by Vidur SethiFeb 15, 2022
Giving a visual form to an idea toying in the mind is easier said than done, but an inclination to find something new in the surrounding – in terms of inspiration, themes, materials and mediums – often leads to happy encounters. Barring the mysticism around the axiom ‘finding extraordinary in the ordinary’, the artists are perpetually in the need of finding material that could lend an extra edge to their artwork. The kinetic large-scale installation of the Berlin-based artist Nils Voelker puts the everyday objects to the best use, where its utilitarian function is metamorphosed into an engaging art piece.
A mixed media installation, Two Hundred and Seventy, as part of exhibition Sagmeister & Walsh: Beauty at the MAK - Museum für angewandte Kunst in Vienna, is conceived and designed in accordance with the 19th century columned hall. Using the 270 white garbage bags and kinetic technology, the installation simulates the effect of a skylight window panels running close to nearly 70 square metres across the nine columns. The installation supported by a series of cables, 45 circuit boards, inflate and deflate the white garbage bags in a rhythmic coherency to accentuate the fluidity of the space. The human exercise of breath-in and breath-out, when transmuted to the immersive works made out of plastic bags, carries both organic and tangible thread without losing a second to resonate with the viewers.
Voelker, in an interview with STIR, talks about his interest in the everyday things that he turns into large-scale installations, “I like to use everyday objects and materials, which are very common but usually overlooked. For example, I have been using quite often simple garbage bags over the past years. Such a garbage bag is something you probably would never associate with art or beauty at all but when you put hundreds of them together on a grid and inflate them in controlled rhythms it becomes strangely beautiful and mesmerising. Often material, form and size are linked to the exhibition space: In 2016, I was asked to realise new work for an exhibition at the Taipei Fine Arts Museum and whilst discussing with the curators we came up with a pretty nice blue and white striped plastic foil, which I had never seen before but which is very common in Taiwan and you find it everywhere on the streets”.
The 108 Hoberman spheres, forming the installation Bits and Pieces, are suspended from the roof of the exhibition hall of NOME Gallery in Berlin to visually recreate the ebb and flow effect. The spheres are connected in a line of colorful plastic levers that are controlled by a micro-controller and expanded by the servo-motor. Since the sculptural installations are a fine blend of artistic creativity, technology and experiment with the material, Voelker admits that he is on a constant search for different material to evolve it into a hitherto unseen art piece. “I can’t really define a certain process, how an idea for a new work arises. Basically, I wander around with open eyes and discover materials and objects in my everyday life. Besides from garbage bags, it can be children toys, like I used for Bits and Pieces or throwing discs, which I used for ten or even paddling pools, which ended up as a very large light art piece in an old church in northern France,” he adds.
The flimsiness of the plastic bags and Hoberman spheres allows the artist to play with its shapes and surfaces that push the viewers to experience the installation as an extension of the spatial setting as opposed to the external embellishment pinned to the surface of the wall or a ceiling. Further elaborating on this, Voelker states, “The exhibition space and architecture is very important for me and I always try to adapt the shape of an existing piece or even create a whole new work according to the space. I was lucky to exhibit in quite extraordinary spaces so far like former churches, industrial surroundings and large museum spaces of all kind. Such large spaces almost always lead to quite large installations with many viewpoints and perspective, so somehow those projects inevitably lead to an immersive experience. Another aspect of many of my works is that the materials, motors and components emit a certain sound which surely also adds on to an immersive experience”.
When the installations are not approached from a single perspective of the viewer, but continuous movements add to the sensory vision, Voelker declares his expectation from his audience, “Most of my work can be perceived and interpreted in different ways. I name my works intentionally by the type or the number of objects used because I want to avoid that the viewers' interpretations are pushed too much into a certain direction. Very often I get very interesting feedback and surprising thoughts about my work, which I didn’t have myself at all. In my opinion, an artwork works well if it can be approached on several levels. On the first sight, it is perfectly fine if it's somehow just a ‘pleasure’ and interesting to watch but ideally it should also catch the viewers’ interest a bit longer to maybe lead him to further thoughts about the materials and objects it’s made of”.
Despite it being a pleasing sight to watch Voelker’s work, installations defy global appeal to use sustainable materials. In this light, it would be of interest to see how Voelker puts motors and fans in the best of practice with the material that is environment friendly.