Artist Roula Nassar Nassar is the founder of OTTO Design studio. Nassar’s works, which include photo books, sculptural objects, films, and textiles (an artist of many trades), all carry a delicacy to it that should not be mistaken for fragility. Her works can be best described as visual poetry both in its expressiveness and acute attention to detail. The practice, while having physical, tactile objects and textures, seems much more like a strong abstract sentiment that only Nassar can perfectly execute into various mediums.
Nassar was born in Saudi Arabia in 1978 and eventually settled in Northern California with her family in the 80s. After taking sewing classes in a community college, Nassar’s career took a dramatic shift, stating that “I loved everything about building clothing, the pattern work, draping…and I finally had clear idea of what I wanted to do.” Shortly after, Nassar moved to New York in 2003 to attend Parsons, where she is currently based.
How did OTTO come about?
After graduating from Parsons I was working in and out of the fashion industry in various jobs, never really connecting to the environment or the product. After the financial crash in 2008, I went back to freelancing on and off again, andlike many people at that time I decided to create a blog as way to channel some of my creative frustration. It was basically an image-based feed, but the importance of it was that it gave me a reason to keep researching, studying and paying attention to what was going on around me in a way that I never had the chance to do while in school or working in corporate design jobs. At that time I was looking at artists like Craig Kauffman, Larry Bell, Peter Alexander and I wanted to see what I could do with acrylic.
So the first official OTTO project was a small collection of necklaces of various shapes that I had cut at canal plastics, which I would then bind together with suede ribbon and metal wire. I had so few resources and technical know how but that inevitably pushed me to come up with my own system of fabrication, which is still pretty much the way I approach most projects. It’s difficult to look back on the first things you do without cringing, but that part of the process of making work and putting it out into the world, whatever that context may be, is pretty vital in getting things going. Of course the initial idea of what I imagined OTTO would be has changed so much over the years, and the context keeps evolving, but defining what that is or should be matters less and less to me these days.
From your objects to art books and even the “journal” section of the OTTO site, there is a sense of tactile poetry in your work, particularly in your films. How would you best define your approach to your practice, both in labeling as well as a more aesthetic context?
I approach most of my work through a cinematic lens and I’m sure that comes from the insane amount of television and movies I watched as a kid. I can’t think of a time when I didn’t make sense of the world by thinking of some story in a film, or a character or comparing my own environment to one I had seen in some picture at some point. I like the idea of giving everything a kind of narrative, even an object, so if it doesn’t come from the visual language, the name itself can trigger a storyline or create some kind of suspense.
Do you have any other specific influences, be it people or movements?
I think I go through phases with this kind of thing where I’ll get hung up on someone or something and that pretty much infiltrates everything I’m thinking about at that moment until something else redirects my attention. I think I always end up saying Hitchcock, mainly because of Vertigo. I think the film is deeply satisfying… It embodies so many things in one film- psychosexual tension, gender politics, repression, hysteria not to mention the insanely meticulous art direction. It’s a picture so dense with material that it can be a different film with each viewing.
Your work is quite multidisciplinary, do you see it as all connected or do you approach each practice and medium differently?
I think it’s all connected, whether I consciously think about it or not, sort of like that line- wherever you go, there you are. I think superficially I’m concentrating on what I can do within the constraints of the medium and how to interpret that specific idea through that filter, but the underpinnings of that investigation are the same from project to project.
Many of your objects have a corporeal sentiment attached to them, do you name the objects with this same sort of human-esque sentiment? What is the naming process like?
I think I’m always looking for a way to highlight the impermanent state of things, giving something that is inherently meaningless meaning, and to deal with the absurdity of life. I’m such a visual person and in general I prefer to communicate these ideas through images since it’s easier to leave room for interpretation. It’s a bit of a challenge crafting the right tone with the titles. You don’t want to be too vague, too serious or humorless. That being said, I really try not to over think it, and generally speaking, the more confidant I am about the idea and outcome, the easier it is to name.
Favorite color(s) right now?
Blue and red.
What are your favorite materials to work with and why?
I think wax is such a beautiful material. It’s affordable and diverse in its application. It has various textures, can be both soft and hard, and I love that it’s a medium associated with light, devotion, reading, and meditation.
What sort of music do you like to listen when creating?
At the moment it’s been more podcasts than anything else and these days it’s usually an episode of the in our time radio series from the BBC or going through the Desert Island Disc Archives.
Images courtesy of Roula Nassar
interview PERWANA NAZIF