Nik Kosmas’ body of work navigates the thin line between design, sport and business. He has recently published ‘essays on physical practice’. In the reader, he proposes a holistic approach and attitude towards the relationship of the body-mind.
We paid him a visit at his apartment at Kottbusser Tor where we spoke about his current direction as an artist, the notion of community and practice, and
the routines that structure his personal life and work.
Nik Kosmas lives in Berlin, where he works as an artist, makes clothes, sometimes as an entrepreneur in the matcha business, and teaches as a personal trainer.
GROVE: When I read your biography, it was quite interesting to note how you began the very successful collaborative project Aids-3D at a relatively young age, then quit the project after ten years. How would you define what you do now, your current career path - especially after publishing essays on physical practice?
NIK: When I wrote about “quitting” the art world, I was mostly reacting to the dynamic of that phase of life — to being at the end of my twenties and the nature of the relationship with my partner (Daniel Keller). I took it out on art as a genre, but looking back I don‘t think it was such a problem with art itself. After that I went on to business, fashion, and sports. Sitting here today I can tell you that I learned a good lesson, everything has compromises... go figure! I also learned that important parts of making those other practices successful was much more boring or annoying or unnatural to me than doing art. So I have been doing all these side projects, experimenting and trying to see if I could find the one that was really interesting to me. And in the end, I find myself coming full circle. Of the different directions I tried, I’m sure that I would like to keep sports as a part of my practice. I like being a trainer and also training and moving myself. But most importantly, I would like to be an artist and label myself as that again. I am getting a bit older - I am now 32 - and it takes time to build up a career. I have all these contacts and experience in the art world. This is a valuable resource and it would be stupid to just throw that away. Even the people I train are artists and creative people in Berlin - these are the people I connect with. I’ve tried training “normal people”, but it was harder to communicate. It wasn‘t easy for me to work in a commercial gym and train normal accountant-type individuals, it was weird. Or I am weird, maybe I didn‘t realize that I am weird until I talked to someone that was “normal.”
GROVE: The moment you left the art bubble.
NIK: Exactly. Now I am back to referring to myself as an artist, but that means I have to make art and call it art. I’ve never wanted to make fitness art per se. For now, I think I will make art that is inspired by the things I learned through these physical processes, but not directly and not literally. Making art is an iterative process, but the materials and the methods are also important. One mistake with Aids-3D was that we made too much work in too short of a time. We kept making new shit, because we got really bored with what we had already done. It was just the two of us and we had a fuckload of ideas. Turns out that that was not a good decision for a couple of reasons: One, because the audience couldn‘t keep up; two, because we couldn’t improve the quality of the work.
When I look at my more successful friends I notice a tendency towards repetition in their work, or at least they are aware of how much they repeat themselves. The decision to repeat or not might have something to do with maturity. As immature people, we were quickly bored and rather self-centered, so we thought: if I am bored with something, then everybody else would also be bored with it, which is actually not true because most people don‘t pay attention to it in the first place. It takes ten times before they realize, Oh you are the guy who made the thing, that is your thing.
GROVE: Maybe it is also about holding this position, or building up some endurance?
NIK Yes, so now what I want to do is claim my territory and stick with it a little bit. I have to find a version of my practice that actually manifests as fine arts and sculpture. I am not so sure what this will look like yet and it is just going to take time. Still, telling people I am an artist I think means getting asked to make more art. In the past I had the idea that art should be officially about something. When I was working with Dan, we wanted to connect our work to historical or theoretical references. Now I want to explore more intuitive methods for working. But often I feel kind of paralyzed, asking myself is this smart enough or have I thought about it enough to make it worth doing? When making t-shirts and clothes, I was looking at the whole process and asking why is it so easy to make a fucking t-shirt and so hard for me to make a sculpture, when they basically involve the same skill set? Part of me asks is this critical? and the other just thinks dope, people want to wear it. I shouldn‘t make art that is as bumper-stickery as a t-shirt, but it doesn‘t always have to be an essay. That is something I am thinking about now, how much is fear preventing me from creating things.
GROVE: I think it is natural to have the fear of being superficial. I see it in people at every age in the field of art and I feel it never stops.
NIK: Well, I think some people accept it in the process - at least they act as if they are not worried about it.
GROVE: They probably take themselves less seriously.
NIK: Or the doubt is not permanent and they keep going...
GROVE: Could you talk about the relation between your artistic and your physical practice?
