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In Conversation: Cemre Nomer on the Intersection of Death, Virtuality, and Identity in Multidisciplinary Art

Cemre Nomer is a Turko-Swiss multidisciplinary artist whose life has been deeply intertwined with visual arts since childhood. In 2018, they embarked on a formative journey by enrolling in École de Design et Haute École d'Art du Valais, culminating in the acquisition of their diploma in 2021. Since then, Cemre has lived and worked in northern Switzerland, developing a versatile body of work that explores themes such as death, virtuality, artificial intelligence, lies, and identity. These themes serve as the foundation of their artistic expression, inviting viewers to engage with the diverse narratives embedded in each creation.


Q: Cemre, can you share how your early experiences influenced your decision to pursue visual arts as a multidisciplinary artist?


My journey as a multidisciplinary artist is rooted in my upbringing. As a first-generation immigrant, I was fortunate to be exposed to a multitude of cultural influences and artistic expressions from an early age. Prior to my relocation to Switzerland for my studies, my artistic endeavors primarily revolved around traditional 2D mediums—sketches, dry pastels, collages, and linoleum presses.


However, it was upon entering édhéa (formerly known as ECAV) that my artistic research began to expand. Here, amidst professional equipment and a supportive environment fostered by our professors, I found myself liberated to explore the possibilities of multidisciplinary creation. Encouraged to "trespass" the thresholds of single mediums, I embraced the challenge of navigating the realms of video, photography, installation, sculpture, and beyond.

I have long harbored a fascination for the intersection of technology and creativity. From the pixelated landscapes of video games to the ethereal realms of cyberspace, this innate curiosity, this 'geeky' inclination, continues to infuse my work with a sense of wonder and possibility. So, in essence, my journey as a multidisciplinary artist is a reflection of the interconnectedness of experience. Through the convergence of mediums, I strive to chart a course that provides a fuller experience for the spectator.



Q: Your body of work encompasses various mediums and techniques, from 3D printing to immersive installations. How do you select and employ these mediums to convey the themes of death, virtuality, and identity present in your art?


In my artistic practice, I am drawn to a multitude of techniques, each chosen with careful consideration of the themes, narratives, and personal experiences that shape my work. Take, for instance, my piece "Shell Shock," where I explored resilience and renewal in the wake of adversity. Inspired by the tranquil compositions of Satie’s Gymnopédies, I opted for a minimalist white space — an aesthetic choice that echoed the quiet calm "after" the storm, inviting viewers to reflect on the journey of getting back on one’s feet.


Central to the installation were audio speakers, placed to guide spectators through a narrative journey. Yet, amidst this serene backdrop, I introduced familiar domestic objects—a curtain, a television, a semblance of a living room—to create a sense of familiarity and dissonance, prompting viewers to question the boundaries between reality and perception and to ponder the delicate balance between stability and uncertainty.


Q: Can you provide insights into the narrative behind “Météreinpaligration” and the significance of Gisele’s story within the installation? How do the QR codes and 3D-printed objects contribute to the immersive experience?


My encounter with Gisele is quite an interesting one. Gisele was actually the name of a woman who had deceased a couple of months prior to me finding her documents in a completely unrelated place. At the time, I worked in a restaurant, and my boss one day came in with a library set, complete with chairs, bookcases, and a coffee table. She asked me to clean up the objects one by one, and it seemed like this used to be someone’s living room, but I was only a server being exploited, so my role wasn’t to ask questions but to do as I was told.


Météreinpaligration, 2021. Image Courtesy of Ghalas Charara.

As I was cleaning and trying to repair some of the broken books (this was during COVID, so we didn’t have many clients over), some of Gisèle’s documents fell out of a big book—subscriptions, letters, dried leaves... Many personal things were there, including a smaller book called "Revenir," meaning "to come back" in French. I kept those documents in hopes of finding their owners, and just as I had finished cleaning, I overheard my boss talking about a friend of hers, Gisele, who had passed away from COVID and how her funeral was heartbreaking to another colleague. I was shaken and thought that the message couldn’t have been more direct. So, I said to Gisele that if coming back was what she wanted, I would help her do so.


Shortly after this, my contract there ended, and I couldn’t access the living room again. I tried to give one last look at the living room to remember it well. The first thing I did after getting back home was remodel these objects in Blender in every detail so they would be present for the exhibition. Then, I started making up scenarios for Gisele, where she would have a reason to want to "come back" every single time, and one of the scenarios was actually the Gisele I had gotten to meet. The texts were written from Gisele’s point of view, and I tried to encapsulate them all in 12 different QR codes, some of them hiding throughout the building, some of them easily findable, depending on the story that was told. If you’re interested, dear reader, you can start listening to them from this link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j7xy4HT271k.


Q: What inspired the creation of “No Land,” and how does it challenge conventional notions of physicality and existence? How do you navigate the boundaries between the tangible and intangible within this installation?


