Environmental Urban Exercises by Natalia Danner

Urban and mundane are poetic for me. At a certain point I realised that my art can not be separated from the life I live everyday. The projects that form Environmental Urban Exercises were born out of the intention to cope with the world around, to find my place in it.

Russian born, German photographic artist Natalia Danner talks to us about her work on Environmental Urban Exercises and how the ongoing project seeks to externalise the subjective beauty found in urban environments. Instead of focusing on grand architectural giants Danner looks for isolated street corners which carry a subdued beauty in their design.


The idea behind my work is noticing poetics and generating such emotions like intangible feelings of fascination from working with the mundane urban environment. My photographs seek to embrace the notion when a city is both a spectacular place and our here&now. These images is an encounter between material, subtle and fleeting within existing stillness of city structures.

Tell us more about you and your artwork.

I was born and lived most of my life in Moscow, now I'm based in Munich. Two years ago I finished my BA in Fine Art. My artistic practice is mainly focused on urban environment and consists of photography, video and performances. I also write texts from time to time. Since the very beginning of my studies I was interested in the topic of ephemeral, at the same time I can't imagine my life without being and living in the city environment. It looks like these two aspects are the core of every project I've ever done. This dualism creates a strange approach where fragility and stability of mundane are existing hand in hand. I think there is always an element of nostalgia hidden in my work as well. 


How did you plan for this project? What was your creative process?

I can't say that I meticulously planned it. What is probably essential to mention is that I knew the direction I wanted to explore. It was all about going outside, searching for and trying to catch the diversity of subtle and fleeting moments that are happening here and there in the city where I live. First it was Moscow, then Munich, and in between are several other cities I’ve travelled to.

As you can see the nature as well as the process of this project are slightly drifting. First steps were done at the end of 2015 and the project still evolves being bounded very close with my view on the world and my place in it. Actually, Environmental Urban Exercises is a title I created for my Instagram page where two projects are merged together. One project, called Zwischenraum (german word that means ‘gap’, ‘interval’), is a series of photographs where the city, its structures and everyday situations of light and shadow are the subject. It lays claim to a passionate approach to the urban life routine. Here the presence of people is minimised and the photographs seek to embrace the notion when a city is both a spectacular place and our mundane. Second project, called Environmental Exercises, is about me being photographed and filmed while performing in and communicating with different city structures, when my body builds up a dialogue between itself and the urban environment. So now you see that Environmental Urban Exercises is both. 

What work inspires or has inspired you?

I'm usually find my inspiration in all kind of fields that touch the topic of mundane, fragility and/or temporalness. But most of all I search for those examples when ordinary becomes spectacular but still stays very fragile. I'm fascinated by the movies of Aki Kaurismäki, Andrei Tarkovsky and Marlen Khutsiev, early films by Veiko Õunkpuu, photographs by Boris Smelov and Alexey Titorenko, some works from Unconscious Places by Thomas Struth, courage, freedom and simple but powerful style of Joseph Beuys, the movement poesy of Pina Bausch dance company, theatre pieces by Vladislav Nastavshev. At the same time nothing can be compared to that endless and profound inspiration that my family gives to me every day.

Are there any artistic movements you enjoy in particular and why?

When I think about artistic movements I have always an association with a music album, when I like the band/ the artist but very likely I won’t like every song on this album. So, trying to be more precise according to the comparison above, I would say I enjoy the liberating mundane concepts of Situationist International and the anxious and somehow positively naive reflections of European (here I mean Russia as well) art circles in 1910s and 1920s.


Do you have any opinions or ideals underlying your art?

Urban and mundane are poetic for me. At a certain point I realised that my art can not be separated from the life I live everyday. The projects that form Environmental Urban Exercises were born out of the intention to cope with the world around, to find my place in it. In some sort of a way this project is a tool that helps me to explore my position in the city surroundings and find my own urban niche. This is a research about and visual example of being a citizen in terms of noticing, inhabiting, paying attention, communicating with corners, handrails, stairs, parking areas and other elements. This is my ongoing attempt to bring back the alienated monstrous contemporary city back to a human scale. Environmental Urban Exercises are my own stance towards the idea that we, human beings, can reflect and perform differently in the urban environment as we are used to. In other words my approach can be described as a gentle dialogue between a citizen and a city.

Your Environmental Urban Exercises is an evocative and beautiful series! You’re exploring the affect of urban locations. Usually void of people and only looking at space itself the series evokes an almost lonely perfection. What are your own feelings towards the images you’ve captured?

Thank you very much for such a poetic definition! I’ve started the Instagram account Environmental Urban Exercises in order to give a visual space to ‘mundane wonders’ that i collect day by day. The word ‘exercise’ means an act of finding a daily urban scene. It’s an ode to ordinary. And here you can see street scenes from different cities, for instance, from Moscow, Munich, Helsinki, Antwerpen and so on. The Instagram page is literally my daily exercise. I try to post one picture every day. It’s a rule. I’m like a researcher who documents the species of cities and its streets. That’s why the void of people is quite essential, it shapes the focus more precise. To avoid people in the frame is the main editing I use. These photographs are both a tool, an inspiration and a visual journal as well, a catalogue. So i am on a constant urban journey examining the surroundings!

Any words for aspiring photographers?

Be disciplined and devoted, reflect upon the outcome carefully, be curious and at the same time remember that art is not a conveyor, everybody has his/her own rhythm to create. And always be friendly to your colleagues and other people in general.  

Is there anything you’re currently working on?

Environmental Urban Exercises have no end so far, so I keep on going.

Follow her IG.