• Nancy Davies


My work explores empathy, inter-relationship and interdependence of all life forms. I map the spaces where public and private experiences collide. I do this by constructing a matrix of surreal juxtaposition through the poetics of hybrid imagery. Empathy is critical to democratic processes. They are contingent and co-evolving. These systems, or processes, must be practised to become real. At best, they arise in an environment encouraging qualities such as compassion, selflessness and imagination.

A chorus of voices (artists, writers and theorists) shapes my thinking and art practice. Some are predictive in their warnings of the breakdown of democracy – that a ‘spectacular-ised society’ would materialize and metastasise. The ‘spectacle’ (framed by Hollywood, television, and ubiquitous advertising) distracts from real, embodied, and socially connected life. Mega-consumerism confuses, re-directs, and undermines identity. This ‘brainwashing’ creates dependence on an authoritarian voice. In the end, ‘media noise’ and a declining educational system, produce a debilitated human – no longer a human ‘being’ capable of critical thinking, nuanced judgement, empathy or compassionate participation in a democratic society. Consequently, millions are now incessantly consuming products, debasing and threatening others who are not like them, incapable of discerning truth from fiction and, inadvertently, taking down the earth in their own leathal spiral.

The ubiquitous ‘digital screen’ is replacing pathways for democratic participation, empathetic debate and new visioning. As the interface between our private and public lives – these screens allow us to slip back and forth – shedding our bodies for virtual echoes in repeating cycles. The televisual, ominous ‘blue glow’, hypnotizing and isolating us as spectators is now, literally, in our hands … everywhere and almost all the time. We have to ask ourselves – Who performs? Who witnesses? What is lost when we lose the wisdom of the contingent body-mind? How does the music of the universe become the noise in the ‘airlock’? In a thriving democracy, an invisible web, collectively woven through empathetic conversation, debate, and healthy struggle – creates a sense of connection, cohesion, and shared identity. Democracy is, now more than ever, dependent on the poetics of everyday life and the human connection.

My work occurs across this complex terrain – geographical place, virtual space, psychological space, and the movement in-between. My original media – painting and drawing – influence my voice in moving image development. Currently – media includes both tactile and virtual / electronic material [video, sound, and light]. Contexts for my work are installation spaces (art venues) and moving spaces (i.e. subway trains and stations), online moving-image sites, and large public projections spaces. The ‘interstitial’ influences both, my conceptual concerns and my formal decisions.

For “Fugue”, I have been exploring the concept and structure of the musical form “fugue” – a polyphonic composition based upon multiple themes, enunciated by several voices in turn. Fugue is also a term used in psychiatry to describe a period during which a person suffers memory loss. I am investigating the condition of contemporary consciousness and identity – as it manoeuvres, morphs, and sometimes forgets itself in our constantly shifting and unstable world.


  • Display at the Participation Matters exhibition

Interview with Nance Davies

By Olga Yegorova, on 18/11/17

Olga: You have been selected to take part in R! with a particular work, but what characterizes your art more in general?

Nance: I map the spaces where public and private experiences collide – by constructing a matrix of surreal juxtaposition through the poetics of hybrid imagery. I do this by allowing my senses, intellect, and intuition to flow freely and create new fusions. I am especially drawn to the spaces where site, audience and the process of making intersect.

Painting, drawing and music – shape my voice in moving image development. Currently – media includes both tactile and virtual/electronic material [video, sound, and light]. Sites are installation space (art venues) and moving spaces (i.e. subway trains and stations), online moving-image sites, and large public projections spaces. The interstitial influences both my conceptual concerns and my formal decisions.

Olga: R! covers a variety of themes and concepts, where all projects relate to notions such as participation, democracy, community media and/or power, always in very diverse ways. Which of these concepts play a role in your project?

Nance: I particularly relate to the R! theme of community participation and the rise of collective consciousness in a functioning democracy. In my country, we are witnessing the phenomena of such a ‘group mind’ in small communities all across the country in response to our new heartless political reality.

Olga: You mentioned how private and public experiences collide in your work. Categories such as “the private” and “the political” or “the public” are often used for the advantage of dominant groups within societies. How does your project contest these pre-set categories?

