Nona Inescu

Photos by Camilla Maria Santini. Courtesy the artist, SpazioA, Pistoia. 2021.

While highlighting the evolving interdependence of humans and their environment, Nona Inescu, in an unintentional way, ended up building her artistic practice as a botanical garden.

Her interest in the psychological and emotional aspects of humanity’s relationship with the natural world, led her to research some of the most interesting and peculiar plants, rocks, and ecosystems.

She often takes over exhibition spaces, envisioning them as full environments in which multimedia works, sculptures, and photographs, interact with one another as part of a symbiotic system. The poetic analogies that she makes throughout her works, between plants, humans, insects, machines, rocks, screens, and rivers, offer glimpses of the complex network of symbolism that plays out between nature as a resource, as a source of mythology, and as a biological reality.

In this interview, we talk about how her upbringing and her family’s interest in geology during the 1980s, in Romania, influenced her own path as an artist. We also talk about some of the most interesting plants that she has been researching and working with, about her ideal projects, and about her ongoing sources of inspiration.

Nona Inescu (b. 1991 lives between Berlin, Germany, and Bucharest, Romania) completed her studies at the National University of Arts in Bucharest, after studying at the Chelsea College of Art & Design in London (2009-2010) and at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp (2010-2011). Her artistic practice is interdisciplinary and includes photography, installation, sculptures, and video works. Based on a theoretical and literary perspective, the works focus on the relationship between the human body and the environment and the redefinition of this subject in a post-human key. Concepts of geological time and our intense interrelation with our surroundings compose an aesthetic of a primal contemporary togetherness in an organic and biological techno-sphere. Recent exhibitions have taken place at Kunstraum Kreuzberg (Berlin); MAMAC (Nice); Radius (Delft); SpazioA (Pistoia); Centre Clark (Montreal); Art Encounters Biennale (Timișoara); Musikprotokoll/ Steirischer Herbst (Graz); Peles Empire (Berlin); basis (Frankfurt), Tallinn Art Hall (Estonia), Museo della Montagna (Torino), among others. Upcoming exhibitions will take place at CAP Centre d’Art de Saint-Fons and Kunstraum Niederösterreich. 

Issue №:

Adriana Blidaru: Hi Nona - let’s talk a bit about your background. I know you come from a family of scientists/geologists. Can you tell me how you found that this influenced your work? 

Nona Inescu: Hi Adriana! That’s partially true, both of my parents studied geology and worked as geologist engineers for a while. Back in the 1970s, in Romania, practicing geology was a way to escape the limitations and restrictions of the communist regime. As a geologist, you would get to travel around the country, hiking in the mountains or swimming in rivers, exploring the natural environment, where one could (allegedly) find a bit of freedom. For example, my parents lived together for one year in a shack in Dobrogea (South-East Romania), in the proximity of the Danube Delta. My father told me that during this time he saw for the first time a tornado taking shape. He attributes that to climate change because there were no tornadoes in Romania in the past. As a child, he would take me often to The Natural History Museum and The Geological Museum. He would be really excited about mineral formations and gems and natural processes, but I‘d get really bored at that time. I was more into butterflies, I guess. At the same time, in our living room at home, I grew up with a dusty vitrine of “mine flowers” (mineral rocks and crystals), all the things my parents found during their trips or just bought from specialist shops. Only later in life, did this passion for stones - this geophilia - awakened in me, as I was developing my art practice. I think I could maybe trace this influence back to this early exposure.  

AB: At the heart of your interdisciplinary practice stands an interest in posthumanism. What is it within this theoretical framework that interests you or excites you the most? 

NI: Whenever I start working on something, I try to keep a layered approach to a subject. The theoretical part of my work is only one of the several layers, but it’s probably one of the most important. I understand posthumanism as a philosophical perspective through which we can identify the decentering of human exceptionalism. Posthumanism situates the human as physically, chemically, and biologically enmeshed and dependent on the environment. In other words, a non-anthropocentric perspective with emphasis on interconnectedness, interrelations, non-hierarchical ways of relating, and an awareness of our similarities with other organisms and ecosystems that we share this environment with. I feel at ease swimming through these murky waters and exploring these ideas through my work. 

Photos by Camilla Maria Santini. Courtesy the artist, SpazioA, Pistoia. 2021.
Photos by Camilla Maria Santini. Courtesy the artist, SpazioA, Pistoia. 2021.
Photos by Camilla Maria Santini. Courtesy the artist, SpazioA, Pistoia. 2021.
Photos by Camilla Maria Santini. Courtesy the artist, SpazioA, Pistoia. 2021.

AB: You often times focus on the haptic: hands, for instance, are both present and are referenced in a lot of your works. Can you tell me more about this?

