Fluffy green-tinted clouds float atop a yellow-pink sky, so delicious that if you bit the air you’d expect it to be filled with sweet peach juice. It spills from your lips, trickling sticky down your chin. As you go to take another bite a formless voice wafts through the cotton candy air and says softly, “Hi, helloooooooo. Welcome to Super Nhozagri Kingdom!” Who are you?, you reply. “I am king”, says Nhozagri.
Interview tak­en from METAL Magazine issue 48. Adapted for the online version. Order your copy here.
You sense that Nhozagri is gesturing for you to sit on the cloud. You’re hesitant, you say, “Is it okay? I wouldn’t want to break it, it feels... Wrong to sit on something so beautiful.” The cloud looks f leecy, delicate and yet heavy with filling, like a steamed bun. You think you see one wink at you, and behind its sparkly eyes it tells you a story so quickly you can’t catch it, but you sense that it was a sad one. Nhozagri doesn’t reply, but when you sit there’s a palpable reduction in ripeness; cool greens and lilacs take over as the cloud transforms into wet grass, the smell of it is so overwhelming you don’t know if you’re going to fall asleep or get up and dance. In the distance you see a silhouette of a colossal, lumpy white mouse with a tiny pink smile and watery blue eyes, and you know that they need you to hug them. Slowly you float toward each other, and you finally understand what it means to feel light, unburdened. You’ve never felt so... What is it? You can’t put your finger on it. It’s tracing the creases of your skin, the contours of your ears, tingling in the very moisture of your eyes. In a language you don’t know but do understand, the mouse says, “Joy”. Yes, joyful, that’s it.

Nhozagri is not only an artist, she’s a medium, a dimension builder. Her practice is dedicated to representing the parallel universe of the Super Nhozagri Kingdom and telling stories of the puffy little creatures that live within it, in a bid to make viewers feel a little less heavy. These adorable beings have taken many forms: delicious dumplings, giant inf latables, soundscapes, paintings and plushy toys. Each being she creates has its own individual story, which is not uncommon for an artist; where Nhozagri takes visual, physical and sonic storytelling to the next level is through her focus on temporality. Her little creatures have life spans, just as we do. They are born, live out their lives, and die. Viewers are invited into the process; her plushies [also known as mollusc babies] desire to be loved by humans, to be cuddled and cherished, but will definitely perish with wear and time, just as their human companion will. Nhozagri’s work is more than hyper-cute creatures interacting in surreal landscapes [though captivating enough in its own right]. She actively rejects art’s obsession with longevity; its preoccupation with capturing a static moment in time and preserving it for future generations.
However, that isn’t to say that Nhozagri’s art commands less reverence than an artwork you’d be barred from a gallery for cuddling. The ability to interact with the work more intimately allows viewers to cultivate a spiritual connection with the piece, aware as they are of the implications of their interaction and the privilege of experiencing a snippet of life in Super Nhozagri Kingdom.

Considering that her work channels both physicality and temporality, it comes as no surprise that Nhozagri has dipped her toes in the fashion world. She’s recently collaborated with Marc Jacobs on his Heaven collection and coproduced a playful twelve piece genderless collection with Lazy Oaf. It’s hard to fathom a more intimate experience with art than wearing it on your body, feeling it on your skin. Speaking to Nhozagri, it’s clear that her work is experiential, dimensional, to be felt and not just seen. Considering how clothing has the power to inf luence the way you move through the world, it makes sense that she’d be compelled to experiment there.

But you don’t have to wear one of Nhozagri’s pieces to be sucked into the Kingdom. Just looking at the paintings, they radiate feeling even through the blue light of a screen, and you sense that what you’re looking at is pure creativity, a childlike joy that is not naive, but sophisticated and complex. Theta meditation is her paintbrush, and practising play enables her to engage in a very pure kind of joyous creativity that is totally boundless, tied to no genre, medium, material, or dimension, for that matter. On the subject of joy, though Nhozagri hopes that her work will allow viewers to trade in some of their heaviness for lightness, she maintains that sadness, the absence of joy, is equally valuable and not to be left unfelt.
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Magic Nelu 2020.
Super Nhozagri Kingdom can be felt but not seen, and you are the medium that gives us the gift of interacting with the Kingdom. Can you recall the first time you felt compelled to make the fantastical place visible to us mere mortals?
It’s like an instinct. It’s very difficult to verbally explain what I think, it’s easier to paint it. For kids, it’s very difficult for them to explain things logically, so they use painting or drawing to express themselves. For me, it’s a very similar experience.
That makes sense, especially as play is such a big aspect of your work, which is seen as childlike activity. Do you think people should play more as adults, maybe there are kingdoms of our own we could discover if only we played more.
