Interview and photos by George Nebieridze // June 08, 2016
For some people, Berlin is a fast-paced party place. Trends and art movements are constantly changing. A select few manage to master this chaos by working hard and pursuing their passions. Dutch born sculptor Rein Vollenga brings traditional ways of working to a fresh new level with his objects, which display technical expertise and a celebration of raw style. Vollenga’s work is timeless, but also defines the present cult of aesthetics. We had the pleasure to be one of the first guests at his new ‘secret temple’.
George Nebieridze: Tell us where we are now.
Rein Vollenga: We are at my new studio in Wedding/Gesundbrunnen. I find the neighborhood really nice, because it’s not a Berlin hotspot. It is like a ghetto here and the place is quite isolated, but I find it very comfortable. It gives me the freedom to develop new things and avoid surrounding myself with things that absorb my time and concentration. Also, for me it brings a lot of inspiration and resources. The best part is the amount of trash you find in the streets. Everyday you find something new: things I can use in my work.
GN: Trash on the streets supplies you with working material?
RV: I have always been collecting things from streets, supermarkets and shops. I also shop for my material in random places. However, after moving to Berlin from Holland I realized how hip the secondhand shopping is over here. That results in people making selections of ”what is cool to sell” or “what is cool to buy”. I feel that someone else makes this choice for me and that doesn’t reflect what I think is cool or what I’d use in my work. So I discover things myself instead of shopping like that. I like more obscure stuff. Things that other people might throw in the trash, for me might be super valuable.
GN: How will the new studio shape your work?
RV: Well, it used to be an old sex cinema and a brothel. My first month here I felt I was in a David Lynch movie. It was a lot of effort to make it look like my own because you could really feel that some bizarre things had been going on here. I spent the first month pulling out plush carpets and removing condoms. I needed to get rid of the furniture, cause it all smelled like alcohol and semen.
GN: Do you find social media and online platforms to be a good tool for success in the art world?
RV: Being an artist and making money are two different things. If you want to sell your work you need the exposure and to socialize within the art scene to get noticed. That doesn’t mean that you have to sell your soul to the devil. I believe that if you make good work you’ll get noticed anyway. It also requires a bit of patience. We have this internet celebrity culture. Many people want to become famous from one day to the next, without any content. If you don’t have anything of quality to show or talent to expose, you’ll be lost. You might have a nice ass or a beautiful face, but that is not going to bring you anything valuable for the future.
GN: How do you and your work relate to the internet?
RV: I use the internet as well, but mostly to share my interests and things I’m very excited about. And that doesn’t always have to be my own work. Of course, you can use the internet to expose your work and many people might reach you this way. It’s international and intercontinental and it’s fantastic, but my interests lean more towards real spaces and expositions. It’s always very important when the viewer really interacts with an artwork and sees it for real, in a great space, with good light, as a one-on-one experience. And of course you don’t get that experience when you see a picture on the internet. It might sound a bit traditional, but I’m into historical art museums, where sculptures are beautifully presented on plinths, for instance, and get treated with more dignity and importance. And on the internet you just flip through the pictures. They’re gone and forgotten more easily.
GN: A very common question in the art world today: is art more disposable nowadays?
RV: I bet you’ve heard that everybody today makes art and is an artist. The amount of art produced makes it disposable, I think. But as I said previously, these kinds of things filter very quickly and these so-called artists and their fame fades away in a very short time. But there’s no need to feel sour about this. Just don’t give it too much attention.
GN: Inspirations change, but some artists have certain principles in their work that they don’t violate. Where do your inspirations take you?
RV: I really love mythology and ancient stories and fairy tales. I often draw from Egyptian art, which is an extremely traditional art form. I hardly ever go to modern museums. They don’t give me a lot of inspiration so I mainly go to historical art museums, natural history museums: I really feel the history and this huge dedication from the people who made those objects and sculptures. There is so much art that gets produced today, someone designs it and then someone else produces it. I can’t imagine doing that. I just really love making things with my own hands. I can’t imagine drawing something and giving it to someone else to manufacture it for me. I’m involved in all these crafts myself, assembling and gluing things and working with shapes. That’s why I consider my work to be more traditional than conceptual.
GN: How do you feel about letting your artworks function as fashion accessories or pieces?
RV: I never divide these kinds of things. I approach the work as a sculptor, from my own angle. I also don’t differentiate my work shown on a catwalk, in a museum or on the internet. It’s not always up to me to decide whether it’s fashion, art or design. I also like to play with those gestures to keep people guessing and questioning my medium. One of the most important goals for me is to give an experience to people’s minds. It might be good or bad. My attraction to fashion is based on its theatrical values, but as an industry, it’s really boring and uninspiring. I don’t mass produce anything: my works are unique, one-off pieces that might look good on a catwalk with lights, music and other decorations, or as parts of a theatrical project. That is interesting to me, but mass production of pieces is like factory work for me. I don’t do that. I just work with my hands.
GN: I have seen your work in various contexts, like music videos, advertisements, and posters. What do you think of letting other people decide how your work is shown?
RV: That’s right. But I don’t do that anymore. When my work goes outside my studio, I don’t have a grip on it anymore and that is a bit frustrating to me. There have been moments where people have misplaced or incorrectly displayed my work, but you learn lessons from that.
GN: I attended this show where you and your partner Danilo Colonna collaborated in Berlin about a year ago. How did it happen?
RV: It was more like an event where I showed my pieces on live models. I chose Berlin club kids with no professional modelling skills. I just needed people with very specific opinions and looks. Danilo made a beautiful soundscape that night, which lasted more than three hours. The overall experience was very interesting.
GN: How public is your work? Is it for everyone?
RV: Hopefully it’s not for everybody. It is available to everyone, and is definitely not only for certain bourgeois groups of people. Lots of people have no ability or desire to go to gallery shows and this is when social media makes things easier sometimes. About whether my work is public: it’s not. However, I promote my work, by doing this very interview right now, or inviting you to my studio for instance. I expose myself for my work. This studio is like my secret temple, which gives me the perfect privacy, but sometimes it’s also very nice to show people where my work comes from. Especially because my work looks so sleek and precisely made, some people even think it’s 3D printed, but it’s handmade and takes a long time to make.