In Conversation With Nuka Nayu

QC: I love the term ‘Chaos”! Could we start by exploring what that word means for you and how it’s implemented into your practice?

NN: Chaos is often considered as a base state that allows something to come into existence without the need for beginning or birth. A place which is both full and empty, in constant change, out of which a fully formed, climactic thing can materialise, as though emerging from a puff of smoke. One of the oldest goddess figures of the Babylonian kingdom, Tiamat, also represents the dichotomy of emptiness and creation that inhabits chaos, a point between two things. Creating a new character requires something similar, removing yourself from your identity, and preempting that emptiness as if you lived your whole life as something else - you will need this to experience the world as a character instantly. In Genesis, God's journey to creation, which started also in a chaotic prestate first and foremost, begins with light, Dr. Frankenstein in Mary Shelly’s universe almost replicates the creation of god’s, by using chemical reactions that create the lightning which gave birth to his monsters in an attempt to artificially produce new life. His endeavours and desires came not only from the need to acquire ultimate knowledge but also motivation derived from emotions surrounding death. These days I wonder what sort of artificially-made lightning can give birth to our old selves/dead ancestors? I have been working on my practice with it in mind.



QC: In your artist’s statement you open by declaring your work “invokes a state of ‘becoming’ rather than ‘being’; a constantly shifting threshold within the absent and invisible.” Is this the case on a personal level as well as artistic? And if so, is the process the same?

NN: I guess that when it comes to the term ‘becoming’, I don't particularly differentiate between personal and artistic. I also think I mostly live my life in the very same way I practice, and use ‘becoming’ as a strategy which is in the core of my mind when I get dressed or meet people. I would always like to be in a ‘becoming-out state’ wherever I am or whatever I do. I think the idea came up at around the same time I started to have interests in chaos magick a few years ago, I would like to think that I practice this in my own way, and just like any other religion, it does not leave my body whether I am working on my art or not because it is ultimately a practice. 

I use chaos and strangeness as ingredients for reaching the state of ‘becoming’. In this way I can reach the grass root of my own way of nature, and by doing so I reclaim ideas of the natural that are dominated by other ideas like whiteness, imperialism and heteronormativity to name a few. The concept of nature is murky with popular beliefs and appropriated by mainstream cultures and their respective delusions. I try to use the ‘becoming-out state’ to make-strange the popularised modes of stimulation rather than attempting to remove myself from them.



QC: You’re often confronting and challenging social boundaries and interactions through the various characters you create in your performances. Are there particular boundaries you are challenging and how does performance and the characters you are creating allow you to do so?

NN: I think I challenge myself a lot to become a different person in the social environment, I love going outside in my character and making strangers feel maybe confused and excited at the same time. In my previous work, I used to adopt disguises when carrying out research in various places, which was at times problematic; and although the experiences really helped out developing my characterisation skills, I quite possibly owe some apologies to certain people. When I was doing my masters at one of the most bureaucratic institutions I have seen, I was trying to be more monstrous, and exaggerate my queerness in a more subversive way. Having different masks on (mentally and physically) provides abilities that go beyond humanness, especially when putting on a monstrous mask, and monsters can represent what Halberstam calls a disruption of categories. I think through the embodiment of monstrous characters I am able to create strange environments; midpoints between fear and desire, a twilight zone of form and transformation. It opens the door to the alternate world, a portal yet to be realised. I think that by demonstrating strangeness, I can approach the audience more easily. I often ask audiences to participate and take control over performances. It’s something I truly enjoy, changing around the roles between the viewer and the performer, but ultimately I would like everyone to just have a good time together at performances.

In terms of the boundaries we have been set, they are to be questioned but are still here for a reason, and artists must have this responsibility in mind when practicing. This is something that I have been trying to negotiate recently as I have noticed that elements of Korean culture as well as others (namely indeginous cultures) are being used and exploited a lot within art. I think we have to learn to find ways of embracing what we have, and questioning the world without disempowering others or revoking those crucial platforms for understanding one’s own culture.

However I also think this boundary can demonstrate to people that we don’t always have to talk about our culture directly. This, for me, is a way to defend the culture that I grew up with and also to protect myself from being framed only as an east asian born artist. I think we already embody and have the knowledge of our ancestors because they are ours, and we reconcile with our histories by looking at, or talking to, ourselves in our own ways instead of overusing what is available to us ubiquitously.



QC: There is often a discrepancy between how we view ourselves and how others view us. Do our identities exist without the participation of others?   

NN: I think that there is always a witness whether visible or not, and there is still always some form of participation for those who are absent. R. D. Laing said that we cannot encounter our own behaviour; in most cases the collected behaviours that others see in you are what form the real you, ie you are the way others see you. The cruel reality is that this often is not the way you see yourself. In the past, as much as the idea of this condition interested me, it also had me aggravated, and through trying to direct my practice against these conditions I developed massively. I think now that what was missing from that time was a materialistic approach, I was trying too hard to be all spiritual. 

I think queerness in combination with the digital/virtual can go beyond the shape of these experiential politics, and override the meanings and conditions for otherness. You can better control how you are perceived in the digital world, you can make things human from non-human and vice versa. and I believe we are heading in the direction where identity can exist simultaneously with and without others.


QC: It could be suggested then that instead of viewing identity as “performative” we as queer people (and potentially non-queer people) are in a constant state of chaos? And by being so, are constantly evolving?

NN: In a sense, yes, I believe that being ‘performative’ is often related to its culture; illusions created by ideologies and beliefs. It is queer people’s consistent state of non-conformity to these categorizations which evolves, and in the pursuit of doing so we have to keep moving, and are compelled to. That’s the burden of queer identity. And with that said, I think that it is genuinely fun to keep on changing and improving yourself; making art really enables that, so why not?