Yes! This is what I’ve been hoping for. I think that being able to play is very important and also very difficult. Right now in our world things are really heavy, so for me the worse I feel about the world, the more I can play. It’s like there’s a scale, and there are two sides. One side is how heavy we’re feeling, and the other side is how much we can play. There’s a balance. I want the audience, when they see the painting, to convert the heavy burden they’re feeling from society into play. That’s my intention.
What was your childhood like, and does it feed into your work?
It’s definitely related to my childhood. When I was little I’d visualise an imaginary friend who’d live in the basement. When I went out and saw cigarette butts on the ground I’d bring them home to feed my friend. I’ve never had a real job, like an office job, I’m just like when I was little. I’m still the kid feeding my imaginary friend.
I’m so jealous! I wish feeding my imaginary friend was my work. I was researching the science of cuteness, and according to studies, cuteness has a hypnotic hold on humans, stimulating the brain’s regions of emotions and reward. Some scientists say that cuteness causes such intense emotion in some that the urge to squish is the brain’s way of extinguishing the overwhelming feeling of joy. Have you ever encountered anything like this in your work?
It’s like your cat!
The other side of cuteness is the core value of my creation. For example, I had this work where there were two people quarrelling on both sides, and in the middle part, there was a creek with an angel coming out. It was inspired by the war between Russia and Ukraine. I wanted to show that feelings like compassion can come out of war, like the angel. A sense of mercy, pity, sympathy.
Another thing about your work is that it’s so tactile, which is something that art doesn’t do, it’s very much don’t touch, it’s all about preservation. Whereas in your work snow sculptures melt, buns are eaten, and your toys are made to be used, loved, and cuddled. So I was wondering what physicality and temporality mean in your work?
All my works are about time. When you exhibit an artwork in a gallery or museum, those kinds of pieces are depicting a frozen time block. The audience are just observing this time block that has been preserved by the artist. With the food and the toys, there’s a different kind of creation. Those types of artworks need the participation of the audience, who participate in the entire process of making these works from when they are born until when they die. It’s the entire process. If you remember the steamed bun piece. I asked the audience to eat them. When the viewers’ emotional feelings, their behaviours, their actions, are all part of the work.
So the pieces have their own individual life spans, instead of existing forever in one state. Since this issue’s theme is Joy, could you tell me a joyful story from one of the mollusc baby plushies’ lives?
They’re all gone, it’s all in the past!
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Shadow, 2022.
Oh no!
I think I can remember one example. I once did this toy series that had a Chinese theme, called Chinese Dumpling Tribe, all about Chinese dumplings. Each and every dumpling had their own story. There was one dumpling who was half broken, you could see in its eyes that it was so terrified because what was inside was almost coming out and it felt that human beings were going to come and eat it and then go. Another little creature from the series is the plate. You can see that a tiny piece of shrimp and garlic are its eyes. They’re both the most memorable little creatures that I can remember.
It’s interesting that you can often see snapshots of their individual stories in their eyes because it’s the same with people; you catch a glimpse of what they’ve experienced in their eyes, but not the full picture. People from all cultures have a rich mythology, is that the same for the Kingdom?
The idea of mythology is a little bit different in Chinese, could you explain what you mean?
Like old fairytales and folklore. Stories from the past.
Yes! There’s definitely mythology. In the world there are layers beneath layers, like onions, it’s unlimited.
What are the layers made up of?
‘The layer’ is very similar to a parallel world, and also like the different insights of human beings on the same thing. When our thoughts change, the layers also change; It’s like the sun changing light and shadow through the gaps of different shapes.
 It works in this way: there are countless consciousnesses behind our surface consciousness. When you uncover the surface consciousness, you will find that the shallow consciousness is connected with one another, and the deeper is the collective subconscious of human beings. When we encounter this collective subconscious, we will find that everyone is God, and I am you. When we go to another level of consciousness, we will pick up our treasure, that is, everyone has his own god, and everyone is also a citizen from Super Nhozagri Kingdom.
Your work has been in multiple different realms; digital, physical, painterly, and sonic. Often in exhibitions, these forms come together to form an immersive experience. Do you plan to take this immersive side of your work further?
The immersive experience was still just an idea. I’m planning to do more but it’s not a very complete concept. There are so many new technologies coming out and they’re just happening so fast that I can’t really catch the wave. All of these new artistic mediums are just a presentation on the surface level. I think that there’s actually no difference between these more immersive mediums and painting itself. I’ve created some immersive, or more like spiritual experiences. I did one with Beijing Contemporary, the art fair, which was a project for the afterparty. It was an experimental project where I was focusing on speech, meditation and music, using sound to create architectures. By listening to make people see things. It was more spiritual, about the origin of the universe, about discovery and touch. Everyone can come and touch it, and once you touch it you can understand a little bit of the origin of the world.
