Inspired by the haunting beauty of ancient sculpture, Sotheby’s Asia Chairman Nicolas Chow has created this spine-tingling short film featuring highlights from our upcoming auction Ancient Sculpture & Works of Art (4 December | London). A talented photographer and filmmaker, Chow regularly makes macabre short films for Sotheby’s sales. Here he imagines a conversation conducted in an ancient language between a Roman Poet and Aphrodite, as they stand before a Burial Urn.
In this interview, we speak to Chow about his inspiration, his upcoming projects and why he is so inspired by artefacts and works from centuries past.
When did your interest in film making first begin?
It started when I was 14, my best friend and I started making short horror movies with the Super 8 camera his parents kept.
There is an element of the surreal and macabre in the films you make. Are there particular artists or directors that have influenced your work?
I have always loved the surrealist cinema, from Luis Buñuel to David Lynch. I am also interested in the kind of open-ended narrative that you find in photobooks. The book that I keep on revisiting is Poste Restante, by Swedish photographer Christer Strömholm published in 1967. The juxtaposition and sequencing of images, no matter how innocuous, open up endless possibilities.
The dialogue/voiceover in the Curiosities film is very interesting as it appears to be played backwards. What were the original words and why did you decide to disguise them?
I wanted a dialogue that was emotional yet unintelligible, so as to leave room for the imagination. My colleagues Sophia and Christian read in Chinese and French respectively, but I cannot remember what they read.
It seems your style lends itself well to ancient sculpture, Old Master paintings and unusual objects of curiosity. How do you choose the artworks, and start to build a narrative around them?
I choose pieces that I respond to emotionally and they tend to be old. An ancient object or painting carries an extraordinary amount of baggage, from the subject-matter, to the hand of the artist, to the life of the object through the centuries, and time and history play a critical role in transforming it whether through wear and tear or iconoclasm, for example. All those layers are fascinating and in making sense of an object, you can take all this baggage into account or totally disregard it and read the piece on your own terms. I was thrilled when Florent and Giulia in the antiquities department asked me whether I would like work on this life-size marble sculpture of a poet as it has a powerful and disquieting presence.
Do you have other films in the works for upcoming sales?
I am now casting characters for my next Curiosity sale in April - grotesque and wonderful rocks from nature, fossils of creatures long extinct and fragmentary sculpture from antiquity to the present day. There are a couple of highly unusual objects that I am hoping to secure for the sale and I am looking forward to the stories they might tell collectively.