Nance: Cultural and/or spiritual participatory art has existed either directly, or by proxy, throughout history. Today, a similar need for this art form has grown proportionately with our estrangement from nature and each other. I believe people are eager for this involvement as it offers a path into the territory of the maker. Once inside that space, the chance for personal agency is awakened and begins. This new citizen as ‘maker, do-er, responder’ is one who will likely feel empowered to do more, to take initiative, to make connections & share ideas with others, to step ‘out of line’ and try something new. This transition from silent and private citizen to artist-activist community member allows for new definitions and elaborations of language and terminology to emerge. This can also be the beginning of the process of ‘re-framing’ concepts in terms of how they function and determine societal ethics and power dynamics. Private interests and needs can now be addressed through the process of political organizing, leading to significant socio-cultural change, as we have seen with the recent project ‘Indivisible’ here in the US.

In my project ‘Fugue’ the individual videos visualizes various stages along a continuum from ‘psycho-socio confusion and identity disintegration’ to the eventual awareness of ‘empathy’ as one recognizes oneself in the other….be it human, animal, as well as the earth itself.

Olga: Your project seems to highlight the importance of the senses and emotional communication forms. How does the sensory or affective experience work in your project and why it is important to you?

Nance: Since my childhood by the Pacific Ocean, I’ve been drawn to the sounds, scents and visual dynamics of nature. This eventually led me to ‘Installation’ as process and space as it allows me to re-create this embodied environmental condition. As I grew up, I saw the correlations between these systems and those of culture. I’m fascinated by the ebb and flow of crowds navigating tricky spaces; by strangers aggregating together in response to crisis; by the rise of collective consciousness under pressure to create a tipping point. My desire to understand interrelationship fostered empathy.

Olga: Does this representation also have a political meaning for you?

Nance: I believe our political system has veered away from the premise of a democracy. Aggregated corporate wealth has colonized most sectors of our culture through systematic, targeted advertising which induces psychological states of fear and insufficiency leading to selfishness, hoarding and isolation.

Olga: Is the focus on a sensorial experience also connected to participation?

Nance: Yes. In my installation in particular, the work is not complete until the participants realize the sense-based space and begin to understand how their movement through the space impacts and changes it.

Olga: Your project depicts a relationship between the virtual and the embodied, the digital and the tactile. How does this project deal with those realms?

Nance: _I present virtual reality and embodied reality as related, exchangeable and unstable states.
These states, or conditions, can offer enlightenment or disconnection from self and others; integration or fragmentation._

Olga: Through your work, you pinpoint a crisis within the society and the individual due to consumption and the proliferation of individualism. How does your project address this crisis?

Nance: I am investigating the condition of contemporary consciousness and identity – as it manoeuvres, morphs, and sometimes forgets itself in our constantly shifting and unstable world. My project explores the crisis that is emerging from end-stage capitalism by exposing its various consequences: fear and identity confusion; random and directionless movement; disconnection from the natural world; isolation and the dissolution of collective community connection, activism, sharing and compassion. Under such conditions, the individual psyche cannot cohere as body and mind begin to separate.

Olga: Which role can your art project play to address these crises?

Nance: For example, the video ‘Fugue (((((( between ))))))’ documents several ‘participatory actions’ in my participatory project, ‘one hand tied’, exploring human interaction and the poetics of the ‘everyday’ gesture. People-pairs, using only one hand each and no words, meet at a table and spontaneously perform an unrehearsed task together. They confront the need to let go of control and improvise a solution with one another. The focus is the space between: embodied knowledge and improvised interaction; connection and rupture; empathy and control; interdependency and the illusion of separation. As described earlier, the participants choose to engage in a task of their own devising. They invent the task, engage in and struggle through the limitations of working, watching, responding, and re-calculating…in order to complete the task.

‘One Hand Tied’ exists as both a participatory art project and a lyrical documentation. The participants’ experience, in the best of worlds, extends beyond the performance as it demonstrates the difficulty of working together, and serves as a model for collaborative projects in the real, social, political world.

Work at Respublika!

1) Fugue (((((( between ))))))

2) Fugue (who takes? who gives?)

3) Fugue (between the back of my mind and the tip of my tongue)

4) Fugue (a storm is blowing from paradise….walter benjamin)

5) Fugue (no w here)

6) Fugue (hope is the thing with feathers……emily dickinson)

R! PM overview photo
Respublika! Participation Matters Exhibition Photo by Nico Carpentier


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