The inspiration for "No Land" emerged from a personal narrative—one rooted in the upheaval and uncertainty brought by the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. As the world retreated into lockdown in March 2020 and international travel ground to a halt, I found myself confronted with the sudden and disorienting reality of being stranded in Switzerland, far from home and with no clear path forward. As a second-year university student grappling with financial pressures and the looming specter of rent payments, the prospect of an indefinite stay in a foreign land filled me with a palpable sense of worry.


No Land, 2020. Image Courtesy of Yossof Baddri.

Yet, amidst the chaos, an unexpected bond began to form. Enter Nur, my Indonesian flatmate, who found herself navigating similar uncertainty and anxiety. As the days stretched into weeks, Nur and I discovered a friendship nurtured by resilience and shared vulnerability. We wove together the threads of companionship through shared meals, late-night conversations, and K-Dramas.


It was against this backdrop of newfound connection and shared humanity that the concept of "No Land" began to take shape. Inspired by the serendipitous encounter that had brought Nur and me together, I sought to recreate the liminal space of the airport—a space suspended between departure and arrival, between the known and the unknown. The virtual airport, though intangible, serves as a metaphor for the journey of self-discovery and agency—a journey marked by the refusal to be bound by the dictates of external forces.


As the spectator navigates the virtual landscape of "No Land," they are confronted with a choice—a choice between following the prescribed path laid out before them or forging their own trajectory. It is in this moment of decision that the boundary between virtuality and reality begins to blur, and the true essence of human experience is laid bare. In essence, "No Land" is not merely a virtual airport but a nod to the transformative power of human connection and the resilience of the human spirit. The moment where you, the spectator, let yourself be guided by the yellow tape on the floor is the moment virtuality becomes reality.


Q: Could you elaborate on the conceptual framework behind “Shell Shock” and its exploration of post-traumatic stress disorder and resilience? How do you balance narrative guidance with audience agency within the immersive experience?


Cemre: The conceptual framework behind "Shell Shock" was inspired by a series of personal experiences. I had just come out of a difficult relationship and was trying to find the person I used to be before this relationship. The term "Shell Shock" resonated with me because I felt like a shell of my former self, devoid of ambition and joy. It was a time when I was apathetic to most daily situations. "Shell Shock" was also a way of "exorcism," as my mentor Valerie Felix used to say. So, this immersive experience aimed to transport audiences into the realm of the mind, where they can engage with the themes of trauma and recovery on a personal level.

When it comes to balancing narrative guidance with audience agency, my approach is to provide a structured framework while allowing for individual exploration. "Shell Shock" offers subtle cues and prompts throughout the experience to guide audiences along a thematic journey while still granting them the freedom to navigate and interpret the space according to their own inclinations.


In "Shell Shock," narrative elements are interwoven with interactive components, creating a dynamic experience that encourages active participation. Audiences are invited to immerse themselves in the narrative world while retaining a sense of agency. The spectators have the option, should they opt not to adhere to the directives conveyed by the speakers, to discover various hidden elements within the space akin to "Easter eggs." In the interest of preserving the intrigue of these "Easter eggs," I have opted against documenting them.


Shell Shock, 2020. Image Courtesy of Yossof Baddri & Ghalas Charara.

Q: What motivated you to explore the political and social landscape of Switzerland’s Valais region through your piece “T'as Ou les Vaches?” How does the interplay of text, video, and local references contribute to the narrative?

"T'as Ou les Vaches?" was inspired by a desire to uncover and amplify the often-overlooked aspects of the Valais region's political and social landscape. As an artist, I believe that it is essential to engage with and reflect upon the complexities of the local context in which I work and live. Valais, with its rich history and intricate social dynamics, provided a fertile ground for exploration.


The interplay of text, video, and local references in "T'as Ou les Vaches?" serves to create a multi-layered narrative that captures the essence of the region. By incorporating elements such as video footage, written narratives, and local symbols, I sought to construct a dialogue between the past and present, revealing the multifaceted nature of Valais.


T'as Où Les Vaches?, 2023. Image Courtesy of Cemre Nomer.

Q: Your work delves into themes like artificial intelligence and lies. How do you approach the intersection of these themes in your art, and what messages do you aim to convey to your audience?


The intersection of themes such as artificial intelligence and lies in my work is driven by a fascination with the evolving nature of truth and perception in the digital age. In a world where technology increasingly mediates our experiences and interactions, I am intrigued by the ways in which reality can be manipulated and constructed.


Through my art, I aim to provoke contemplation and critical reflection on the implications of these themes. By exploring the boundaries between truth and deception, reality and illusion, I invite audiences to question the authenticity of the information and experiences that shape their understanding of the world. Ultimately, my goal is to encourage a heightened awareness of the complexities and nuances that define our contemporary existence.


 

Cemre Nomer’s art is a testament to the power of multidisciplinary creation. By weaving together various mediums and techniques, they invite audiences into immersive experiences that challenge conventional boundaries and provoke thoughtful reflection. As they continue to explore new themes and narratives, Cemre’s work promises to remain a captivating and thought-provoking journey for all who encounter it.


Portrait of Cemre Nomer. Image Courtesy of Cemre Nomer.

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