Artist in residence: Saad Qureshi and 'Places for Nova'

What does it take to transform a development into a memorable experience?

We speak to artist Saad Qureshi about the public art piece he created for our Nova development in Victoria, and he takes us through his vision, the process of creating ‘Places for Nova’, and the insights he gained from the project.

Saad Qureshi
Artist Saad Qureshi, pictured next to his work in situ at Nova, SW1

Tell us a bit about yourself and your work. How would you want others to describe you, and what inspiration or themes do you draw on for your art?

There are people who make art who want to be known as sculptors, or painters, or media artists, but I prefer the broader title of ‘artist’ because I work in various media. I’m more of an ideas-driven artist – I get the idea first, and then, depending on how it can be articulated best, I select my media.

Something my work tends to look at a lot is the constant state of becoming. We, along with the world, are constantly evolving, and our landscape echoes this ongoing process of development too. I’m also fascinated by the portability of the landscape and how the human mind acts as a vehicle that allows the landscape to travel from one place to another.

Can you tell us about the brief and how you came to be chosen for this project?

There wasn’t a defined brief, as such. Landsec explained that they were looking for some public art for this new development, and the shortlisted artists were invited to respond in whatever way they thought best. I believe they chose my proposal because it placed the public and locals at the heart of the art piece – something they are passionate about.

How did you create the art piece ‘Places for Nova’? And how does it reflect Landsec’s purpose of creating positive experiences – for visitors, residents, tenants, workers, and also the wider community?

The idea for ‘Places for Nova’ stemmed from my fascination with landscapes and their constant evolution – I’m intrigued by the way spaces are transformed by their history and the elements around them. I wanted to draw on what was there before, and what might be there in 100 years’ time.

So I spent a couple of days a week around the Nova development in Victoria, asking the general public to donate a memory of a landscape that’s significant to them. I would ask them a series of questions about this place, and based on their verbal description only (no visuals!) I would then re-imagine the building, structure or landscape, before weaving all the different stories together to form a universal platform where they could all co-exist.

Saad Qureshi In-situ

For example, I would get a memory of a bridge where a couple had first met each other. And even though they had described that particular bridge in great detail, it was important that I re-imagine it in a generic realm. The bridge has to stay as vague as possible, so that others can relate and project their own stories onto that bridge too.  

In a way, the work opened up people’s private mindscapes to the wider public – so everyone can enjoy and interpret it in their own way, and gain a unique experience.

The way it draws on the stories and experiences of the community reminds me of London too. London is incredibly receptive and accepting of different cultures and people. And as people pour in from all around the world, they bring their own fragment of a landscape with them that they then project outwards. The result is a cultural landscape that seems familiar yet ever so slightly alien at the same time. That’s why I chose to work with red brick dust – it’s a Martian-like colour that brings a kind of ‘otherness’ to the mindscapes I was developing.  

You created some large sculptures as part of your earlier work. Why did you choose to produce something smaller and so intricate for this project? 

My initial instinct was to go big. But I soon realised that people are often more intrigued by things in miniature scale. They walk up to it, they get up close and they examine it. The smaller it is, the more their sense of curiosity is piqued.  

That was a really exciting discovery for me. It’s something I’d never thought of before.   

nova night
Nova by night

This was your first public art commission. How does it compare to a private commission, or other works that you’ve done? 

The interesting thing about gallery shows is that they’re in very controlled environments. The space and exhibition is all managed, and you have a pretty good idea of your audience and their mindset because you know they are seasoned gallery goers, used to reading the language of contemporary art.  

However, as soon as you get outside of that comfort zone and put yourself out there in the public realm – it’s a completely different ball game. Anybody and everybody is going to get to see this work, and because they’re not from the art world, they are judging the work in a completely different way. The challenge is ten times greater.  

Exhibiting in an outdoor space also taught me a lot about materials and techniques. Because this was going to be an outdoor piece, there were so many other elements I had to consider – things you don’t necessarily think about when you’re doing an indoor show. All the materials I used had to be water-proof and weather-proof, and we had a team of art and props specialists conduct all sorts of experiments on my work too.

Saad Qureshi in-situ
Saad Qureshi's artwork in situ

Why do you think it’s important for art to be included in the planning of public spaces?

Art humanises and animates the space around it.  

While urban spaces and buildings are created by humans, they can seem very clinical and detached from human experience. Art brings the human touch into a space by sparking intrigue and curiosity, and it encourages interaction between people by acting as a conversation starter. 

Great art can transform public places by triggering positive experiences and creating memories. That’s what I hope ‘Places for Nova’ achieves for Landsec.  

Saad Qureshi’s ‘Places for Nova’ is on display at Landsec’s Nova development in Victoria until February 2018

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