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Sachiyo Nishimura interviewed by Photomonitor

Sachiyo Nishimura / Lines

October 2012
Interviewed by Christiane Monarchi

Sachiyo Nishimura is a London based artist working with photographic images of the urban environment. Having received her MA Fine Art at Central St Martins in 2008, Nishimura has exhibited her work in numerous solo and group exhibitions throughout Europe and Latin America.  Below, she speaks with Photomonitor’s editor, Christiane Monarchi about the origin of her compelling and often abstracted landscapes.


Christiane Monarchi: Your most recent works would seem to continue a line of enquiry with the man-made landscape, investigating structures from multiple angles. How have you come to be attracted to the railway tracks and power lines which we see in your compositions? 

Sachiyo Nishimura: In most cities you can find several features that build up an identity for a certain place, such as architectural styles, landmarks and historical sites. On the other hand, you have plenty of objects and spaces that have no link whatsoever to a place’s identity, the so called non-places (as described by Marc Auge in his book “Non-Places”) such as rail stations and industrial landscapes. Whatever the city you are in, no matter how far away or how different it is from the ones you know, you can always find these spaces and structures that look quite similar to each other, therefore you can easily relate to them and feel a sort of comfortable familiarity. These places are ubiquitous yet anonymous, they are part of most people’s visual memory but once they are portrayed in a photograph, it is difficult to pin down their specific location based only on their photographic image. I find this very fascinating and felt compelled to develop further on this subject through my artistic practice.


CM: Which geographic locations were/are you working in for your most recent Landscape/Fiction imagery, and what attracts you to a particular place?

SN: For the most recent “Landscape/Fiction” series (14 and 15) I’ve used images taken from several rail stations in London, Brussels and Rotterdam. What attracts me to these particular places is their inherent condition of “non-place” and the sort of photographic compositions that you can get from them, based on its geometrical structures, cable lines and rail tracks meeting on a distant vanishing point and following accurately the lines of perspective. Some rail stations have these graphic elements more visible than others. I feel particularly attracted to those spaces that hold a visually interesting combination of graphic elements as mentioned above, in addition to this unmistakable anonymity that makes you feel like you are in an ambiguous location that could perfectly be somewhere else.

CM: Segments of railway tracks and power lines can be seen tracing arcs and geometric patterns in your works, which you then sometimes compose into grids made up of multiple but related images. Such compositions, such as ‘Landscape/Fiction 15-A’, might imply a physicality in your working process, walking around the scene and relaying the different perspectives – which would surely contain an element of danger as these are not places normally inviting perambulation. Or are the multiple vantage points a purely visual dislocation from slight moves of the camera, or even multiple cameras like in David Hockney’s multi-channel video works?

SN: Actually, I usually take a very small amount of pictures when I’m wandering around places such as rail stations. I do spend some time observing the different perspectives, but I develop further on these observations during the post-production processes. In David Hockney’s video work as well as in his previous photographic work, he makes up an image from multiple shots, whereas in my work, I make up an image by cropping, repeating, flipping and overlapping different sections from just a few shots (only 3 in the case of Landscape/Fiction 15-A). I aim to artificially reproduce the sense of space and perspective through multiple graphic operations over just a few photographic images, rather than reproduce the actual space with multiple shots. To build up a fictive photographic space from just a few images is quite a post-production challenge. It is important for me that the final image look sort of real but also slightly strange and unsettling, which is what I try to do by letting multiple vanishing points remain visible, and simulating a continuous yet interrupted landscape organized in a modular display.


CM: Why have you chosen to empty out colour in favour of black and white tonality?  

SN: I’ve always felt attracted to the challenge of creating images from very few elements. In the same way that I usually work with just a few photographic images as a starting point, I also work only within the limited colour gamut of black and white. It is like being able to cook a complex dish with just a few ingredients, so to speak. When I started working on analogue black and white photography I felt particularly interested in its mechanical process: capturing just light into a photosensitive surface, and then transforming it into a simplified, monochrome 2D version of the visible world. Colour photography gets closer to how the subject actually looks, whereas black and white photography takes the photographic abstraction process a step further from the subject’s real appearance, acquiring a different and unique visual quality. Through my work, I aim to take this abstraction process another step further, by using the monochromatic gamut as a graphic element that can transform and mutate the photographic image within its colourless boundaries.

CM: In your earlier series ‘Lines’ you have mentioned being inspired by Sol Lewitt’s methodology for repetition and layering.  There seems to be a visual sequence emerging in the images of power lines used in your grid, for example what kind of permutations did you apply in ‘Lines 01_2′?  

SN: ”Lines 01″ is a group of works that follow a sequence of all the possible combinations by overlapping 5 single images. Organized in a grid of 5 x 6 regular modules, it starts with 5 single images on the left column, and then in the following 5 columns to the right there is a progression of possible combinations between 2, 3 and 4 images from the first column. The whole pre-set formulae might sound a bit complicated, but the execution of it is rather simple, it is just based on repetition and overlapping of 5 images. Sol LeWitt’s work has been a huge inspiration in most of my practice, particularly for his method of setting up pre-defined mathematical rules which are then applied over different elements. What I find amazing about his body of work is that regardless of the rational/mathematical approach, the result is very sensitive, almost organic, and that is something that I would like to achieve myself with my own work.


CM: What does the ‘grid’ mean to you, and how have you chosen to use this in your display?

SN: Back in time before photography, a grid -as an object consisting of an empty frame with threads placed horizontally and vertically- was frequently used as a tool in order to draw an accurate reproduction of any subject within a flat surface. This functionality of the grid, as well as the perspective model based on a single vanishing point, were for me quite revealing as for how our visual system works. Grids and perspective lines are tools that allow us to organize what is visible as a flat image, and the monocular mechanics of the photographic device make a significant step in translating and structuring the visible world under these principles.
Having these ideas in mind, the photographic image can be understood as a mechanically created image with an intrinsic structure based on grids and perspective lines. I aim to explore further on these principles by using the grid as a device to develop complex possibilities of re-structuring the already pre-structured photographic image. So far I’ve explored different sorts of grids that re-organize the photographic image in different ways: regular and irregular grids, grids drawn over the image as well as grids virtually visible through modular display. I choose different types of grid according to the kind of re-construction process I’m working on.


CM: Which manmade structures might you like to investigate in your next series?

SN: Docks and piers. I have a few images of these in my own archive, but I would like to get more. Once I get enough images from many docks and piers, we’ll see if something interesting comes out. In the meantime, I will continue with my “Lines” series, as I still fell like there is so much more to do with my constantly growing archive of images taken from rail and tram lines, power lines and public wiring in general.


Sachiyo Nishimura was born in Santiago de Chile (1978) and is currently based in London. In 2008 she completed an MA in Fine Arts at Central Saint Martins, London, UK. She has participated in several exhibitions in Chile and in the UK. In 2008 her work was selected for Bloomberg New Contemporaries, in 2009 she won the first prize at the DLA Piper Art Award, in 2011 she received the Chelsea Arts Club Trust Stan Smith Award and in 2012 she was selected as one of the UK winners at Magenta Flash Forward, Canada.

Recent works by Sachiyo Nishimura can be seen at Anise Gallery, London until 14 October 2012, and she will be talking about her works at Anise Gallery on 4th October.