When is being dangerous priceless? Missla Libsekal speaks with contemporary artist Nástio Mosquito.
“ If I am indeed all those things that people are writing, then help me do shit better structurally speaking. Don’t just compliment me; fucking give me money to work. Give me structure to do this. Ask me what I am dreaming about. Because I want to participate in making that happen, not just because I want to have an interesting conversation!” Nástio Mosquito
If the virtue of art sensitises us to ourselves and our worlds, then why do we expect it to maintain and contain, to sanitise and look pretty? When we say that we want art to be transgressive are we being genuine, or is that wishful thinking? How uneasy are we of what that might reveal?
The dangerous artist is purpose-driven. After all to be dangerous is also to be alarming, critical, risky, thorny, serpentine, dynamite, serious and urgent, vulnerable, ugly and yes-even nasty. The dangerous artist is relevant. We know so because people begin to pay attention, much like the animals of the savannah do when their ears instinctively prick up when danger lurks near. With a growing number accolades, and a major solo museum show under his belt, Nástio Mosquito is well on his way to notoriety.
© Nástio Mosquito. Demo da Cracía, 2013, video (still image). Courtesy of the artist.
Conversant not only in art but equally in public broadcasting, filmmaking, poetry and theatricality 33-year-old Mosquito is one of the most moving contemporary artist’s emerging at this time. The Angolan born, Belgium-based Mosquito is the epitome of what a contemporary artist has come to mean: he dissolves the boundaries between creative disciplines and mediums, transforming them into tools that craft and enact a particular experience.
Mosquito even considers himself to be one of those tools – from voiceover artist to protagonist, he is always present, narrating in some kind of a performative capacity. He has sung with live jazz bands, enacted monologues set to choreographed film sequences in contemporary museums, released music albums on iTunes and more.
For some this latitude has rendered him incoherent and hard to pin down. But if anything, Mosquito’s artistic practice reflects both his interest in popular culture, and his unwitting adeptness to embrace the convergence of media. While the verdict may be out for some, he received a resounding affirmation as a winner in the 2014 Future Generation Art Prize, which recognised him for re-inventing “storytelling for our current moment.”
Nástio Mosquito performing AFRICAN? I GUESS, 2013, Berlin.
He’s an oral shapeshifter. In his narrative arcs he unscrupulously morphs at the service of what he calls perspective. In fact, Nástio reminds me of the mythological figure – Trickster. This ambivalent character that is said to cross lines and confuse distinctions, particularly binary oppositional ones such as right and wrong, truth and lie, oppressor and oppressed, coloniser and colonised, male and female and so forth. Trickster appears when we are unable to act, to suggest an amoral action that gets life going again .
“I have an extreme need to make sure that people see what I do. I am not producing things for therapy! I want to exchange! I want movement!” Nástio Mosquito
No doubt he will have admirers, he will have haters, he may even spark some copycats along the way, but if there is one thing that is clear, he will not leave you unmoved. His peculiar adeptness at retooling language, makes his artistic spectacles not only entertaining but potentially instructive. He’s cleverly dangerous, and like one of his many moniker’s he is Nasty-O.
Leading up to his current show at the 56th Venice Biennale, a venue that despite its prestige he has declined to participate in in the past, the silver-tongued artist now ready to assume this position joined me over skype for a candid conversation that gives some insights to the currency of Nástio Mosquito.
Missla Libsekal | Less than 2 years ago, you first shared with me your ideas for an ambitious performance anthology. You described seeing it ‘unleashing a wave of love’ across the globe… Congratulations Nástio on making ‘Daily Love Making, The Empowerment of A Generation’ a reality at Ikon.
Nástio Mosquito | It’s a first step, thank you.
When did you start having big dreams? Did any of those dreams set you up for where you are today?
I think the answer to that question is that dreams are only big. I think what qualifies a dream as a dream, is its dimension. The quality of something bigger, bigger than you! If it is something small, it might be a desire, or disposition or something like that. At least that is how I relate to my dreams. I think that my dreams have always been BIG. It was not only my dreams that got me to where I am now, but the pure lack of eloquence in terms of articulating how I would get to some of those dreams. I don’t have the feeling I’ve arrived though, but when you congratulate me, and you tell me that it was 2 years ago that we had a conversation about this and now it’s real…. it is the first time I’ve thought about that….
