Artist Talk: Nadia Hironaka and Matthew Suib

This week we met with our first collaborative duo of the class, Nadia Hironaka and Matthew Suib! Originally working in separate artistic practices though in the same realm of video art, the romantic couple eventually had decided to collaborate, and ever since most if not all of their work is made together. Before this I haven’t been very familiar with video art, but their practice successfully fuses elements of fictional film and documentary film into shorter videos that offer a “parallel-reality”. Their works feel almost like magical realism, often drawing on reality and history to create something that exaggerates these realities. The best examples of this would be their installation and video “Unsung”, which is inspired by the history of prostition and the red light district in Philadelphia, featuring a haunting and surreal video of singers projected onto the wall of an out-of-commision railway tunnel surrounded by fog, aiming to give a voice to these women. 

Unsung. 2016.

Another great example is their more recent project “Moon Viewing Platform”, featuring a narrative short film divided by the 8 lunar phases, each represented by a different “gardener” played by real artists, activists, and even their daughter. What I enjoy about their work and this project especially is their sense of ambiguity and nuance, in that they don’t tell the viewer how to feel and leave room for interpretation. This is done primarily through a lack of dialogue, at least in “Moon Viewing Platform”, as well as original ambient music and enigmatic imagery. This project was created just last year in a time of political unease (that has only gotten worse), but the duo didn’t want to do the obvious thing and comment directly on these anxieties and modern politics, instead opting to create a piece about healing and “respite from our troubles and troubling world”, which I think is beautiful and a reminder of art’s therapeutic nature. 

Moon Viewing Platform. 2019.

And while their works are obviously collaborative in nature, I love that they extend beyond just the couple and incorporate other artists, performers, actors, musicians, the local community, etc. Many of their works are installation based such as the “Moon Viewing Platform”, and for the few weeks that the video and accompanying garden were up, multiple performances by other artists and musicians were presented at the site. For another project “Ghosts of Philadelphia Industry”, a video about the city’s industrial past projected onto the side of a building in downtown Philadelphia, the duo had local high schoolers act in segments of the film as workers. Oftentimes I think that the nature of video art requires multiple participants for technical help, actors, etc., but you can tell that collaboration is something Nadia and Matthew value beyond what is needed and enjoy working with others, especially in strengthening community ties. After listening to their talk, I feel very inspired by their collaborative processes and I want to attempt making art together with friends. While they were honest saying that collaboration isn’t always easy, resulting in squabbles and compromise, seeing their finished products proves that it’s worth it in the end.