So you don’t need to create a whole environment when you can just listen or touch.
I’m only using materials that I’m interested in at this particular moment, because if you have enough interest in these mediums, then you are going to encounter more possibilities when you’re creating.
Speaking of spirituality, you’ve mentioned before that Taoism informs your practice in some ways. Could you tell me a bit more about that?
It’s not really Taoism. For me, all religion and spirituality are talking about the same thing. What influences me the most is a type of mediation called theta, it’s all about touch.
You can see things after this meditation, and it’s really my paintbrush. I think that I’m a more intuitive artist, my research doesn’t involve art history, my research is through these experiences, discovering how spirituality can be more profound.
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Light [Sunshine on the left, time on the right], 2022.
The depth definitely shines through. You’ve delved into the fashion world, and have collaborated with Lazy Oaf and Marc Jacobs, so far. Do you have any dream collaborators?
I have a lot of new plans coming up relating to fashion. At the end of 2024 I’m going to create a window display for Marc Jacobs. I also have a collaboration with GQ magazine where I’m going to create a digital, moving cover. It’ll be related to the printed magazine cover, but the digital version will be an animation or something like that.
I have another brilliant idea, too. I want to do a fashion exhibition that’s actually a performance. This performance is a fashion runway show. I want to do it where there’s only one painting, and the model will wear it from winter to summer, it’s unlimited. So you can wear it throughout the entire four seasons, for the entire year. The whole concept behind it is that everyone only needs one painting.
So there’s a sustainability message in there as well.
I hadn’t thought of that, but now that you mention it that really makes sense. I’m the kind of person who really hates the material world. So yes, there is a sense of sustainability.
If that’s how you feel it’d make sense that would happen naturally. What is it that’s inspiring you to work with fashion at the moment?
Art and fashion are actually about the same thing. They’re about beauty. Art is about presenting something visually beautiful, and fashion is about how to dress someone beautifully, so at the end of the day it’s the same thing.
It also connects with your emphasis on touch and experiencing art physically, it doesn’t get more physical than wearing the art on your body, feeling it on your skin.
I agree.
[Cat arrives on screen] Oh, hi! What’s their name?
Her name is just Mimi, all the stray cats in China are called Mimi, so she has a stray cat name.
So colour appears to be central to your artwork, stepping into the Kingdom is like being in a candy store, and they evoke such intense feelings. I was wondering if you think about the meaning of the colours when you create?
I rarely choose colours. When I go to the shops, I only buy a few colours, the same colours, because they’re more related to my feelings, colours that speak to me spiritually.
So it feels natural to gravitate towards these particular colours. It’s interesting that you choose them based on feelings, because they definitely emit a sense of emotion.
There’s another layer to it. The colours themselves make me feel comfortable. And the behaviour itself, the behaviour of purchasing these colours, makes me feel comfortable because I don’t have to think about other colours outside those that I usually gravitate towards. I only go to these colours. This makes me feel very comfy, and maybe that’s because I’m just lazy, I’m always going after the same ones.
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Mountain, 2022.
They work well, so why would you change them! It also turns it into a ritual. Are there things we can learn from the creatures in Super Nhozagri Kingdom? As you’ll know, sometimes us human beings get things really wrong.
Those little beings, whenever they make a mistake, they’ll always be forgiven.
We’re not very good at forgiving.
There’s this phrase that’s super popular on the Chinese internet right now, it’s “how evil can these little beings be.”
That sounds about right. Finally, how do you find joy when things feel joyless, as they often can?
Just feel joyless. It’s really just like painting, when you feel joyless, you just need to use all your senses to feel how joyless it is. When it’s gone, it’s gone.
Otherwise, it’ll come up later.
Yes, because the feeling of being joyless is also a very valuable feeling to human beings, just like when you feel joy. That’s why I want to feel it.
That’s interesting because most people’s natural impulse is to avoid sadness. But I guess you can’t have one without the other, either.
I agree.
It also relates back to earlier with the two sides of cuteness, that your audience converts their heaviness to lightness through play, through your work.
With my imaginary friend on a psychological level, yes it is connected. But when I’m experiencing it, I’m just experiencing it, I wasn’t thinking about what I was getting out of it when I was playing with my friend. But after the experience has finished and you can look at it as an outcome you can realise, that yes, that is what happened.
It’s creativity in its purest form.
It’s just like building an amusement park. When you’re in construction and everyone’s working on it, it is a painful experience. However, once it’s built everyone comes here and they only get joy.
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Play Me I’m Yours, 2021.
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Magic Nelu, 2020.
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Memo 2022.
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Perfect House, published by Kushkomikss - Latvia, 2020.
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Perfect House, published by Kushkomikss - Latvia, 2020.