Talking to Niels Oeljen (aka Nails), you soon get the impression that for Wooden Foundations, art practice and the street environment are irrevocably entwined. Not, however, in the way most of us would immediately think.
In an era where the spray can and stencil have assumed a kind of staid, mainstream cultural currency, the Melbourne-anchored collective – Oeltjen, Paul Mylecharane (aka Oh54), Scottie Neoh (aka Bonsai) and Hiroyasu Tsuri (aka TWOONE) – take a very different route from street to gallery space.
“An aim of what we do is to kind of show the possibilities of using found materials in fine art,” says Oeltjen. “Something we all do is collect a lot of recycled and reclaimed materials we’ve found walking around on the street or in dumpsters or whatever, and use them in our artwork.”
Built around ideas of personal mythology and symbolism, the exhibition at No Vacancy will see the quartet – who originally met via their mutual interests in graffiti and spray can related art at the start of the 2000s – merge print, drawing and painting practice with assemblage and installation.
“We didn’t just want to have pictures on walls,” says Oeltjen. “So we started looking at just where our artistic practices crossed over and we kind of isolated this idea of personal mythologies and how you build up your own little menagerie of animals and totems and iconography that you reuse as an artist, which become almost like shamanistic symbols.”
Indeed, for Oeltjen and the rest of Wooden Foundations, there’s a magic to the object. “A lot of stuff we find and use has reached the end of its life,” he says. “It can’t be fixed or recycled or whatever.”
“Art is one of the only things that can re-embrace these objects and reuse them,” he urges. “You can take almost anything and turn it into an artwork and make it valuable again.”
Wooden Foundations opens at No Vacancy Thursday July 1 6pm–9pm and runs until July 16.