Light | Space | Camera | Language | The Work of James Nizam

Characterized by a fluid relay between sculptural and photographic media, James Nizam’s art practice has developed according to what he has called a “braided logic” moving between representational formats and spatio-temporal contexts, matching conceptual freedom and technical rigour with an unrelentingly poetic attitude. In fact, Nizam’s interest in photography arose while he was documenting his early sculptural works made from provisional arrangements of recycled building materials set in temporary locations, influenced by the generation of site-specific installation artists from the late sixties and early seventies who relied on photography to disseminate their work. Accordingly, Nizam’s photographs are often based on extensive on-site experimentation as opposed to digital postproduction, employing hands-on and time-sensitive processes demanded by his interest in transitional or liminal locations where socio-cultural memory and the ephemeral traces of time play vital yet enigmatic roles.

Nizam’s earliest exhibited photographic series, titled “Dwellings,” 2004, explores themes, techniques and a sensibility that informs much of his work to date, albeit in a raw emergent form. Photographs for the “Dwellings” series were made during frequent forays into abandoned singlefamily homes in Vancouver, structures slated for demolition and replacement with condominiums, the result of a development boom in the wake of the city’s successful bid to host the Winter Olympics. Nizam explored these domiciles during nighttime dérives, occupying and photographing a seemingly unconscious zone of civic and psychic ruin. By using long exposures and a flashlight as the only source of interior illumination, Nizam’s images reflect both a sense of unease and discovery. The partly destroyed interiors are lit with luminescent swaths as the film registers thick wandering lines where the flashlight was aimed. In one of the “Dwellings” images, an exterior wall is torn away, revealing the glittering tower lights of the city beyond under a gradient blue sky—emphasizing the contested nature of domestic architecture, the value of which is tied to location and views.

James Nizam, Frieze, 2016, LightJet print, dimensions variable. All images courtesy of the artist, Gallery Jones, Birch Contemporary and REITER Galerie.

If both a dark, empty (and emotionally charged) domestic space and the probing light that allows it to be seen are simultaneously pictured in the evocative “Dwellings” series, the physical optics of the photographic process itself is explored in Nizam’s subsequent work. For the “Anteroom” series, 2007, Nizam turned the interiors of soon-to-be-demolished houses into room-sized camera obscurae by carefully piercing their boarded-up windows, creating colourful projections of the surroundings inside their domestic space. The upside-down images that resulted often present views of neat suburban houses or manicured landscapes overlaid on decrepit domestic interiors, creating a poignant spatial frisson.

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