You had a plan, and you made it happen.
Was it back in 2006 that you were invited to show at Venice but refused because you could not accept the request for only the ‘Fuck Africa’ vignette-separating it from the trilogy ‘Three Continents (Europa, America, Africa), 2010’. How do you negotiate the pressure, the desire or the need for visibility–say getting the work out there vis-a-vis the conditions?
Don’t fuck with my sense of integrity, it’s that simple. I have a sense most of the time where I want to go, sometimes there are compromises. I don’t want to have all the interviews I have. But I understand there is something to gain from establishing conversations. Sometimes you get very surprised. When I say something to gain, I am not saying to be published in a magazine but the dialogue. When people have taken time to take a look at what you do, and they have questions, I respect that. And at the end of the day this is what I am always babbling about – that it should bring in people, raise questions, stimulate this sense of movement.
So even though I don’t always want to give interviews, it is a compromise that goes towards my sense of integrity. It’s not always in favour with my sense of comfort; but that is the goal to be extremely connected to your sense of integrity, no? When new opportunities come (like what I am going through now), I ask myself old questions and see if those old questions have new answers. And then go to new questions, and see what they mean. Asking myself ‘How do I want to continue to grow?’ It’s not about being coherent; it’s about staying connected to that sense of integrity. That is what should determine what compromises you are able to make. At least with me that’s how it goes.
© Nástio Mosquito. Mulher Fósforo (The Match Woman), 2006, mixed media. Courtesy of the artist.
Indeed. Nástio you’ve described yourself as a channel that questions the information that we have. How did it dawn on you that you could be useful in this way? Particularly as you’ve mentioned that you are not worried about what others think of you.
Don’t get me wrong, I have a great relationship with myself and like everyone else, I like to be liked. It is not that, but the way I go about it: to use all of me to be at the service of a particular narrative, to tell a story, or a perspective.
I kind of noticed when I was doing theatre, at one point that some of the directors were choosing me a lot for gay roles, and roles in which they needed perhaps somebody that was not self-conscious. We were young teens, when your sexuality is questioned… I never had problems with that – to put myself in a place where others may judge.
When I did ‘The Match Woman’, in those photographs I’m dressed in a red skirt, there were some people that came out, friends that were like ‘Oh fuck! I knew it! I knew that he was gay all this time. What took you so long?’ I said ‘Shhhiiit whoa’. I was never afraid for those conclusions to be there. I don’t feel the need to deny or confirm what people think about me. I kind of cherish that even, because it offers me room to be a better provider.
[laughs] Well, thank you.
I’ve heard you say that you work with truth and lies, what does this mean for you?
It means that I am limited. It means that I am not particularly interested in being right…
© Nástivicious. Nástio Mosquito Answers Ryan Bartholomew, 2014 , video (still image).
[laughs] I am going to leave it at that. Can you tell me about your love affair with language? How it came about, and what influenced that journey?
Oh depression I think. It was what gave me that need to express myself. I don’t know, I think it started with this sense. I had a crush on a girl when I was in boarding school, and found out that she had a diary. I did not know what that was. So she would write particular things in a particular place. I had the idea of writing her a few messages, so it started like that… ‘How do I express what I feel?’
I was never a physical dude- the guy who played sports or was physically strong or fast. I was not particularly a talker I’ve got to say. I was not the performer, I was not the kid in the family that everyone knew was going to one day be on stage, not at all. But, I did a theatre play where I was a donkey. All my lines were [Nástio brays] ‘Hee haw! Hee haw’ That was it, but the reaction I got from people was cra-zy! I was happy. So from that and to understand that my expression was language, and that it had connected to people at that level it began just showing me that I could express myself in many different ways and what was language in a way. So that stuck with me.
And then it was again in a classroom where we were studying verbs of some sort. I was making fun with a classmate – what it would be to conjugate the verb ‘to shit‘ as kids do. The teacher caught us. So our punishment was to conjugate the verb ‘to defecate’, and that shit blew my mind. ‘Fuck, so I can say shit in different ways…’ That punishment sparked something in me. That’s the biggest episode I think that I had when I realised you could say the same things with synonyms, or different ways to express things. I was really excited by that punishment; it was the best punishment of my life.
