Danial Nord has been a graphic and fashion designer, animator, theatrical and cinematic scenic artist, and much more along the way — all of which informs the conception and execution of his unique video-based sculptural installations in direct yet unexpected ways. Using images and messages culled from the cacophony of mass media, Nord engineers objects and environments from the raw materials of light, color, and sound that speak to the hypnotic yet destabilizing sensory onslaught of modern life. Nord’s work is currently on view at both the Los Angeles Municipal Art Gallery’s Offal and The Brand Library & Art Center’s annual works on paper show, Brand 47.
L.A. WEEKLY: When did you first know you were an artist?
DANIAL NORD: I was walking home from kindergarten on a sunny afternoon, and plucked a crabapple from a tree overhanging the sidewalk. I squatted down and ground it into a perfect cube on the pavement. I remember thinking: Wow, I can change an apple into a completely different thing! It was a magical moment, and the beginning of my creative consciousness.
What is your short answer to people who ask what your work is about?
My recent work transforms online and broadcast video into illumination for sculpture. I extract light and sound from media sources that disturb me, or that I have difficulty processing. I use custom-built electronics to convert the video into luminous central nervous systems that possess humanoid forms. I think of the work as a hybrid of self-portraiture, social commentary and nightmares.
What would you be doing if you weren’t an artist?
Professionally, I’ve already been a clothing designer, animator, ad-agency art director, and now a private chef — always using my artistic skills as tools to interact with people. In my local community, I’ve worked on port-related environmental issues that have had national impact. If I weren’t making things, I would be a full-time advocate for environmental justice in communities most impacted by international trade and shipping.
Did you go to art school? Why/Why not?
I studied fine arts, performance, film-making and glassblowing, and received a BFA from the Tyler School of Art; it was a great education. Then I headed to Los Angeles in the early ’80s to establish residency, intending to go to grad school for film. While juggling film industry jobs I started a beachwear business, and realized that the School of Hard Knocks would be the best education. I declined my acceptance to USC’s film program, moved to NYC, and built a clothing company with partners in China and global distribution. In the mid-’90s I was recruited to do live broadcasts on a designer fashion TV channel called Q2, which was my segue back to working with video.
When was your first show?
Right after 9/11 I was invited to attend a residency at the Santa Fe Art Institute that gave artists in lower Manhattan a respite from the trauma of the attacks. Through the generosity of SFAI and Steina and Woody Vasulka, I spent weeks experimenting with video formats and projections in the Vasulkas’ facility and on site at SFAI. My very first public presentation was the open studio exhibition, where I took over room #7 and created a multi-projector installation incorporating the bed and the bathroom. While this was the debut of my experimental practice, my first solo exhibition took place in 2007 as a three room video-driven installation at HAUS Gallery in Pasadena.
Why do you live and work in L.A., and not elsewhere?
L.A.’s vast lateral sprawl accommodates all kinds of idiosyncrasies. Angelenos aren’t afraid to be themselves. The region’s landscape is inspiring, and its diverse communities are rich with culture and fantastic food. Living and working in San Pedro, with the Pacific on one side and the dynamic city on the other, has been the perfect position for the past 17 years of artistic experimentation.
When is/was your current/most recent/next show?
My video-driven sculptural installation “Sleeper” is currently in the exhibition Offal at the Los Angeles Municipal Art Gallery, which runs through September 29th. Concurrently, I have a large-scale drawing in the exhibition Brand 47: Annual Exhibition of Works on Paper at the Brand Library & Art Center in Glendale. Drawing is essential to my artistic practice, but I’ve never shown it publicly before, so I’m glad to have the opportunity.
What artist living or dead would you most like to show with?
Tough question, but if I have to pick one artist overall it would be Nam June Paik. His first solo exhibition in the US was in 1974 at the Everson Museum in Syracuse, NY — my hometown museum. Seeing his groundbreaking work made an indelible impression on my 14 year-old mind. My sculptural installation “state of the art” (2011) was paired with Paik’s “John Cage Robot II” (1995) at the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, and naturally I was thrilled. I have fantasized about a full-fledged exhibition with Nam June Paik’s work and other artists he has influenced.
Do you listen to music while you work? If so what?
With all the noise and distractions lately, I cherish quiet. But on rare occasions when I need accompaniment, I listen to Indian classical music. It’s a great counterpoint to everyday chatter and clatter.
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