Partnership, Independence, and Breaking Down Boundaries: Nadia Hironaka and Matthew Suib Make for a Really Cool Duo

For all that artists are known for working or living in collectives, and for all that we think of the art world as a community, it’s rare that we think of artists as working collaboratively in teams. Of course it happens—artist collaboration is a fairly common occurrence—but it’s rarely the first thought when someone says that they’re a professional artist. It’s always “oh, what kind of work do you make,” and almost never, “oh, who is your partner,” or “oh, you’re two artists who are married and share a studio—how does your work influence each other,” and rarely “so do you two work together then?”

Nadia Hironaka and Matthew Suib, however, not only share ideas and influences but do indeed work together, working as a collaborative artist duo to create some incredible, brain-bendy stuff. They work in digital media, a medium that’s more or less foreign to me but allows them to create alternate, sort of fictive realities—lived-in spaces that brush up against our real world enough to seem familiar, but are at the same time unsettling, alien, and beautiful. Their work exists on a computer screen, but also on walls, on grimy tunnel sides, whole worlds tucked neatly inside little projector boxes. Their display locations become components of their work, even when it isn’t site-specific. The end result is bizarre, but stunning.

Talking with Hironaka and Suib was an interesting experience. Despite sharing may aspects of their career and their life, they aren’t as similar to one another as one might expect. Instead, they complement each other, their interaction a clue, perhaps, to how they can work together to create the work that they do. When one enthusiastically responds to a student’s question, the other hangs back, offers a word or two of agreement or poses an alternate idea, but doesn’t step on the other’s toes. They support one another with clear and obvious affection. When one starts talking about the big ideas and the grand results, the other discusses the technical nitty-gritty details needed to get there. They’re a study in contrasts and agreements, two people who occupy the same space so easily.

I’ve worked on collaborative art projects before, but I cannot fathom sharing a studio, a work life, a home life, or really anything to quite that extent. I think it’s utterly remarkable that they manage to achieve that kind of partnership—supportive, creative, not stifling one another. And that kind of harmoniousness comes out in their work as much as it does over a Zoom conversation. It’s not that it’s clear there are two minds behind it, but talking with them is like pulling back the curtain and finally understanding how the magic happens—like hearing one of those insane piano pieces where it seems like the player must have six fingers on each hand to be able to play it, only to realize that it’s actually a duet. The complexity is clever, balanced, and after talking with them, makes perfect sense.

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