Performance Artist Nastio Mosquito Is Building Skyscrapers with His Mind

In an interview with the dude who's been called "the coolest guy in art," he tells us about his latest work, "The Age I Don't Remember," which comments on the fallacy of our identities.
November 19, 2015, 3:40pm

"Nástio Mosquito: The Age I Don't Remember" at the ICA was commissioned by EDMASH

I meet [Nastio Mosquito](Nastio Mosquito) the afternoon of his latest performance. He's sitting on the marble back stairs of London's Institute of Contemporary Arts, hunched over his laptop like a human prawn. This is not the elegant, tightly-wound, topless sweat machine I had expected after watching his 2013 performance piece "Demo Da Cracía." In that video, the 34-year-old artist dances, slowly undressing, in front of a large green screen while cascading a stream of consciousness to camera that includes tidbits like "I'm as Angolan as palm oil" and "Everyday the Cold War is available."

And yet here he is, soft-voiced, wearing small rounded glasses, sitting in the half-light of a stairwell just meters from Buckingham Palace, apologizing for running late. He's wearing a cardigan for chrissakes.

It hasn't exactly escaped my attention, either, that I'm meeting Mosquito during the 40th anniversary year of Angolan independence. But, it turns out, he isn't in much of a mood for looking backwards. "Separation is inevitable," he explains. "Separation from something that was, for something that is, with the enthusiasm for something that will be. If you're going to move then you have to leave something behind."

No wonder this latest piece, "The Age I Don't Remember," begins with the Bowie-like announcement that "Nastio Mosquito is dead." What's more, Mosquito is quick to point out the joke in the apparent nationalist fever in "Demo Da Cracía": "The irony of that statement is that palm oil isn't even originally Angolan," he explains, leaning back in his chair. "It's about the bullshit of identity. We use it for so many things—to connect or disconnect from people. It's ridiculous to be identity-driven."

Mosquito, who was born in Angola but spent 12 years working and living in Portugal, was recently nominated for Artes Mundi 2016 and received the Future Generation Art Prize for 2015. He's also performed at the 56th Venice Biennale: All The World's Futures (2015), held his first solo museum show at Ikon Gallery in Birmingham, and, earlier this year, was named "the coolest guy in art" by journalist Grace Banks. So why, I wonder, is he so keen to kill himself off?

"The beginning of this performance is silent. It's about what has just been killed," says Mosquito, fixing me with a steady gaze. "For the night to be able to occur and for me to, for the first time, engage with my past and time, something has to be killed before. When you enter the room that something has just been killed [in]. That's how we start."

Wearing all white, his shirt characteristically buttoned right to his throat, Mosquito's performance in "The Age I Don't Remember" is surrounded by screens, video, a live audience, and even a live band. "This dying to give birth to something new is a core element of our whole way of functioning. It can become religious, but if you want to be spiritual [you can be], or you can be pragmatic about it."

You mean we're all just feeding worms, who feed trees, who feed us, I venture? "Yes. It's a very real part of tangible life," Mosquito answers. "I need to kill my relationship with my ego, with what I've done, and engage with my sense of integrity of the now. What can I do now?"

Mosquito describes not just his work, but his entire life, as "building skyscrapers with my mind." It's not exactly a phrase I'd expect from a man killing off his ego, but, then again, who am I to judge? As if anticipating my antagonism towards such statements, Mosquito adds: "Most of the time I dream with my eyes open. I'm building skyscrapers every time I open my mouth. I have this recurring need to put myself in positions and I don't know why—it's to do with building something. I guess I want to have a positive impact on the people that cross my path. It might be a need to validate my existence."

How did he get that scar on his head, I ask, attempting to move the subject away from his cranial skyscrapers. "I fell on the floor," he says, touching his forehead. "I was too young to remember the pain. I fell in front of the house of an aunt of mine. She was a nurse but I was bleeding so much she had to do something there and then, which is why you can still see it."

I too have split my head open—resulting in a year-long loss of smell. Does he think an injury like that may have affected his approach to the world? "My concrete experience of life is vague, if that makes sense," says Mosquito, frowning. "I know I like rice a lot. I can say that with confidence. But there are very few things that I can do that about. I've always followed my need to materialize something; make it tangible. I don't make work based on my opinion, or because I need to say something. Of course, it's contaminated by my limited perception of things, but it's about giving light to possibilities. I thought there would be a stage in my life where I'd be able to say what was my favorite food, who was my best friend, my favorite movie, but I can't. People do this shit all the time and I admire that. I guess it's important for people to know what they like, but I just don't have a relationship with the world like that."

This somewhat transcendent experience of the world may be one of the reasons why Mosquito seems so utterly unconcerned by other people's opinions. "It's a huge privilege to have people not enjoy what I do," he says, going against the sentiments of pretty much every creative person I've ever met. "For them to not enjoy something, it has to be made first. It means that they saw it and there is something concrete about that dislike—it's tangible. Hopefully it made them realize something about themselves, too."

So he really doesn't mind if people walk out? Hate it? Take to the internet and run him through the mud? "It's not about me," he says calmly. "That's what's difficult to get a hold of. It's not about me; it's about doing shit. There's no way that can be negative. And to be positive doesn't mean people have to like it, either. Someone being offended or not liking it isn't bad—it can be a positive thing for them. For me, it's part of celebrating people's freedom to engage."

This attitude does, indeed, make Mosquito sound pretty cool. And yet, he assures me, he has certainly never thought of himself that way. "I used to go to parties with a notebook," he says, chuckling into the sleeve of his cardigan. "I liked to see people that way. I even went to discos with a notebook. Nobody thought that was cool, I assure you."

I'm not sure I quite believe that a handsome, internationally successful artist and musician—who's just recorded an album in a house in the north of Portugal, who speaks at least three languages fluently and is about to shout into the faces of a London contemporary art audience—really is, or ever was, painfully uncool.

But hey, perhaps that's the skyscrapers in my own mind.

Follow Nell on Twitter.