Torre Alain: Could you tell me a little about the title of the show and its inspiration?

Guia Bertorello: Numen is a latin word indicating the ‘spirit or divine power presiding over a thing or a place’. The show was named after the short film of the same name co-produced with Matt Esslen, who suggested Numen as a word to represent the exploration of moments of spirit in a public sphere.

T: I’m also thinking about the name of your garment collection, ‘Sædiment’, which is presented in the film. Sediment is something which accrues bit by bit, it builds up forms over long periods of time and through accident, force, and cohesion. It's rough yet intricate - this feels like an allegory for your work.

G: That seems so fitting, it never occurred to me. But absolutely, most of the research is low quality screenshots collected for extended periods of time, with layers of dust which make them vague. In the same way, the work itself feels like an accumulation of experiences that have the same moment at their core. As much as I enjoy obscure references I wish for the work to be universal in the way that people relate to it, almost like a distant memory.

T: I love how there's an ambiguity contained in each of the pieces of this collection. The works themselves feel organic, substantial, and structured (pewter, heavy materials, knotted and gnarled shapes), but their presentation speaks to lightness and ethereality: there's a defiance of standardized silhouettes and binaries of form. Some pieces emanate light if you catch them at dusk, there's a fleeting and secretive beauty in works which appear concrete at first glance, forms push outward from within, strong lines give way to skeletal structures, with lighter materials stretching to create their lineaments.

G: I think the ambiguity of forms is a comfortable space where any preconceived notion is ignored and the only thing that is left is emotion and intuition. There is something quite special in the way that I used to construct these immaterial universes from undefined,vague and often illegible pictures I found online representing an incredibly specific feeling, which is still how I conduct research. I always found it quite hard to be binary and fixed, so finding such an immediate way of expressing a concept was fundamental, most drapes have been made completely instinctually and the same goes for the pewter pieces. Pewter is also a quiet metal, malleable and easily repurposed as it has a very low melting point.

I tend to sit with a concept or moment of emotion for a while and then quickly materialise it, I have a fear of losing the precise moment of spirit if working on the object too much. And same goes for sound and other media.

T: It feels as if the experience of the exhibition has the same duality of shapeshifting and strength. Distinctive forms build up the collection, but the individual experience of the show feels resonant to the motif of the underwater statue which recurs in your research: something experienced in the depths, in the solitude of the private mind, which coheres in social reality through multiple intimate moments.

G: I definitely cherish that image, it is a distinctive landmark of where I was born and it has so many qualities that I wish my work will bring, if stripped of the religious iconography.

The moments I feel my truest self are always quiet moments in which our environment seems in complete harmony thanks to our in-depth alteration of our surroundings and the presence of small physical pointers of what our inner life is. Incredibly familiar to what the experience of existing online for almost a decade feels like. However private the experience of moments of spirit can be, I love the connection of those intimate experiences culminating in a joyful moment celebrating common values. To relate back to the underwater statue, it is incredibly important for me to have the work in a public and accessible setting, for people to almost stumble upon it. Unexpected experiences of beauty are so precious.

T: The materials chosen for your work encompass synthetic fabrics, organic matter, metals...what draws you to work with particular materials and substances?

G: In the same way that I like collecting dust screenshots, found objects are a fundamental part of the process. I find great inspiration in objects and the qualities they have acquired through time and the act of repurposing. The most successful piece I think is the wood harness, which I made thanks to a lady on Ebay called Kilda who collects gorgeous driftwood somewhere in Scotland. The bone-like qualities of the wood are so hard to duplicate because of the layering of time and accident, again, that brought it to that aesthetic stage. The fascination was definitely born out of necessity but it has become an integral part of the work. I guess it is a balance between actual artefacts and synthetic ones.

T: There’s also a short film which you co-produced with Matt Esselen that was screened for the first time on the exhibition’s opening night, and presents the garments from your collection. It’s such a moody experience - I’m interested in the process of co-creating this piece.

G: Matt and were interested in portraying suspended moments of emotion as a communal experience, such as the burnout scene in which a masked biker envelops the models in smoke. We started from a selection of images, both me and Matt work in an abstract way and then we pinned down the intention to make the scenes as emotive as possible relating to themes such as the sublime.

T: I love how the reconfigurable moments of the work are mirrored in the group of collaborators who came together to realize the show. There’s an online visual diary which opens up the work to visitors beyond London; the user can manipulate images to form their own associations and arrangements - it feels like it all comes full-circle with some of the internet-sourced images which served as inspiration for the collection.

G: The film shoot was definitely a materialisation of those shared moments of spirit. As much as I am an introspective person, collaboration is wonderful especially if you manage to work with a team as invested as we had the pleasure to have. Firstly, the collaboration with Underground Flower was a way to explore unspoken ways of the work I had never had the chance to because of commercial work and education. Then collaborating with Matt Esselen on the film was a wonderful experience as we silently shared a lot of the same emotive language and aesthetic pointers, brought to life thanks to Sophie Ellis and Ben Leggett who trusted and supported us.

- A precise moment of spirit: Guia Bertorello and Torre Alain in conversation, July 2021


NUMEN is a latin word indicating the ‘spirit or divine power presiding over a thing or a place’: the show explores moments of fleeting emotion and spirit enabled by a communal experience of beauty, adornment as a personal ritual, a quiet contemplation of numinous objects. Curated by Underground Flower and presented in London at Underground Flower: Offspace in partnership with Harlesden High Street, NUMEN is multidisciplinary artist Guia Bertorello’s first solo show, investigating their practice through incarnations in wearables, moving image, sound and sculpture.

curated by Underground Flower | produced by Sophie Ellis | bts images shot by Matt Esselen | lettering: Felipe Filgueiras | website: Torre Alain | documentation: Jenn Leung

‘NUMEN’ co-directed by Guia Bertorello and Matt Esselen | DOP: Benjamin Leggett assisted by Camilla Dazzi | Producer: Sophie Ellis | Beauty: An Nguyen | Talent: Caitlin Lucia Irving, Adam Lyall, Sophie Liatis, Hannah Kingsberry, Guia Bertorello | Editor: Samuel Cabrera Marquez