2017
Pan & The Dream - The Emperor's New Clothes
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Los Angeles Review of Books Interview by Michael Kurcfeld
Film
2016
Professional Photography, Text by Kathrine Anker
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American SuburbX, Text by Brad Feuerhelm
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2015
Christies: Artist Nadav Kander Studio Visit
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Dust Artist Interview, Flowers Gallery , London
Film
2014
The Strait Times, Text by Deepika Shetty
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Dust Interview, Studio International
Film
Dust Review - haunting and painterly. Text by Sean O'Hagan
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2013
The Guardian, Text by Jonathan Jones
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2012
Nadav Kander Interviewed by William Avedon
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Road to 2012: Aiming High, National Portrait Gallery, London
Film
2011
The Observer Magazine, Text by Sandy Nairne
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A Conversation with Nadav Kander by Jorg Colberg
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2010
The Guardian, Text by Sean O'Hagan
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Color Magazine, Text by Helmut Werb
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Portfolio Magazine, Text by Simon Baker
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Yangtze, The Long River Interview by Lens Culture
Film
2009
Hot Shoe, Interview by Bill Kouwenhoven
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Prix Pictet Announcement
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Nadav Kander in collaboration with the Royal College of Art
Film
2008
The Financial Times, Text by Francis Hodgson
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2007
Miedzy Nami Magazine, Interview By Jakub Mielnik
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Portfolio Magazine, Text by Simon Baker

The Illuminated River
‘The death of the river…the absence of this great moderator, which cast its bridges between all animate and inanimate objects alike, would prove of crucial importance. Each of them would soon literally be an island in an archipelago drained of time.’ JG Ballard, The Drought.

In three important early novels, published between 1962 and 1966, The Drowned World, The Burning World (republished in London as The Drought),and The Chrystal World, JG Ballard offered radical alternate visions of ways in which this planet might succumb to environmental catastrophe. This early ‘sci-fi’ Ballard, not yet the author of now influential books like The Atrocity Exhibition and Crash (recently the subject of a major homage-exhibition at the Gagosian Gallery in London), overreaches the dystopian prescience of these later works. Before the techno-fetishism of Crash, then, Ballard had already established a complex psychological relationship between the ever-evolving landscape, and its ruinous, inhospitable future: an obscure but legible outline of the terminal ‘success’ promised by globalisation.


In The Drought Ballard’s protagonist, Charles Ransom, faced with ever diminishing water supplies, leaves the town in which he lives and heads for the coast; following the bed of an exhausted river until he finds a desperate settlement whose inhabitants harvest and desalinate tidal lagoons. But as the narrative develops, as in all of Ballard’s novels from this time, it seems that there is no escape from the simultaneous collapse of environment, society and human psychology, and Ransom opts to retrace his steps up the parched river bed, back into the scorched interior. This apparently irrational and counterintuitive about-turn, that Ballard describes elsewhere as being ‘towards a new psychology’, involves a wholehearted acceptance and internalisation of the reality of an impossible situation: an absolute refusal of the against-all-odds Hollywood happy ending. As the similarly resigned, and yet strangely positive protagonist of The Drowned World writes, heading away from safety (scratched on a wall for no-one to see); ‘Have rested and am moving South. All is well.’ Or as Ballard would later put it, tipping a hat to the Heart of Darkness author Joseph Conrad; Immerse yourself in the most destructive element – and swim!’

In five different voyages, over a three-year period, Nadav Kander followed the course of the Yangtze river up-steam, from coastal estuary to its source in the mountains of Tibet, never straying further than twenty miles from the river itself, and attempting, at every stage of the journey, to relate and reflect the consequences of the incomprehensible, eye-watering pace of development in modern-day China. However, considered as a whole, the resulting body of work Yangtze, The Long River, for which Kander was awarded the Prix Pictet in 2009, stands in stark contrast to the traditions and conventions of the kinds of documentary, or even landscape, photography with which it might most obviously be associated. For Kander’s Yangtze is not merely work about a the effects of globalisation on a nation and its people (the unfortunate human consequences of a dysfunctional and iniquitous system); what it proposes instead is a means of thinking and understanding through representation itself (that is, in the process of representing or picturing its subjects), the inconceivable and unbelievable reality of economic growth. Everywhere in Kander’s work we are faced with scenes of almost impossible contrast and contradiction: the kinds of non-sequitar or anomalous juxtaposition associated with constructivist montage. The China that Kander presents looks as though the world’s most ambitious urban architect (in cahoots with world’s most slap-dash builder), had attempted to realise the most optimistic five-year-plans of USSR in Construction; the impossible fantasies of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis; and the dystopian morass of Ridley Scott’s Bladerunner all at the same time.