So I think it comes from there, and I was a kind of introverted guy and writing became that thing. I dunno, I would be lying if I said I totally understood why I love it, why I am excited by that. I don’t really know but there were these episodes that kind of put me in a way to do that, because I was very dark, and had very suicidal thoughts and all these kinds of problematics I solved by writing… how I expressed those things became very important. The sense of clarity to express things that were very cliché of a young kid that is becoming a teenager, and I guess I didn’t want to be a cliché. I did not know how precious clichés were at that time…. I suppose that was the reason why I explored it in a conscious manner at a later stage.
TECNOLOGIA DO ANCIÃO
From the album “Se Eu Fosse Angolano (If I Was Angolan)” by Nástio Mosquito. Directed by Vic Pereiró.
My first encounter of your work was through the video piece , ‘My African Mind’ (2010). It’s complex expansive narrative at times achieved with singular words – fragmented, intentional, and robust blew my mind. Language is a powerful thing and your command of it is quite specific. It is beautiful to hear how you came to that. Have you ever had a tenuous, a difficult relationship with language? Has it ever failed you?
All the time! Not because of the language itself, but because of my limited perspective. In a way I cannot blame language for it. Let’s put it like this, as long as I keep growing, I will look back at how I’ve expressed certain things and I’ll think that could have been better articulated, could have been more eloquent, shorter, more effective or thought that it sucked altogether and that it shouldn’t have existed. I don’t think that language has ever failed me, but perhaps I have failed in certain works or experiments. Language is what you make out of it.
Keeping that in mind do you ever see a border between eloquence and profanity? What distinguishes them or does anything?
It’s got to be at the service of something. It’s got to be language; it’s got to provide something. It doesn’t have to be content, it can be just rhythm. I take a lot of the stance of what is ‘humorous’, ‘humor’, ‘comedy’ and what are those ‘borders’. It is always about the motivation – why are you using something, and at the service of what. If I have that, I don’t really care. I don’t see borders. For me it’s all about ‘Is it helping? Is it contributing for the perspective?’ That is my only rule.
Click image to view video.
© Nástio Mosquito. Nástia’s Manifesto, 2010, video (still image).
Let’s delve deeper into language: you have a way of ‘rocking the boat’ so to speak. What is that saying in ‘Nástia’s Manifesto’ (2010), ‘Allow events to Fuck you up – Allow yourself to be uncomfortable.’ It seems like Ikon took this to heart, and included both this piece in the show and a disclaimer – the parental guidance. How did you select which pieces to show?
[Laughs] I truly believe that those works came out of a place of love. It was about how can I create a narrative that expresses love. I looked at what I wanted to show and what I wanted to say and this is connected to the text I wrote for that specific show which is called ‘We.Is.Limitless’. It was pretty organic, it wasn’t supposed to be a collection of all the shit that I had done in the past. I wanted to create both a visual narrative, as well as a physical experience; together with Vic Pereiró, Jonathan Watkins and the entire Ikon team, I was able to.
Considering the breadth of your work, irony and ambiguity are two integral tools of your wheelhouse, how did you come to understand their power and hone your usage of these strategies?
I think it’s connected to that question that you asked me before. I think that people take themselves too seriously; people are so caught up in expressing their opinion. You should have an opinion, that’s cool. But people are so defensive about what they think, and what they stand for ideologically and philosophically speaking. There is this level of seriousness about what in reality is forever changing. If you continue to grow, you’ll add things and be open to establish a dynamic relationship with what you believe, what you want, and are pursuing as an individual or as a part of a community, however big or small, whether it be family, friends, your workplace, all of those things. So it became fun, it’s just a tool because I have no intention of being violent to people or being disrespectful to what people believe, but its almost like establishing a relationship with a mirror. A mirror doesn’t want to call you fat, but if you’re fat you’re fat, you know. Ambiguity, irony, and sarcasm connected again to rhythm, language, tone and all of that hopefully has the capacity to be as three dimensional, for lack of a better expression, as a mirror provides you the illusion of being.
© Nástio Mosquito. Let Me Kiss Your Butt Cheek, 2014, video and mixed media. Courtesy of the artist and Pinchuk Art Centre. Photo | Sergey Illin.
