To celebrate the launch of the 2016 Runway Artist Edition, Laura McLean sat down for a chat with Nikolaus Dolman to talk consumption, complicity, and chins. This Artist Edition is FREE with Runway Circle membership – Join HERE
Hi Nik! We’re so thrilled to have three of your collage works adorning iPhone6, Samsung Galaxy 6, and iPad covers for our 2016 Runway Artist Edition. How did you come to work with collage? What were you doing before, and what drew you to the techniques you are using now?
I come from a printmaking background, which is probably where my obsession with works on paper started and continues in various ways. I explore paper in its entirety. For instance, in addition to working with collage I have recently begun utilising paper as a sculptural element. My use of collage really comes from the deconstruction of found material. Any object or surface I find that is layered or has layered complexities and distinctive qualities I then rip apart, reinterpret, and stick back together. Collage is definitely a term to pinpoint a larger practice which has evolved from printmaking, which I now use as a channel for pushing and challenging ideas, which I’ve explored through glitch video and moving image, animation…
You have used gifs…
Yeah, the idea of collage but through different mediums. Ideas that are developed beyond paper. I am always led back to paper though, I always feel like I am retracting back to a paper form in one way or another.
Yes, and with these commissions your collages then go from paper back to print, which is kind of nice. Where did you study printmaking?
I went to Southern Cross University in Lismore, in northern New South Wales. I’m originally from Victoria, but I was drawn up there by the amazing etching facilities they have, some of the only still open, with acid baths and rosin rooms. Etching is a tedious process but the rewards are like no other medium. It’s not as accessible as collage, not as present and easy to do, but the process for me is the same, I feel as though I’m printing using my collage methods and visa-versa.
Are you are still doing some print work?
From time to time. I find I’m looking more into alternative ways of doing etching, like cardboard etching using cardboard surfaces and found materials to print from; relief rolling surfaces, creating monotypes or monoprints; and relief printing off any surface that holds ink really. My ideas have transformed what medium I work with to date.
You’ve been using street posters in your work lately, does this relate to these interests and techniques?
Yes, and it goes back and relates to more of a Dadaist appeal. I just wanted to break out of the barrier of collage having to be a static two-dimensional image on paper, I have been developing ideas around it becoming more three-dimensional. Contemporary artists such as Thomas Hirschorn, Callum Morton, Karen Mirza, Thomas Demand, Neha Choksi, Simon Denny, and Urs Fischer have really influenced this development. It also goes hand in hand with my new body of work titled Clickbait, which aims to expose the social politics that come with the commodification of lifestyle choices in everyday consumer culture. I feel like collage fits, especially using advertising posters, and layers upon layers of information sandwiched together.
Your works for Runway, which are part of the Clickbait series, draw upon mass produced images and then put them back into circulation. After collecting these images and reconfiguring them you put them back into the world as new information.
Yes, I feel like they haven’t had much of a transformation in a way, they nearly go full circle. I wouldn’t say my work is advertising, but it is using the same tools and methods. Drawing from my research and materials I’ve gathered, however, I subvert the aims and ideas of advertising. I take symbols and textures out of domestic and commercial environments and I aim to destabilise imitative desires, structural patterns, and pictorial realities to draw attention to the systems that form our culture.
You draw out the humour of them as well, I’m thinking of Keep Calm &, which appears on the back of the iPad and iPhone covers, and uses pictures of headless yoga poses to form an ampersand.
I use a lot of consumer imagery and symbols, like chins, lips, hands, and visceral meat, which are all part of the act of consuming and also very closely related to body image. I really do like playing on the idea of body image in such a heavily saturated, image-driven world, and its manipulation in mainstream marketing. Whatever media you absorb, I feel like this manipulation has a strong influence on how you act and what you do, which leads to the commodification of lifestyle choices, like fitness, food fads, and I don’t know, Netflix (laughs).
I just read an article about a new Netflix series coming out soon, which said ‘time to get your best binge TV watching outfit on’. And I was like that’s a thing now, that’s what we’ve become?
Yes, especially in the last few years I’ve found this sort of stuff so fascinating, it makes me want to make work faster just so I can keep up with it, but it’s nearly impossible. If I had to pick one commodified phenomenon, it would be fast food, or just food fads in general in Sydney.
Can you talk a little about how you choose titles for your work?
The coined term is something I explore, and have used in titles I’ve given to the works I’ve made for the artists’ editions, like Not If You Were The Last #1 On Tinder, which references the Tinder dating app as a mash of fast-food-dating and greasy gastro-porn advertising. The title is just another of those emotive phrases that you hear, it’s a certain use of language. It’s not a proper sentence, or something you would say to someone, but it’s something you would text, or get on an app. I like playing with these phrases in titles, making them a little more humorous. Also the title Keep Calm & is obviously from the ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ poster, which originated in England in WWII in a campaign to keep the general public calm as war was approaching. I was interested in its general meaning, and also how it has evolved though time and how it is used in a ridiculous number of ways.
It’s a very British phrase, and it’s appropriated in so many ways and for so many commodities. Britain is really leading the neoliberal front that Australia is following, and this kind of Keep Calm and Carry On mentality is exactly what we shouldn’t be doing.
Yeah exactly, it’s the reversal of what we should be doing, living in a sedated state, it’s Orwellian, that the unknown is dangerous so keep calm and put your head down and never leave your house. But I feel like the term has become so overused it has become tacky and out of date, it’s funny to bring it back to life through an artists’ edition phone cover, because I’m sure there are already thousands of Keep Calm and Carry On phone covers. This one’s just taking a different angle (laughs).
What about the work on the Galaxy phone cover, Constricting Coils, where it’s chins all the way down?
Chins and lips yeah! Chins and lips are a repetitive pattern I find can tessellate very well, and I just love tangling things and making coils. It’s again a comment on consuming through apps like Tinder and through food fads, recontextualised as visceral meat, skin and lips, and overly-photoshopped expressions and faces. The one thing I find completely unique about magazines is their really high gloss surface, I really enjoy this, it’s so tangible, you can just transform it. This high gloss surface is not expected to be used again, but having explored it over and over again I’ve found that when it is, it turns into something else entirely.
These images are photoshopped to the hilt but to the edge of a reality that we accept, and then you tip them way over the edge.
Yes, and that creates its own look, and it is so quickly outdated. That’s the great thing about collage, you can always tell what era, what medium, and what magazines the images have been ripped from, it’s almost like a time capsule. Amidst the current transition from print media–which is dying if not dead–to digital media, I still try and push both because I like to blur the lines between the two. Something may look like a computer generated image, or something that has been ripped out of a magazine. I guess that’s what I’m trying to do at the moment, for this series at least. My new poster works have gone in a different direction, they’re not overly polished.
I don’t really want to be seen as someone who has a negative take on digital technology, or consumptive living. I am critiquing it, but I’m very much doing it on a user level, I’m as complicit as anyone else. I can’t put my phone down, I’m completely absorbed in the media around me, just bobbing around in the ether…
Implicated as much as the rest of us.
Nikolaus Dolman’s Runway Artist Edition is available exclusively with Runway Circle membership. Join HERE!