by Anmol AhujaFeb 22, 2021
When the artist has an official website with the name “public office”, it leaves one with enough curiosity to follow the trajectory of his art practice. The sculptures by the Australia-based artist and filmmaker Daniel Agdag are as intriguing as the name of his website. It took me a few minutes to rightly place the works in the official genre of ‘sculptures’ since none of the works was made of the usual defiant material, but carved out of boxboards. As the epitome of his ideas and expression, the architectural structures and utilitarian objects populate the “public office” helmed by Agdag.
The miniatures use the cardboard as a primary material that is considered to be of lesser importance in the long process of designing, executing and packaging of the object. The monochromatic sculptures – caboose, hotel, interceptor – fascinate the viewers who occasionally get an opportune moment to see finely cut cardboards in the shape of objects that showcase the duality of delicacy and vigor. In an interview with STIR, Agdag talks about his keenness to use this material, “The conception of using cardboard first arose from necessity. I found it was a medium that was easy to acquire and manipulate using simple hand tools to form my ideas. For me, the narrower the medium, the broader my ideas become. This limitation allows me to be limitlessly imaginative with it. And for me, it is fluid to work with - without the need for elaborate tools and a large dedicated space. That said, I am constantly surprised by the limits to which I can take it. The most important thing about it is that as a medium for me it offers the least amount of resistance to conceive and express my ideas”.
The finely constructed machines besides having neat shape are embedded with crank, cog and pulley to recreate a microcosmic world brimming with industries. The synchronised sounds and classical structures are peppered with a hint to the movement of industrialisation that revolutionised the way we lived our lives. Interestingly, Agdag’s practice is a by-product of the system that nurtures as well as critiques it. For Agdag, “…cardboard has egalitarian nature. It’s recycled, it’s non-toxic and regarded as a commodity. In terms of practice, I would say that one of the most prevalent challenges comes from my exploration of methods in using a mono-tonal material to create textures and surfaces to delineate elements from each other in the absence of visual tools. These parameters are an asset to my creativity personally; it challenges me to find new and interesting ways to manipulate what is a very utilitarian material into the elaborate and intricate forms and objects I create. I found that over the years it has become the arbiter of my aesthetic”.
The element of the playfulness could not be dissociated from the fantastical works that catch the undivided attention of the audience. The dexterity with which works are created involve boxboard, glue and scalpel, yet it is long hours of ideation and execution that lend a balance of creativity and expression to the works. Agdag gives an elaborate account of the various steps he undertakes before presenting his works to the audience, “I often allude to my process as akin to freehand drawing. Starting simply with an idea, I have spent time dwelling over and then straight to cutting the cardboard. No detailed plans or drawing accompany this process, it’s a case of trial and error, building sections and elements to slowly create form. From this point on the narrative of the idea, its internal logic and function guide me to make elements that fit together through both their necessity and their interactions as components working together. This process stems from the need to interpret from one's mind to the physical world. There is a lot between these two points that don’t always translate as straightforward as imagined when devising the idea. It’s in this zone where the tactile nature of holding a physical object lends itself to the fluid ability to problem solve and find unintended solutions that often lead to rewarding outcomes. This unanticipated and unpredictable grey area is where the essence is hidden in the act of making”.
Agdag breathed a new life to his sculptures when he made the animated movie Lost Property Office. Shortlisted in top 10 Academy Awards 2018, the movie features a series of his works. When the world came to a halt as a consequence of the pandemic, Agdag was busy making, restructuring the objects in his apartment-turned-studio. It acted both as an escape from the isolation and indulgence in the aesthetically motivated activity. Agdag declares, “I often spend a great deal of time observing the world around me and paying close attention to the details I see. This invariably informs my idea and the make up of my practice. I would hope the viewer then receives this inclusion as embedded details in the work”. The experience of looking at these sculptures with its archival texture and tone is akin to taking an old book out of the bookshelf waiting to reveal its history, once more, in the hands of the reader, in this case, the viewers.