is to make you aware of that flattening. I am attracted to moments when this happens, and look for it in my editing process.

AK: Will the photos have actual stickers on them?

NB: So yesterday I shot five images with different scenarios of stickers, some that include stickers, some of them facing you, and some of them facing away, and a lot of them are images of things that were actually in the river cut out, and others are more abstracted. In one case there is an abstracted image of a flower, so it has a relationship to signage in general. Like this oval can be a circle photographed on an angle, but there is also something indicative of a portrait or a cameo there, or an egg. I like the associations you get with particular shapes, and it is also an act of blocking out, it’s not just an addition, it’s also blocking the frame.

AK: The shapes seem intrusive in a way.

NB: I shot in the studio as the sun was moving from one side of the sky to the other, so they cast a harsh shadow in moments.

AK: The audience at a subway station is totally different than a normal art audience in a gallery, did this change how you work?

NB: These photos are not punchy; they are muddy, dark images. I really wanted to interact with the site itself to make it blend in, but they are not punchy ads. We are so used to seeing different kinds of images in public spaces, and so they might confuse people, but I don’t want them to be incredibly obtuse for the public. I want them to be more intriguing than alienating.

AK: To make it more accessible, would you consider using that Homer Simpson sticker I see on the floor there?

NB: I would never. Not a chance.

Nadia Belerique’s site-specific project in Castle Frank Station will be installed from April 1st until May 31, 2019, as part of Evergreen’s Don River Valley Park Art Program in partnership with CONTACT. Recent exhibitions include CHÈRE at Arsenal Contemporary New York, The Weather Channel at Oakville Galleries, and a presentation at ARCO Madrid with Daniel Faria Gallery.

Nadia Belerique, above and below and so on forever, 2019. Part of a series of five photographs to be installed in Castle Frank subway station in Toronto, Canada.


Nadia Belerique in her Toronto Studio, 2019. Photo by Laura Findlay courtesy of Anna Kovler.