NASARIMBA is a Calgary-based duo that’s changing the way we perceive and interact with public art through installations, sculptures, and murals.
Their name, which is derived from a Romanian word meaning mischief, is both a reflection of their methods and their own beliefs towards art. While both members have academic backgrounds in fine art, they clearly represent counter-culture within the arts world.
Some of their art installations, which involved pieces of wood nailed to wooden telephone poles, have technically fallen outside the scope of legality. Because of this, both members asked to speak under condition of anonymity and be referred to by their first initials, M and R.
Despite the extra-legal nature of some of their work and the connotations of their name, they contend that it’s not a vandalism-based oppositional statement against authority similar to guerrilla art or graffiti. Rather, they refer to it as an “intervention” using public art.
“I come across people all the time that have a relationship to these pieces, and they see them in their neighbourhood, they come across them and once you see one you start to see more,” says M.
“It just encourages people to kind of like look around in their environment a bit more.”
“Hopefully, that's what we'd like to have happen.”
The duo was formed in 2015 in Victoria, where M was living after graduating in Calgary and R was attending art school. Although M had a background in street art and R had a background in design, the two bonded over their shared interests of using art to affect environments.
“We both have a history in transforming spaces, and interest in transforming spaces, kind of creating immersive atmospheres,” says R.
Their first collaborative piece was an installation at Fresh Paint Gallery in Montreal in March of 2015. Then in November 2015 the duo decided to relocate to Calgary.
Initially, NASARIMBA’s work in Calgary was a continuation of a project called the “Tender Mountain Clan,” a group that M formed with friends a decade ago while studying print media at ACAD. Together, the group generated this idea of using wood-based sculptures on telephone poles with the aim of having more art exist outside of galleries.
“In this city there's kind of like a certain climate towards public art, or unsanctioned public art, and it's usually to remove it,” says M .
“Or there's just not a lot of space for people to kind of express themselves artistically like you'd see in other cities.
“So I think using something existing like the telephone poles, it’s a way to have art exist in the public space that's not really damaging anything.”
M notes that these installations are no more damaging to the structures than signs that have been nailed on advertising junk removal.
“It's not to be destructive, but it's to foster creativity,” says M.
According to R, these installations also quickly bypass the rigidity of public art.
“One thing we've noticed in the public art processes in Calgary is that they're often very high budget, and it requires a lot of planning, almost like hyper professionalization,” says R.
“So these interventions are kind of like quick and experimental and playful, which I think the public art in Calgary is lacking.”
Last May NASARIMBA began collaborating on murals that are based on the same brightly-coloured, layered-shapes style as the installations. Since then they’ve painted a total of 16 murals, 10 of which were on a recent four-month trip to Mexico.
They were also invited to contribute murals for the Rust Magic mural festival in Edmonton, and the Wall To Wall mural festival in Winnipeg.
While the murals contain influences from M’s graffiti past, he sees them as graffiti’s successor, one that widens the scope and influence of street art.
“Muralism is really big in the world globally, and I think it's an evolution from graffiti culture in a way, but pushing it further, or making it a bit more accessible to people, like connecting art and putting it in the language of graffiti,” he says.
Unlike NASARIMBA’s earlier works, these murals are fully within the law. Their goal for the future is to move away from their cloak-and-dagger past into sanctioned pieces that they can gain recognition for.
In December the duo created an exhibition in Mexico inspired by shadows of architecture and plants entitled “Light Source.”
On March 6th they’ll launch their first exhibit in Calgary, an immersive installation in the window galleries of Arts Commons entitled “Reaching The Microverse.”
“The idea was to create a deconstructed painting as though all the layers, foreground and background, are just kind of like exploded into the third dimension,” says R.
Although Arts Commons is a space specifically designated for art exhibition, M and R still see it as an intervention.
“Whether it's sanctioned or not, you’re still going into a space and altering the space, and that in turn alters the way people interact with the space,” says R.
Furthermore, R also believes that art within institutions can still be counter-cultural by changing the way an institution operates. Making their exhibit immersive and in a main-floor window, for example, maintains their initial vision of bringing art to a folk level.
“We both went to art school and that's an institution, and the art world is full of institutions, and we haven't known it to be super accessible or fostering creativity as much as we think it should be,” says R.
“So I guess it's a bit of a reflection on the art world and institutions.”
Ultimately, however, the pair reiterate that NASARIMBA isn’t founded on contrarian principles, but rather a desire to see art proliferate.
“The more art the better,” says M.
“I think encouraging that is the place we're coming from, and wanting to be creative in society, wanting to create things instead of consuming things.”
Reaching The Microverse will be located on the main floor window of Arts Commons across from the Jack Singer Concert Hall. A reception for the exhibit will be held on May 15th.
Follow NASARIMBA at https://nasarimba.wordpress.com/
And at https://www.instagram.com/nasarimba_art/
Words by Jonathan Crane
Photo: Painting Voltage Garage in Marda Loop, Kelly Johnsgaard 2017