Creation by Karen Nikgol

Karen Nikgol: ‘My Art Is Open to Interpretation!’


YEREVAN / OSLO — Painter, curator, performance artist, actor, director and choreographer Karen Nikgol was born in Teheran in 1983. His mother Odette Nikgol is a painter, animator and translator (see my interview with her in the Armenian Mirror-Spectator, November 19, 2019). Karen studied at the Arts University College at Bournemouth, England and Fine Arts University in Oslo; he also studied religion and philosophy. His work mixes cultural expressions and identities, combining contemporary dance, choreography, raves, street cultures, new age and occultism, creating direction and choreography on stage and in galleries that involve artists, dancers, martial arts practitioners, amateurs and writers. Karen has participated in more than 25 group exhibitions around the world, and his solo exhibitions have opened in Spain, Denmark, Italy, Norway and the United States. Karen works at the Oslo Museum of Contemporary Art, observing Norwegian cultural life. He shot a short film, Empowerment (2017) and acted in two films in Norway and UK. In 2017 Karen Nikgol won Oslo Prize for art of the year for his exhibition “Empowerment.” He is the co-founder of the artist run space Noplace, in Oslo.

Karen, I have watched videos of some of your performances online. I think they belong to those types of art that people can interpret in different ways and they all will be right and wrong. Your works can be characterized as being erotic, mystical, eccentric. What is the main message you send through your art?

Yes, my art is often open to interpretation. In stage productions, I have a general narrative that is often told, but not necessarily as an understandable narrative, like a dream open source for analysis. Hence I like to give the view more of an experience, than anything. That might be the message. 

When the Norwegian royal family visited the Museum of Modern Art, you were entrusted to explain the exhibition. How was it to be guide for a king and queen?

It was ok – more police guards than normal, but besides that it was fun. 

Recently a Russian dance specialist said that everybody with ideas is able to direct a choreographic play.

Get the Mirror in your inbox:

Yes, that specialist is right. We must remember how many great plays Kandinsky, a painter, wrote.

Being a fan of modern choreography, for me it was not a problem to watch your “Satyricon” performance, lasting 2.5 hours, set to minimalistic music, monotonous sound and conversation in a language many do not understand. Isn’t it too ambitious after “Fellini Satyricon” to have “Karen Nikgol Satyricon”?

Ha-ha, it was irony towards Fellini who included himself into the title. I also wanted to mark a difference between them, so the audience would not expect the visual language of Fellini into my work.

You also authored an operetta, “The Silent Song of the Sphinx.” Do you have musical education?

No, I do not. I work with composers, musicians and choreographers that can realize my aesthetic ideas.

I assume you have funny stories when people has been confused about your gender because of your name Karen.

Topics: Dance, painting
People: Karen Nikgol

Indeed, job interviews are most fun! They expect a woman, not a bald Persian Armenian! (laughs).

Karen Nikgol

You were born to Iranian father and Armenian mother. How and in what extent do such rich heritages affect your character and style?

In the way that it affects coming from different places can change one mentally. It breaks down our personality being Norwegian, Armenian, Persian, a synthesis of dualities.

When in 1997 I telephoned your mother, it was you or your brother Armin who answered. I was pleased to hear that Odette’s son talked Armenian with her.

Ok, pleased to hear that. Of course I do speak Armenian and I write a little too!

You have visited Armenia in 2017. Did you have any chance to get acquainted with Armenian modern art scene?

Yes, I went to see some galleries, shops and art dealers. Yerevan has a vibrant art scene!

What would you like to see more in Armenia?

I would like to see even more art and even more fashion industry, even though there is a lot now. I would like to see a good future for the country and its independence from countries that are bothering it. And also more happiness!

Many artists of Armenian origin think about Armenian-related projects. Are you an exception?

Yes, I might be. I do not want my work to be understood as coming from one specific origin, or place.

Get the Mirror-Spectator Weekly in your inbox: