PHOTOS BY PAUL BARBERA
We first spotted the collaboration between Nanse Kawashima and Eri Nagasaka on Dossier magazine’s website, where the writer noted that “it’s kind of hard to describe what exactly Symbols + Rituals is.” To us, it looked like a perfectly curated collection of vintage curios, some sleek and some dark and witchy — Super Normal meets supernatural. But beyond the objects that caught our eye, Symbols + Rituals is also a freewheeling creative agency where Nagasaka’s interior design background and Kawashima’s work in fashion combine to produce everything from videos to art exhibitions. If their activities resist definition, they don’t mind a bit; read their interview with Sight Unseen to learn more about what they do, then check these exclusive photos by contributor Paul Barbera of Where They Create to get a glimpse at how and where they do it.
Tell me about the very first Symbols + Rituals collection. How did it happen? Where did you find the objects?
Eri and I met through mutual friends. We’ve always been inspired by each other’s different backgrounds: fashion versus interior design. Our collaboration started organically a little over a year ago. We had no name or agenda, we just started making sculptural objects and jewelry together, and collecting old books and bric-a-brac. Our collection grew, and our friend Claudia Kim, director of Alexander Wang accessories, was kind enough to host our first curated pop-up shop at her home last spring, where we showed handcrafted items such as pyramid plaster sculptures, triangle clay Japanese incense holders, and velvet necklaces with brass hardware. We also included collected vintage housewares like solid brass candle stands and black basalt wedgewood ashtrays. The objects we find are from various places and unexpected sources, including our families’ homes in Japan and England and flea markets in New York or Belize. Sometimes the objects find us.
Describe your studio — what are its main features and tools? What interesting things do you keep around?
We share a studio space with writers, illustrators, photographers, and stylists in an old loft building in Brooklyn. The space has beautiful sunlight and a view of Manhattan. We have a lot of old arts and interiors books around, paint brushes, needles, a lot of junk from the hardware store (our favorite place), plasters, frames, gold leaf, and vintage Japanese housewares mixed with old tarot cards and rune stones. One of our favorite items is the pyramid plaster sculptures. They’re very small and decorative but they also make great ring stands! We also have hand-carved Indian camel sculptures with gold-leafed humps, and black acrylic paint for collage art that we make. We also like to collect old religious (Islamic, Christian, Buddhist, etc) paintings and photos.
How do you work in the studio? Describe an average day in the life of Symbols + Rituals.
Our days and weeks might consist of the following things: planning an art opening, editing videos with video editors, shooting still life for our products, rummaging through second-hand stores and flea markets, experimenting with new materials to make sculptures and objects, or making custom objects and jewelry for shoots and events. When we had our art opening at Maryam Nassir Zadeh a few weeks ago, we made a sculptural pyramid-shaped encasing for the projector that played the video art we exhibited. A lot of time was spent on curating which still life prints we’d be showing and coordinating with 51717 (musician) about the live sound and video performance.
What are your inspirations for Symbols + Rituals? Is there some imagery you conjure in order to know when an object’s right for the collection?
We are inspired by childhood memories and by each other. It’s hard to explain, because a lot of it is intuition. When something feels right, it feels right! It’s important to follow that. One of the things that we are inspired right now, though, are some of the traditional Japanese rituals we grew up with, like Kakizome, a New Year’s ritual where people write their wishes or goals for the year using calligraphy in on large washi paper. The paper is burned on the 14th day, and the higher the ashes fly, the more likely the wishes will come true. We’ve been revisiting more of these Japanese traditions together and sharing them with friends. It’s been a huge inspiration.
I know you’ve started to make jewelry — how else has the project expanded and where do you see it going?
We’ve expanded into making lifestyle objects like incense holders, collages of architectural/interior details, and cultural/religious portraits. We’re collaborating with other artists in making stop-motion video. We shot a video with our photographer friend Jai O’dell last summer, consisting of a woman in a white robe with a black umbrella walking in the sand towards the ocean, mixed with other abstract imagery. We also made a custom futuristic surf-themed necklace for Karl Templar for a shoot with Craig McDean in Interview magazine using chunky hardware and bird-of-paradise flowers dipped in a silver coating. In the next two years we’d like to continue what we’re doing but also further delve into some of our own individual expertise from our past careers, such as installations, product design/consulting, video/photography, and styling.