I had the privilege of speaking with Danish artist, Jakob Kolding, before his gallery talk at the Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum on Monday, December 1. Kolding works primarily with collage and is interested in the urban environment, including both physical and social spaces. His work, How to Build a Universe that Falls Apart Two Days Later, is currently on view in the Garen Gallery at the Kemper. We sat in front to his installation as we discussed his work, which can also be seen in the Skinker metro station, and a multitude of apartments and dorms on campus, including my own.
MJ Brown: I am interested in how working with the theme of urban space affects your visits to new cities. Are there certain things you find yourself noticing that you may not have otherwise?
Jakob Kolding: OK well, now I just told you I went to the St. Louis arch. Normally, I may go less for [tourist attractions]…when I go to cities I prefer to just walk around and see different neighborhoods. I guess it also makes me just generally interested in seeing different places and comparing them. I can’t say there is a specific method that I use. For instance, I arrive here and see some striking differences between European and American cities. Then I think of St. Louis compared to other American cities I have been to. But it’s very individual, I think, for each city. It depends on the people I meet there and how they show me the city and what I end up seeing.
MJB: On that note of the urban experience, when I think of cities I picture congestion and crowding. But, there is a lot negative space in your collages. Can you talk a little bit about that choice?
JK: It’s funny a lot of people ask me about the white space. It’s not really something I think much about. What I can say is that I do like that there is a certain possibility for development. It underlines the fact that there is not one finished reading of a work, one honest way to look at it, and I think that white space literally allows room for approaching the work in different ways.
MJB: You have an exhibition on view in Vienna featuring three-dimensional installations. How do you navigate the negative space differently when working with collages on three-dimensional wood cutouts?
JK: That’s of course a different way of working. You are taking the collages into space and your relationship as a viewer relates to the figures in a different way because the scale of them becomes very important. Like the show in Vienna, there is an owl that is clearly too big for what an owl would normally be and suddenly that changes your perspective. It is a little bit of an evil looking owl already. In those cases the scale and context between the individual figures are influencing the work, but also those works are very related to theatre stage sets, and old dioramas. You’ve built up these fake worlds in a way. I like to work with spaces in different ways all the time.
MJB: You mentioned with the 3D work that the viewer is really forced to engage physically, but you have achieved that with How to Build a Universe that Falls Apart Two Days Later as well because everyone is able to take the posters home. What inspired this?
JK: I think there are several aspects to it. One is that, of course, the works change a lot with the context if they are in the museum or outside. Also, some I’ve done before were much more directly questioning urban space and in that case the question applies to the building on which you see it and the area where it’s placed. I like to play with that. I also like, generally, that it’s a way where people can take the posters for free. Because art is a quite expensive thing to buy. And personally I wouldn’t be able to afford it often times. It’s nice when there is something distributed in a different way than through galleries.
MJB: Well you’ve brought me to my next question about your use of text. In your earlier works you ask more explicit questions; then there are also pieces such as the work you did for the University of Michigan Art Museum in 2010, a poster reading “a flaw in the fabric of reality”. How do you think the two approaches work differently?
JK: Yea. I think earlier I used more text than I do nowadays, but I also used more very direct questions like, “Have there been any attempts, through planning, to either discourage or promote certain patterns of behavior in your neighborhood?”. With the old ones I was certainly not interested in one specific answer to that question, quite the opposite, I was actually interested in showing that posing the same questions in different contexts it would mean different things. Nevertheless, I got more interested in an approach that I hope would be more ambivalent.
For instance, in Ann Arbor with “a flaw in the fabric of reality” with the very simple image next to it which actually almost literally showed a flaw in the fabric. This was also a reaction to that specific place because I went also to Detroit several times when I was in Ann Arbor and the closeness of these two completely different places and I was kind of interested in how I could work with something as interesting as that without falling into the trap of clichés. I find it is very difficult, especially with Detroit, to neither stigmatize it nor romanticize it somehow, both positions you see very often.
MJB: So is that something that you do often, making a piece that is specific to the place?
JK: Sometimes I do, yea and sometimes not. This one (How to Build a Universe), for instance is made specifically for this show and therefore in a sense it is about urban space, it is a rework of another work I had done but adapted to this specific theme. But I had also never been to St. Louis, so it is more about urban space in general.
Others I have made very site specifically where I have been invited to make a project about a specific area. Although, I have to say I find that may be the hardest because these people who live there, and invite me in and I’m there for week then expected to say something about that area, and it’s not that I can’t say something, but it’s not anything that I would claim to be more perceptive than the people who lived there their entire life.
MJB: Well we talked a lot about viewer interactions with your work. Lastly, I’d like to know more about your interaction with your work. Could you describe your practice, maybe where you work, how you work, if there is music playing?
JK: There is always music playing. Always. I am quite obsessed with music so that is one thing I always have. And then the music actually changes a bit according to obviously mood, but also to what I’m doing. Let’s say I’m sitting writing then I could easily go for some electronic music, maybe if I am doing something extremely boring I go for something with lyrics so I can sit and sing along… strictly private.
So anyway, there is music on. It is mainly in my studio. I am very studio based in my work, but I like to change between different ways of preparing. I do a lot of old school, analog collages that I sit and cut out and glue, I also do a lot of stuff in Photoshop, both these posters and also the full sized figures are actually made in Photoshop.
I often start with some interesting specific elements that I can’t even say exactly why they are so great but I just really like as an image and I think would be interesting to work with. And the work sort of starts developing, so afterwards I can say specifically what all the elements say next to each other for me, but I couldn’t say that from the beginning. I also think it’s important, I have to add, that I am quite happy to talk about my work if someone comes and asks me about it, but I think it is very important when the work is presented that there is not a long text next to it that explains all the different elements. I think if there were a long text it would lead people too much in one direction.
By MJ Brown