Not just an ingenious tool used by tired parents and teachers to enthral and quieten young charges, collage is a way for artists to reflect on, and reconstruct, existing material and the messages they originally represented.
One such artist is Nikolaus Dolman, who, on the eve of his new exhibition, SIMULATION, is cutting out the final pieces of his repetitive puzzles. From afar, Dolman’s work appears large and singular. Take a closer look, though, and the detail of hundreds of cut-out elements are exposed; small pictures are spliced back together to form a whole.
We sit down with Dolman to talk about using collage to expose the obsessions and repetitions of mass media.
Broadsheet: Why collage?
Nikolaus Dolman: Collage as an art form is really relevant to how we experience each day. We’re increasingly distracted by screens, the media and advertising, and instead of interpreting that through another medium – like painting or drawing – I'm directly grabbing that information and putting it on a canvas. The elements to any piece are instantly recognisable. Collage is about recreating and reconfiguring that in a different way, while still maintaining the qualities of what it was originally. It’s just reinterpreted information.
BS: Where do you source your material?
ND: Old magazines are a big source. As a used medium they’re becoming forgotten, but I reuse them in ways that reinvent their original purpose. Food is the perfect symbol of consumer culture for me, so I’ll also use supermarket catalogues in my work. I source material from basically anything that appeals to me, though; it could be a corner of a poster or a picture from a takeaway container. I'm a bit of a bowerbird.
BS: What comes first – the pictures you cut out, or the idea?
ND: The idea. I’ll sketch and pull together an idea and then reconstruct it using the pictures I find. I like playing with symmetry and balance, so that will usually incorporate itself into a piece regardless of the material or message.
I'm constantly updating or sourcing new material, so occasionally a piece will evolve over a longer length of time. This in itself is a reflection of digital culture. Think about a search engine – you type in a few letters or a phrase, and what pops up is a collision of results that may or may not have any relevance to each other. Type in George Clooney and you’ll get Nescafe ads, or a thousand versions of one person. There’s never any end point.
BS: Does the mass media culture you’re commenting on frustrate you?
ND: I'm not saying I'm against it or for it; I'm working from a purely observatory level. There is a satirical edge to my work; I like not taking things too seriously, even though the inundation and saturation of mass media and popular culture we experience is a serious and current issue. I'm just as bad as everyone else, though. My everyday routines and habitual patterns are influenced by what I read and watch, and what presents itself around me. My environment, too, is completely dictated by screens, it’s very addictive. It’s hard to escape it. I'm in it as much as anyone else.
BS: Tell us a little bit about the pieces in SIMULATION
ND: I'm using lightboxes to digitalise and animate a lot of my work at the moment. I like works on paper; I come from a printmaking background and I really enjoy working with paper and the traditional aspect of it all, but within a gallery space, I like creating an environment that’s a little more than just looking at 2D images on a wall. SIMULATION is playing with the idea of using my existing work to create a larger environment.
SIMULATION by Nikolaus Dolman runs from August 3–5 at Goodspace, Level 1, 115 Regent Street, Chippendale. The exhibition opening is on Wednesday August 5 at 6pm.