What does it take to bring ideas into fruition? Take for instance ‘Let Me Kiss Your Butt Cheek, I’ll Let You Kiss Mine!‘ (2014) which was shown at the Future Prize. If I understand correctly, this was an idea that cost you your job at the national TV station that you worked for in Luanda?
Something like that… but not exactly. Any idea, which is worth birthing out… if you have an idea put everything into it. It’s going to be difficult because sometimes it’s going to mean a lot of contradictions with people you love, which is the toughest thing to be able to stand in favour of what you feel the need to bring to life. It’s got to be worth everything. I think a lot of people think that I am already tough, because I’ve been able to do a few things, with the help of people that believed in what I had and have done so far. We’ve been able to achieve things, but I think there is a new level which requires the capacity for me to be able to state something like ‘That it’s got to cost everything I have in terms of my cognitive capacity, my physical energy in terms of my contacts, my availability.’ If it is an idea that I want to make happen, this cannot be a blasé statement. Everything has got to go into it. I have no dramatic stories. Well, you can talk about the public television and other things with family, with friends, the job market with collectors, curators. Shit happens! But I am cool with my sense of integrity.
Absolute commitment. Again not because you are right, not because there aren’t other things that are also important but because you need to make it happen. It needs to be that important to you.
Art like any other sphere has its own brand of politics, as you’ve said on numerous occasions, for artists African [or otherwise] it’s about having a consequent plan “understanding who Caesar is” and how you phrased it putting him on diet. It seems like you finally got Caesar enrolled in Jenny Craig… with your performances at the Tate Modern, Garage Museum of Contemporary Art, winning the Future Generation prize last December… and now in Venice and so forth. Do you have any unrealised projects? What feels urgent right now?
Wow, I have so many unrealised projects. Because you were talking about dreams, my dreams are so big it needs all kinds of people to activate it, all kinds of people to contribute for this. So my urgent need is to become efficient in providing clarity to the group of people who make themselves available to engage with me, to engage with my work. I have to become a better team member I suppose. There is urgency in me to understand what position I really must have within a team, because it takes this kind of team participation to build the kind of things I have in my mind. I think that I am a pretty good performer, but I want to be great over what I am choosing as my craft. I think there is still a lot to come out of me, out of my voice, my tone, melodies and sense of rhythm, narratives. That is my main focus.
‘Daily Love Making’ is the first chapter of a five episode saga: ‘The Empowerment of A Generation’. It’s something that I’ve conceptualised in five episodes so we have ‘Daily Love Making’, we have ‘When Changing Your Mind Get’s You Killed’, we have ‘My Father Has No Surname’. So those are the first three chapters that are there. I have a fourth already, so I want to make sure I get a chance to build these… experiences, more than exhibitions or solo shows they will be experiences. This will be about my relationship with three-dimensional space… I think I have something to express and to provide in that field, so I want to engage with that. I want to do these 5 episodes and then I retire.
Oh yesss. I do these 5 episodes – ‘Empowerment of a generation‘ – and then I… I become a priest in the Bahamas, or something like that. [laughs]
Nástio Mosquito, a solo show is on view in at the 56th Biennale di Venezia, in the Oratorio di San Ludovico, Dorsoduro until till July 26, 2015. Click on the video below to hear the artist introduce this work.
Nástio Mosquito (b. 1981, Huambo, Angola) is a multimedia and performance artist whose work plays with African stereotypes in western contexts, often using himself as a central figure through which to question his own role as well as that of the audience. His work mines various pop culture clichés such as self-help life advice, motivational speaking, and music videos. Working under a range of names—Saco, Nasty-O, Cucumber Slice, and Zura Zuara—the artist often adopts the role of postcolonial respondent, while mocking the idea of any such imposed position. Rather, he finds ways to open up language, and therefore understanding, through a sometimes aggressive, sometimes nuanced collage of perspectives. Recent exhibitions include: Daily Love Making, Ikon Gallery, Birmingham, 2015; 9 Artists, Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, 2013; No Fly Zone. Unlimited Mileage, Museu Coleção Berardo, Lisbon, 2013; Politics of Representation, Tate Modern, London, 2012; and the 29th São Paulo Biennial, São Paulo, 2010.
Interview by Missla Libsekal.
 Trickster makes this world: mischief, myth, and art Lewis Hyde – Farrar, Straus and Giroux – 1998