Currently reading : SB6 Archive (2012): In Conversation With Rein Vollenga

SB6 Archive (2012): In Conversation With Rein Vollenga

29 August 2017

"I’m essentially a working class boy and to pay other people to produce my work is something I am ideologically uncomfortable with."

Your work is often discussed in terms of belonging to both fashion and art. For me, it is pretty obviously not fashion. Its presence in fashion contexts seems to me a deliberate choice, but one that comes from an artistic perspective. You mentioned having no interest in reproducibility, which still prevents a mainstream fashion audience from accessing your work. Moreover, you seem extremely efficient and accurate in your documentation and PR work. Would you say that you are also building a reflection on fashion, at times even inviting a fashion crowd or viewer as part of a more conceptual meta-dimension of your work (to be eventually viewed by an art-crowd again)?
Honestly...I’m not sure it matters. I like my work to be accessible for everybody. I show my work in galleries, museums, and through websites, blogs, magazines, and social media. I don’t make any distinction between the platforms of art or fashion. They are just labels and my work is pure expression.

Nonetheless, your shapes could easily be transcribed to a full-on fashion design, do you think you might ever do that extra step, if the right situation arises?
Well, if Ricardo Tisci calls...

Wearable sculptures by Rein Vollenga

The body is omnipresent in your work, even in its physical absence. What or who is that new human you are depicting?
I’m mainly interested in form, but my work process is very physical, as opposed to designing or sketching. Maybe the labor-intensive and hands-on process means that I’m transferring a kind of bodily perception onto the sculptures, but I’m not interested in making a new human ideal as that sounds rather fascistic. My work is visceral as a result of the process, not concept.

Often, either in your pieces themselves or in the photos staging the pieces, the faces are omitted or discarded, depicting an organic but anonymous individual. Are you promoting a reduction, if not an annihilation of individuality, or simply re-directing the viewer’s sight to the organic and bodily nature of individuality?
More the latter. 

It would be easy to call your work cyber-punk. How do you relate to such categorizations? Do you care? Are they part of your experiment—as something to destroy from within?
I don’t really care about definitions and terms. I’m not personally interested in cyber-punk and never have been, so it’s not something I relate to in any way. Some of the things I have been inspired by is a broad spectrum of classical African art, traditional Japanese art and craftsmanship, Hans Bellmer, and Louise Bourgeois. Of contemporary artists, I like Berlinde de Bruyckere. And of course pop culture, from hip-hop to K-pop.

Your art is very much material, and often subtly sensual. Is the idea of touch important to you? Is touch in any way enabled by a haptic fashion context that exists in a largely touch-absent artworld?
Again this goes back to my work process and technique. As opposed to most contemporary artists, I make everything by hand myself. That’s partly out of stubbornness, but to take it one step further it is also a political statement against the bourgeois art world. I’m essentially a working class boy and to pay other people to produce my work is something I am ideologically uncomfortable with.  But of course this process is also partly what makes my work unique.

You sometimes quote urban cultures (“Hip Hop Tribes”) or body modification. What is your relation to such cultures and practices, both personally and in your work?
I listen to pop music and work with several performers and musicians.

What relation do you have to your immediate and/or larger artistic environment? Do you need to surround yourself with images, materials, and people or do you prefer an empty space?
I mainly collect objects. I leave these out in my studio, where they are on view and accessible at any time in case I feel like creating a new piece.

You and your work seem to travel a lot, in all kinds of ways. Is traveling important to you? Are you looking for diversity or, on the contrary, is it a globalized community that you would like to be a part of?
I don’t really travel very much as I’m always working in my studio. But I do feel connected to an international community of fellow artists and collaborators. I think the people I most relate to are not necessarily artists that share an aesthetic similar to mine in their own work. People I relate to include, for example, Lars Laumann and Benjamin Alexander Huseby. We share a similar attitude and a feeling of being outsiders.
In spite of its high sensual value, your work never blatantly evokes sexuality. Is it out of modesty or is sex a trap you are carefully avoiding?
I’d rather use sensuality as I try to invoke the viewer to come closer to my work.

Another easy label that could be given to your work is fetish. Are you interested in fetish, in either a cultural sense or in the more literal sense of the term—an object taken into erotic focus?
Not really...I’m not interested in sexual fetishism, but I can see how people can superficially draw parallels to the clichéd perception of fetishism and the high gloss finishes in my work. All art objects are, however, a form of fetish, as we project various qualities onto these inanimate objects. 

You have tattoos. Can you tell us about those? What do tattoos represent to you (in the process of getting them or in the state of having them)?
I have swallows on my neck and praying hands on my arm. They are classic, almost generic tattoos. I wanted clichéd, rather than artistic tattoos. However, I did not realize the impact that the tattoos on my neck would have. People always point them out as they refer to me or they think I’m a gangster or a drug dealer.

Can you tell me about the cities where you work and what they represent to you?
My studio is in Berlin so that is where I am most of the time. Everyone always says that Berlin is such a creative and artistic city. I just spend all my time in the studio and it feels like most of the artists I meet here are on holiday. So I don’t really feel part of a scene here.

Related articles