The first Yangtze photographs, like Changxing Island (Workers Apartment’s Island of Oranges), show vast industrial docks used to build the largest sea-going container ships known to man, where immense skeletal structures, resembling nothing so much as construction hangers for space-ships, loom behind neat, ordered modernist apartment blocks, squeezing both the dream and nightmare of modernity, forcibly, into a single frame. And this feeling, the consequence of Kander’s adherence to a bold and resolute constructivist sensibility, returns over and again, as the relentless pace of reconstruction and reconfiguration seems determined to sweep up, (and sweep away), all signs of human relations. Only in the overlooked remainders of this epic rationalisation and universal will to become, do lingering traces of everyday life flourish: washing lines strung beneath the abstract bones of concrete structures; picnic tables beneath giant smog-bound bridges Chongqing IV, (Sunday Picnic); anglers and bathers stranded on the shores of industrial aftermath. In a truly mind-blowing series of photographs made around the construction of the world’s biggest damn, the disjunction of scale is truly disorienting, as Kander offers at one and the same time, both panoramic and intimate accounts of what it means to submerge a landscape. One photograph of a condemned town being dismantled prior to flooding, the neatly stacked doors and window frames assume an eloquence way beyond their explicit or implicit meaning: like the tidy rows of severed calves shins in Eli Lotar’s classic photographs of the abattoir at La Villette in 1920s Paris, they speak to a chilling capacity for order in even the most violent and visceral acts of human consumption.

There are other historical touchstones in Kander’s work too; the inevitable consequences of an eye trained and versed in the modernist pictorial tradition, but also engaged in what has elsewhere been described as a ‘sustained stare’, which both encourages and complicates that same act on the part of the viewer. The would-be picturesque foreground groups in Kander’s most impressive photographs, Chongqing XI and Bathers, Yibin, Sichuan, set the very human drive for physical sustenance, (for food and exercise), against the dehumanising backdrop of industrial and architectural ambition of an almost terrifying inhuman scale. But with the signs of this context shrouded in the foggy haze of the middle distance, Kander offers pictures that, rather than conceding the landscape to construction, situates both encroaching and overwhelming development in direct relation to the everyday responses of local inhabitants. Recognising the tell-tale signs of factory chimneys across the breadth of the Yangtze in Bathers, Yibin, Sichuan, the visual reference evoked is another precursor in European art history: the ragged river-bank at Asnières, which Seurat painted with the same chrystalline calm as any other scene of Parisian leisure; because, not in spite, of its evident proximity to signs of working class labour. It is precisely this negotiation of human and industrial relations and scales that marks out Kander’s work as an important contribution to a vital lineage in the western pictorial tradition; responses to the alienating and overwhelming power of both urban and rural landscapes through, rather than in opposition to, real social conditions.

There is something of the accidental or involuntary sublime in Kander’s Yangtze too, however, like those incidental details and effects in nineteenth-century topographic photography. Timothy O’Sullivan’s geological surveys of the American West, for example, where, attempting to render the crushing weight of rock above tiny cave-like dwellings, O’Sullivan would be forced to fill the photographic frame from top to bottom; resulting in a disorienting, vertiginous abstraction. Or John Beasley Greene’s incredibly sparse calotypes of the Nile, where all that divides the river in the foreground from the sky above are insubstantial and illegible slivers of brown: tiny traces of river banks and islands, crushed by movement and perspective. Kander’s work produces equivalent involuntary effects between registers of distance and scale in both lateral and vertical terms. In Nanjing I, Jiangsu, a guard stares out from a decrepit concrete structure that seems completely out of proportion to the landscape beneath it, and which it surveys, (actually the look-out box on a giant bridge, although this is not at all obvious from the picture); and in Xiling Gorge III, Sichuan the sheer volume of the river, registered by the tiny leisure craft strung across it’s width, is in turn dwarfed by a colossal rock formation which is placed front and centre in the frame. Everywhere along the Yangtze are signs of Kander’s ability to register and communicate the ways that this landscape produces, and then re-produces, a profound sense of disorientation that can only be accommodated and recuperated through representation. And it is the sheer incongruity of such epic natural and industrial landscapes with their human inhabitants, coupled with the ever-present evidence of the routinization of adapted activity, that means that Kander is destined to meet Ballard everywhere on his journey up-river. In brand-new developments that are, somehow also already in ruins (Construction Mound, Chongqing); in improvised architectural compromises; temporary accommodations; strange artificial spaces, and even ersatz natural forms (Metal Palm, Nanjing, Jiangsu); everywhere Kander’s river world reveals its own contradictory character even as it takes shape.

Ballard was fond of saying, in reference to his great enthusiasm for fiction (both sci-fi and surrealism), that ‘art exists because reality is neither real not significant’. This, it could be argued, is the core message of his early environmental fantasies: that the demise, or even gradual collapse of an entire environment, whether by human accident or natural design, would inevitably be incomprehensible to those to whom it was happening: that as consciousness shifts to accommodate new circumstances, it is reality itself that becomes unreliable. Only through representation, Ballard suggests, can the implications of radical societal and environmental changes, and their accompanying psychological side-effects, be fully understood. In this remarkable body of work, Kander never loses touch with reality, but keeps it in its place, engaging fully with art as Ballard understood it, resulting in a Yangtze that is both real and significant: pictured, framed, and illuminated