Naziha Mestaoui: Between spiritualism, environment and technology – artist profile

Art Radar profiles multimedia artist Naziha Mestaoui.

Naziha Mestaoui creates multimedia works that weave together space, light, sound and video to produce synesthetic installations. In its series of artist profiles, Art Radar finds out more about her inspiration, influences and artistic practice.

Naziha Mestaoui, 'Corps en Résonance', 2013, interactive visual and sound installation, at Dak'Art 2014. © Biennale d'Art Africain Contemporain de Dakar, Dak'Art. Image courtesy the artist and Dak'Art Biennale.

Naziha Mestaoui, ‘Corps en Résonance’, 2013, interactive visual and sound installation, at Dak’Art 2014. © Biennale d’Art Africain Contemporain de Dakar, Dak’Art. Image courtesy the artist and Dak’Art Biennale.

Paris-based, Belgian-Tunisian Naziha Mestaoui (b. 1975) is a professionally trained architect who engages with a multimedia art practice. Her synesthetic and interactive light, sound and video installations have appeared in institutions and renowned art events worldwide.

Mestaoui bridges her experience in contemporary art and architecture to create interactive, sensory and immersive multimedia installations that merge space, image, sound and digital technology. In addition to working solo, she collaborates with Yacine Aït Kaci under the name of Electronic Shadow, a duo that they together founded in 2000. The artist duo is a recognised pioneer in the art of the digital age and inventor of Video Mapping at the intersection of space and image. Electronic Shadow has appeared in exhibitions across the world, including the MoMA in New York, Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris, the Museum of Photography in Tokyo, the Contemporary Art Biennale in Sevilla, Sao Paulo’s Servico Social da Industria (SESI), Shanghai’s Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) and in 2011, a large-scale solo exhibition at the Beaux Arts Museum in Aix en Provence, visited by more than 35000 visitors.

Watch Corps en Résonance by Naziha Mestaoui on youtube.com

“Matter is energy”

Mestaoui’s inspiration for her work comes from multiple sources, ranging from tribal traditions and shamanistic rituals to scientific knowledge and technological innovation. Among the sources that inspire her, her artwork statement she cites a luminary of science, Nikola Tesla, who said:

If you want to find the secrets of the universe, think in terms of energy, frequency and vibration.

This year, Mestaoui presented a work at Dak’Art 2014 entitled Corps en Résonance (Body Resonance) (2013), an interactive visual and sound installation that generates sound and light reflections based on visitors’ movements and explains her admiration for Tesla’s belief.

Comprising a row of aligned crystal bowls filled with water and a digital device, the installation responds to the presence of visitors who, according to how they move within the space, will influence and determine the vibration of the bowls, which in turn will produce sounds that can be heard and felt. In her artwork statement, Mestaoui says:

The harmonic frequencies thus generated create multiple geometric shapes at the surface of water in each bowl. These undulations reflect on the surface. As 80% of our body is made of water, the different waves made visible are the reflection of the effect these sounds and energies have on our body.

The bowls used in this installation are inspired by shamanic Tibetan techniques, which produce the singing bowls that are known for their virtues. The specific tones produced by the bowls communicate with what the artist calls “the crystalline material of our body”: bones, tissues and water we are made of. She expands:

As cymatics, our cellular resonance draws a path for vibration, realigning our internal energy. Sound in-forms, it carries information. At the intersection of science and art, these explorations provide the keys to another consciousness of man and his environment, an encounter between our modern society, becoming a society of the intangible, and ancestral cultures seeing the world as both visible and invisible.

In the statement for this installation, Mestaoui cites another scientific genius of our times, Albert Einstein, who said:

What we have called matter is energy, whose vibration has been so lowered as to be perceptible to the senses. There is no matter.

The artist practically parallels her work with Einstein’s vision, as she says that Body Resonance “proposes to make the invisible visible, deploying in space the different types of vibrations that compose our reality.”

Watch One Beat One Tree by Naziha Mestaoui on youtube.com

Environment and regeneration

In her installation One Beat One Tree, initiated within the context of the Rio+20 conference in 2012, Mestaoui created a three-dimensional forest of light. The interactive work invited individuals from the public to plant a grain of light that would slowly grow with their heartbeat to finally give birth to a unique luminous tree. The creation of a virtual tree would be paralleled with the planting of a real, physical tree in a reforestation project in the Amazon. Visitors then had the opportunity to follow the evolution of their own small contribution to the reforestation project.

Mestaoui is inspired by ecology, attached to spiritual values that enhance the inevitable interdependency between man and nature:

With regard to all the services given, a tree is an ally, a regulator, an opportunity for balance and regeneration for the ecosystem. Knowing how to benefit from a tree’s ecosystemic service offers multiple gains and advantages for agriculture, local populations, industry and the planet.

Through this installation, each citizen can take part in the shaping of our collective future through a poetic symbolic act. More than 6,000 trees have already been planted through this artwork.

The work has been shown at the LH Forum, Bombay, Techfest and the United Nations Earth Summit, Rio+20 in 2012.

Naziha Mestaoui. Image courtesy the artist and Dak'Art 2014.

Naziha Mestaoui. Image courtesy the artist and Dak’Art 2014.

Immersing the city in green

Continuing from the One Beat One Tree installation, Mestaoui has created a larger, monumental scale project entitled One Heart One Tree, with a plan to project it on the monuments of Paris during the United Nations 21st Climate Conference in December 2015.

Bridging technology and nature and the visible with the invisible, the installation involves the projection of virtual forests on the city’s ancient buildings, in which individual trees grow on the monuments with the heartbeat of their creators measured by a smartphone app. Each virtual tree will be reflected in the planting of a real tree in a reforestation project which each creator will be able to track.

The project is extremely ecological, using projections that are powered by zero-carbon emission devices whereby citizens will be producers of energy. Projections include tiles equipped with micro sensors that translate kinetic energy into electrical energy, bikes that produce energy by pedalling and wind turbines facing the monuments.

 Watch Sounds of Light by Electronic Shadow on youtube.com

Tribal inspiration

For her latest works, Mestaoui has increasingly drawn inspiration from ancient ritualistic practices and beliefs alive in tribal populations around the world. One Beat One Tree/One Heart One Tree took root in her time spent with the Huni Kui and Ashaninka tribes of the Acre, west of the Amazon in South America, where the artist experienced the reality of “Samauma”, the tree of life. In her artwork statement she explains:

Shunu (Samauma in Portuguese) is a sacred tree, the pillar tree around which the Huni Kui or the Ashaninka organise their ceremonies. It is for them like a library to which they connect to find knowledge […] And, as the largest tree in the forest, Samauma is recognised as the leader of the vegetal world, which means that it is with ‘her’ that we have to negotiate.

Mestaoui’s work reconnects humanity to the tree and its mystical elements. In a similar guise, in Electronic Shadow’s Sounds of Light, the Amazonian tribe’s chants are reconnected to water through the interaction of a man-made, digital world.

C. A. Xuan Mai Ardia

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Related Topics: sound art, video art, installation, electronic art, new media, interactive art, collaborative art, art and the environment, artist profiles, Tunisian artists, European artists

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