Nina Fraser – Inner Natures

Nina Fraser is 33 years old and was born in St. Albans, United Kingdom. She studied Textile Arts and then travelled for one year. When she came back, in 2008, she assumed the co-management of an artistic project in Southampton. The Art House is a half-café, half-gallery, half-spot for musical shows and workshops. With a nonprofit trait, it is an organism geared towards the community and also prompted by voluntary work of several artists (and not only) who have in this space a harbour for meetings, sharing and inspiration.

During the seven years that she devoted to The Art House, even though she was always in touch with art, she personally admits that she kept it thoroughly sealed insider of her, in other words, she walked away from it. But art managed to catch her and she needed to make a decision. She left The Art House, started to paint and became a freelancer. Shortly after, the peaceful rupture with her previous life became even more effective with her decision to move to Lisbon, the city where she has been living for three years already.

We found her at SP21 (a space at Rua de São Paulo shared with artists such as Sérgio Condeço, Mariana Dias Coutinho and Susana Villar, among others) where she has a small but bright studio. With two cups of coffee on the table, we talked about collages, watercolours, installations, and the inability to do just one thing at a time.


Looking outside to see what is happening on the inside

Nina Fraser’s collage work was born in Portugal. Even though the idea of living in another country was something perfectly comfortable for her, she felt displaced after having moved to Lisbon. She did not speak the language and did not know the city. Getting a conventional job did not make sense considering the path she had taken and the decision she had made – to become a full-time artist.

She started to work at home, in a shoe cabinet that she refurbished and converted into a workbench/studio in a corner of her kitchen. Despite having continued to paint watercolours, also as a way of fighting the geographic and linguistic isolation, she felt the urge to leave her comfort zone and find new stimuli.

She found the MArt school, a few minutes from the house where she lived, and started to attend only some drawing classes, and eventually she did a two-year residency. That was where she found the collages and began to explore the concepts of location, home and memory. It was a cathartic work, fed by the sense of displacement that she felt at the time.

As we speak, she often works with landscape pictures that she only uses as a starting point to create new images. In other words, she keeps the original image intact and uses “bits and pieces” of images found in magazines or in those that are sent to her, in order to build something new, inspired by the original photo.


From the outside to the inside 

She says that she is rather quick and intuitive when working. Each finished piece can be reworked later on, being just a starting point to do anything else. “I try not to think too much. I’m very aware of what I’m doing when I’m doing it, but in a distant sort of way. I have a dialogue going on inside my head, of course, but I think I’m already capable of detaching myself from it and just do things. And realizing when that dialogue is being productive or not,” she explains.

The 30 Day Project is a reflection of that, an idea that is repeated every year at the end of the summer. Based on images that she requests from other people, she creates one collage per day based on them. The response’s hastiness helps her to keep the head clean and find new ways of looking at things. It is a sot of inner renewal which coincides with fall’s external renewal.

This was more or less the process that she adopted for her next exhibition. Interioridades was conceived from scratch to celebrate the 5th anniversary of Apaixonarte and Cláudia Cordeiro, the owner of the space, enjoyed the idea of including the audience in the whole process. An open call was made, asking for coloured pictures of house interiors, and without any human figure. The chosen images were then worked by Nina.

The challenge proposed to the artist by Cláudio Cordeiro was to turn the outside perspective into an inside one, somewhere between the public and the private, the individual and the collective. This time, the intervention is made directly on the chosen picture, without relying on any other elements. “The architectural trait of these pictures makes sense with a direct intervention. The idea is to rearrange them with a sense of humour. “I feel privileged for having the opportunity to receive these images and I’m very aware of what I do with them. It ‘s personal, but at the same time is not, because it also belongs to others,” she explains.


The need for three-dimensionality

Alongside watercolours and collages, Nina Fraser also started to explore the three dimensions, a seed that was born during the Textile Arts course and perhaps even before that, with the influence of his grandfather (the Belgian sculptor Bert Coolen).

In December last year, she developed one of the first experiments in this field. Chaos & Infusion was a site-specific installation for Galeria 78/80. Developed over a span of seven days, this work was a mishmash of installation and collage, with tracing and rice paper being the supporting materials for the latter. She also worked with disposable and daily materials with plastic bags, which she used to create shapes that were then hung throughout the room with wires. The structures and collages danced at the gallery in a game of construction and deconstruction, tied by the sharing of that moment in space and time. “Up to this day, I don’t know what I feel in relation to this work, but I know that it took me to a different place,” she says.

Her collage work is also heading towards a form of three-dimensionality which, in this case, is reflected in the way she gathers and builds textures, using different kinds of paper, etc. Somehow it is also a throwback to textiles. In the future, she would like to join these three strands – collages, watercolours and installation. But, in the meantime, keeping them separate makes sense to her, as they keep evolving in parallel with sporadic tangents. “I’m not very good at doing only one thing at a time,” she said laughing.

She willingly wants to keep her presence in the United Kingdom, which she often visits and where she has regular exhibitions, but has no plans to leave Lisbon in the near future. She fell in love with the city and almost feels as if she was at home. She enjoys going to her studio by bike and strolling through the streets and alleys. This was the way she found appropriate to know the geography, the habits and the spaces in Lisbon. In one of these wanders, she discovered Apaixonarte, one of her nests in Lisbon, and also Verso Branco, where she already did an exhibition and a place where she will go back to 2018.

When it comes to speaking Portuguese, that is still a hard task, but she already ends her messages with an “até já!”

The exhibition Interioridades is up for grabs until January 13.

Collaborator of the Umbigo since 2000 and… The relationship has survived several absences and delays. She graduated in Fashion Design, but the images only make her sense if they are sewn with words. She does production so as not to rustle the facet of control freak, dance as a form of breathing and watch horror movies to never lose sight of their demons. Whenever you ask for a biography, say a few profanities and then remember this poem of Al Berto, without ever being sure if you really put it into practice or if it is an eternal purpose of life: "But I like the night and the laughter of ashes, I like the desert, and the chance of life, I like the mistakes, the luck and the unexpected encounters. Almost always on the sacred side of my heart, or where fear has the precariousness of another body"

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