NI: It all started in 2015 when I had the opportunity to work on my first solo exhibition at Sabot Gallery in Cluj, Romania. I was still a student then and I felt insecure about my drawing skills at the time, so I was reflecting on this issue. For that occasion, I wanted to focus on all possible ways of expressing my ideas while avoiding making any kind of drawing, and include all these different mediums in one exhibition. At the same time, I started to take a lot of photos with my phone, of my hand, picking up things, or interacting with different natural elements. The show entitled “Hands don’t make magic” became a reflection of the human hand as an identity marker, a tool, a connection device, a way to predict the future, and so on. The motif of the hand stayed with me throughout these years. I like the universality of it and how easy it is to communicate my ideas using my own hands and others'. It’s also about acquiring knowledge in a very direct way. 

Photos by Pavel Curagau (YAP studios). Courtesy the artist, SABOT, Cluj-Napoca. 2015.

AB: I’m also curious about your fascination with the series of plant actors that often reappear in your work. What are some interesting facts about plants that really surprised you in your research? And is there a specific plant that fascinates you at the moment - and why? 

NI: There’s quite a botanical garden taking shape inside my portfolio. While I was working on my solo exhibition “Waterlily Jaguar” from 2021, I encountered this scientific study about a species of waterlilies (Nymphaea lotus var. thermalis) that thrives in thermal waters. What is really special about it is that it only grows in the Oradea region (northwest Romania) on a very small lake with thermal water, which is drying up more and more with the years, and it is considered to be a tertiary relict species (meaning it survived the glaciations from 65 – 15 million years ago). At the moment, I am not really focused on a particular species, but rather on plant agents as a collective. I am trying to adopt a bird’s eye view and I am looking at the garden as a metaphor for societies and how they reflect our relationship with ecology, nature, and the passing of time. It is also a playground for metamorphosis - another word for aging.

Photo by Andrea Rossetti. Courtesy the artist, SpazioA, Pistoia. 2021.
Photo by Andrea Rossetti. Courtesy the artist, SpazioA, Pistoia. 2021.

AB: What would you say is the most ambitious work you have done?

NI: I have the feeling that I didn’t make it yet. If I look back, every time I tried something new, a new medium or material, the work felt pretty ambitious because I learn as I go. However, once I come back to that medium, material, or to that source, with a bit more knowledge, the process acquires some familiarity and feels less challenging. I guess when you know the way, the journey seems a bit shorter. By far, my work “Venus Traps”, an installation of oversized cast aluminum venus fly traps, was the work that took the most time to figure out, in terms of production. It took me exactly two years to finally make it real.  In the meantime, the pandemic, happening in the background, didn’t make things easier. But also some video works, let’s say ‘Hydrophites’ from 2021, proved to be a challenge in terms of editing, filming locations, and collaborations. 

Photo by Andrea Rossetti. Courtesy the artist, SpazioA, Pistoia. 2021.

AB: What about an ideal installation or project that you’d like to make? Or even an ideal space that you’d like to take over?

NI: I would love to be able to research and reinterpret the fragile ecosystem of sand dunes. I really like the fact that there are many different agents participating in creating this landform (wind, water, and the roots of certain plants that thrive in sand building mesh-like support structures under the sand). I’m also interested in the insects that inhabit them. There’s this beautiful Japanese movie, “Woman in the dunes” from 1964, featuring an entomologist, that comes to my mind. In terms of space, I do have some favorites. I am fantasizing about showing my work in an anatomical theater (inside The Tieranatomische Theater in Berlin, for example). Or creating an intervention in the botanical garden of Florence or Palermo. My all-time favorite art space, in terms of architecture, is the Secession in Vienna. 

AB: What are some of the artists that you feel close to (art historically or contemporary) and what is a source of inspiration that you feel that you consistently return to? 

NI: From the top of my head, I would say Rebecca Horn, Ana Mendieta, Birgit Jürgenssen, Jean Painlevé, Giuseppe Penone, Jochen Lempert, but I also admire the work of Jimmy Robert, Andra Ursuta, Kipwani Kiwanga, Joanna Piotrowska. Sometimes I turn to design, architecture and decorative arts where my interests are very eclectic, ranging from Carlo Scarpa to Frederick Kiesler, Isamu Noguchi, Lina Bo Bardi to Claude Lalanne, René Lalique and Émile Gallé. The constant source of inspiration for me is located outside (of my house, of my head, of the internet) in gardens (botanical or otherwise), parks, historical / science / archeological museums; in forests, on volcanoes, river beds, in marshes and ponds or on the bottom of the sea.

Peles Empire, Berlin. Photos by Daniel Poller. Courtesy of the artist, SpazioA, Pistoia. 2022.

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Interview by

Adriana Blidaru

Curator, writer, and founding editor of LC.