NIK: They are related, and I want to investigate more what could be said about these two things. The art I made before was “Post-Internet Art“. We didn‘t define it like that at the time, but that’s what it became categorized as afterwards. Currently my interest is directed towards learning, spirituality, self-development and other more holistic topics. And going to the other direction, what I took from art and brought to sports is the analytical thinking, the urge to compare and contrast things and to hybridize them. In sports, most people are coming from a specific discipline. I think as an artist, coming to sport a little bit older and not being an expert either, I was able to synthesize things from different fields and to not be so dogmatic about it. The research habits of an artist came in too, wanting to sit down and read a textbook for fun because I really love information.
Learning how to teach people has been very humbling. I also took a lot of shit for granted. I’ve done dance and martial arts when I was a little kid, so I am used to doing things with precision. In the beginning I assumed that everybody could do this. Obviously, that lead to many failures when I began teaching, people were frustrated because they had difficulty performing the movements. It didn‘t even occur to me, which is ridiculous in retrospective.
GROVE: What is your relationship to the community of practice, be it artistic or physical?
NIK: I am now engaged in training and teaching a lot of the people that are part of my creative community. At first, that was kind of an uncomfortable feeling, to go from being in the same group show or the same magazine article, to working for someone, teaching them how to do push-ups. It made me a little depressed in the beginning. The relationship there is complicated, but I feel better about it now, especially as it really does seem to help them. As it relates to the “movement” community at large I have some goals about general education so that people can exchange ideas more efficiently. For example, if you asked me, what is a good routine?, and I tried to answer by talking about actual exercise programs in the language of sports science, there is a good chance you wouldn’t know the words used. To talk about sets, reps and volumes and intensities, it wouldn’t make sense. But the challenge is that it’s hard to give a quick idea of how to do a training exercise or program without using those terms and ideas. You have to give a long explanation and the information doesn’t stick because the person doesn‘t have any connection to it or the vocabulary. Or more likely, give a very short explanation that lacks nuance and leaves out the grey-zone, which I think leads to a lot of lost opportunities. Or it has to be something that is explained through tradition. But right now those traditions aren’t fully formed. I think the whole community at large needs to have more basic knowledge - I think it won‘t be achieved with my generation, it is a multi-generation project.
GROVE: I am curious about the level of awareness you have reached in your body, for example your eating habits and how you structure your day? Or do you even try to stick to a specific routine?
NIK: With food I try a lot of different things. Recently I changed my breakfast from a big bowl of oats and fruit with yogurt and seed-butters to jerky and nuts. I don’t know what is best and I usually don’t like to give people food advice, because there are a lot of factors, like social psychological issues on top of the nutritional questions. I’m grateful that lately I feel fluid and confident with what I’m eating and happy with my body. Which has not always been the case. I especially love to make high-powered snacks! I ferment veggies, make oat bars, different kinds of jerky and halva-type paste things that I like to always have on hand. As far as training, I have my sessions in the calendar: On Monday I go climbing and on Tuesday I have dance class and so on. I keep an overview of it because the activities have to balance each other out. Dance is more push, climb is more pull, Klein Technique is relaxing, BJJ is competitive and has violence. I take deloads every three weeks. I do that as it is recommended and it helps me to recover from all the small injuries I have. Sleep is important, I don‘t drink or take drugs. I have my life set up to be able to train 20 hours a week and work 10 hours a week. And this is why I live in this shitty apartment. My budget is mostly food and going to classes and then working as much as is necessary to sustain those things. This will probably have to change as I shift my priorities, but it’s been amazing how many things I have been able to try and learn about in the past years.
GROVE: I think it is very interesting how you examine all these different kinds of situations in your sports and arts environment, which connects with the same issue of people not having the same holistic approach as you do. People focus on one thing and blur out the rest.
NIK: It‘s fun for me, but also frustrating in a way, and the tradeoff is that I don‘t really have super deep skills. I am a traveler on the surface of a lot of stuff. I think it is really important that there are people who are super deep in something.
GROVE: Exactly, you need both. What kind of pressures do you put yourself under to perform the ideals you set up in your mind?
NIK: I always had the idea that what I am doing should work, should be effective and should progress. The idea of improvement. I also wanted to be able to do what I looked like I could do. I have a nightmare of going to the gym and creating a good-looking body and not being able to perform movements other than lifting weights. There are so many layers of movement. I didn‘t realize for a long time how much specificity is important. I can be good at one thing and then change a little bit of a variable and be fucking terrible at it. That is a humbling thing. I am trying to build a general base for myself to be well-rounded but also knowing that there is no true wellroundedness. In the end I perform these physical practices for a few reasons: I love learning, I love how it shapes and focuses my time, and the freedom from external thoughts and issues that I feel when I am focused on moving.