by Bongo MeiJan 27, 2023
Romanian philosopher Emil Cioran spent his life thinking and talking about death, decay, suicide and acedia. He is known well for his quote which goes, “Bach's music is the only argument proving the creation of the universe cannot be regarded as a complete failure”. To me there is an abundance of magic in this thought. One of the most nihilistic thinkers in history finds singular salvation in music… If anything is a true indication of the value of art in all our lives, it is this statement. In a world of mental and spiritual sloth, apathy is the real enemy (not coronavirus) and art could be everyone’s therapy. Music, visual art, cinema, theatre and performance have the ability to reach deep inside us and elicit a raw emotional response, when our empathy troughs have run dry. In line with this worldview, South African artist Daniel Popper creates larger than life installation structures, which elevate the individual’s experience of the space itself.
Popper’s work has received most recognition at music festivals where he incorporates his art into the stage design or the space design; however, he works with corporate commissions as well. Popper studied fine art and was interested in still life drawing and oil painting but was swept away by the beauty and possibilities when he began working outdoors. His work deals with themes of nature and humankind’s relationship with it. His otherworldly structures are visually meditative and almost transcendental in their form. Popper says, “I am inspired to create spaces for people. To create something out of this world that transports people out of their familiar surroundings. The pieces I create are often places for people to engage, connect and share experiences, sometimes internally with themselves and sometimes with each other. I have had many people write to me to say they have proposed to their partner, or had deep spiritual connections with themselves. This is very inspiring feedback for me which makes me want to continue to do it”.
Popper’s art brings together nature and creativity in a very specific way and through the public and collaborative nature of his work he designs the experience to be immersive, interactive and inspirational. When I asked him about his motivations and inspirations, he said, “Every day. Nature, family and life. But it’s about paying attention to what excites you. It always changes and we must always follow this excitement”. His work is usually based in outdoor environments, partly due to conceptual requirements and subsequently due to scale. While this is a major fuel to Popper’s practice, it is without a doubt challenging as well. He says, “Each environment has its own tests and complexities. The desert has heat and wind, the jungle has rain and insects. So, we have experienced many different complications on each job. However, it is also exciting working with the elements. The materials are always changing, for a while I was inspired by organic materials and the texture of wood”.
In a recent work for Modem Festival, Popper begins to explore concrete and its structural and textural potential, an aesthetic we are likely to see more of from his studio in upcoming works. To further elevate the experience, he often collaborates with Wayne Ellis to project visuals onto the structure using mapping technology. Popper says, “At night the art piece transforms before your eyes and with music it can be a very high sensory experience”.
Daniel Popper has created ethereal installations for the Modem Festival Croatia, Electric Forest Festival USA and many more. He will be exhibiting five new installations at the Morton Arboretum in Chicago, USA, which opens on April 9, 2021. In line with Popper’s philosophy as an artist, the exhibition is titled Human Nature.