untitled, 11d01, 57 x 42 cm, 2011

Cheap & Plastique interviews Berlin-based artist Nicolas Wollnik for Issue 9.

C & P: You are currently living in Berlin. What do you like most about living in Berlin? Least?
Nicolas: Berlin is a city that has in many ways still a lot of space to offer both mentally and spatial. A lot of people use this space to act, be productive, and creative, which establishes a continuous stream that can be very inspiring and beautiful. At the same time this freedom, and sometimes overwhelming possibilities of cultural and contextual involvement, can be paralyzing.

C & P: Is Berlin still a reasonably priced place to live? Are artists still moving there because of this factor? Does being in Berlin inspire your work? 
Nicolas: Especially when looking at the housing market, Berlin is definitely catching up to more wealthy and expensive cities in Germany and Europe. Artists that arrive to Berlin from Barcelona, London or NY, and are used to higher rents, will still be able to afford living and working spaces in Berlin.
Although I hope that the city of Berlin will eventually commit more to artists living here and provide more affordable studio spaces. Only time will tell if there will still be these opportunities in five years.


untitled, 08b01, 70 x 120 cm, 2008

C & P: You run a project space/gallery in Berlin called Minken & Palme, why did you decide to open a space to show other artist’s work? What sort of work do you most often exhibit? What section of Berlin is the gallery located in? Does running a gallery space affect your own artistic practice? If so, how?
Nicolas: Georg Parthen and I have been running the space Minken & Palme, in Kreuzberg, for two years now. We wanted to explore the possibilities of showing art we relate to, playing around with a combination of artists that actually made sense to us, and we wanted to give people the chance to use MP, and us, as a counterpart for collaborations to evolve new forms of presentations and develop site-specific works.
For us it is a very pleasing and fulfilling way of getting in contact with other artists, their works, and curators we cooperate with.
It definitely broadens ones own experience with each new show that is set up.

C & P: What are your favorite places to see art in Berlin?
Nicolas: There isn’t a certain place I enjoy art most. It really is always depending on the current show that is being displayed.

C & P: How long have you been taking and exhibiting photographs? What drew you to the medium and why did you choose to pursue it seriously? 
Nicolas: I´m not even sure if you are right about considering my works being photographs. I do enjoy working with photographic material though and exploring the mediums possibilities. I really got in contact with it, when I started studying in Essen in 1998. It probably took another couple of years until I discovered strategies and methods to work with photography in a way that really interested me.

C & P: Did you study photography at the University of Essen, with Jörg Sasse as a teacher?
Nicolas: I started visiting classes of Jörg Sasse about a year or two before my diploma, without really completing a project. The way photography was dealt with and talked about in his class appealed to me. What I really liked about him being a teacher was the fact that he didn’t push in any one specific direction but generously shared his knowledge of all kinds of art and has always been able to focus on the ambition you brought in.
I was lucky enough to work with Jörg Sasse as a tutoring professor on my final project.

C & P: How do you feel your art has developed over the course of your career? What interests you now that didn’t interest you when you started? Do you enjoy pushing the boundaries of photography? 
Nicolas: I think that there are quite a few similarities in recent works and works I´ve constructed 5 years ago. The greatest development might be that today I’m more aware of what I don’t want or try to achieve while working on my pictures. One topic I am constantly returning to is space and its transformation as it is constructed and reflected within the picture.


untitled, 11e01, 57 x 42 cm, 2011

C & P: Do you shoot with a digital SLR camera or with a film camera? 
Nicolas: I use a digital camera for most photographic material I gather for my works but in the end it has never been of any interest to me how the footage or raw material for my works is generated, because in many ways my work really just starts with viewing, organizing, sampling and composing the collected material.

C & P: I noticed that your images are “untitled” and also include a number. What do the numbers in your titles refer to, if anything? Do you feel that it is better for a title not to reveal anything?
Nicolas: A title can be very important for a certain piece; personally I didn’t have had the necessity to title most of my works.
The number in the caption of my work is purely an archive number, that helps identifying a work if you don’t stand in front of it.
I do have a little distaste for titles, ones that are more important than the image itself, especially if you get the feeling that the title, or the description of the picture, is the most interesting part, or a story you have to listen to, to immerse into the visual. Maybe that is because I value the non-text based nature of art as a quality.

C & P: Do you always use the computer as a tool when creating your photographs? Are your final pictures always a result of a technical process?
Nicolas: For a lot of my works I use a camera or a computer or both. Sometimes I use the technical process for the mere purpose of accurate reproduction in order to limit variations of necessary elements. Sometimes I use pens, pencils, and brushes.


untitled, 11f03, 57 x 42 cm, 2011

C & P: Could you explain your process of creating an image? How do you begin work on a picture, do you begin with an idea in mind (of the final outcome) or are the images a result of layering and experimentation? Do you have a specific procedure?
Nicolas: I never know what the final work will look like, exactly. In the work process there are a lot of decisions to be made, which partly have to do with what I try to accomplish, and which elements and colors I try to emphasize or reduce. The rest are decisions that are based upon the picture itself, which possibly result from experimentation but a lot from constant questioning the autonomy of the image.

C & P: How do you know when an image is complete? Do you place constraints upon yourself when creating an image?
Nicolas: A work is finished if I see it printed on paper, in the decided dimensions, and by looking at it, think it’s done.

C & P: It seems that most of your images have a landscape or interior space as a base. Are these images that you have shot yourself, or do you use found imagery? Or is it a mix of both kinds of images?
Nicolas: I mostly use material I have collected myself, but I don’t want to limit the possibilities and have also used found material that was necessary and influenced the final work.


untitled, 06b04, 38 x 50 cm, 2006

C & P: Do you have a databank of images that you work with? Where do these images come from?
Nicolas: I do not work with a structured archive, where at a certain point I can search “sun” or “tree” images. Generally the amount of drawn and painted material is overweighing the photographic material and both are structured in footage folders, which relate to single works or a group of pictures.

C & P: Are the base images for the constructure series taken in the same area or are they grouped together based on other factors?  Could you tell us a bit about the origins of this series? 
Nicolas: The starting point for the constructures was the relationship between architecture and its surrounding. I wanted to explore the structured and built intervention and construction within a possible context or setting. These two parts of fore- and background interact in different ways within the picture, with regards to content or on a formal level. I didn’t want to depict actual buildings or simulate utopian concepts within mountain areas but rather detect possible influences by constructions on their spatial location and in the end strategies of composing form and ground within the picture by layering, absorbing, or reflecting elements of each other.

C & P: Layering both separates and unites the image. Do you want people to recognize parts of the constructed image or do you want them to look at the composition as a whole?
Nicolas: I try to find this vague line between recognition, association and abstraction, because this is the moment a picture demands attention and openness.
Remembered or recognized elements might support or distract a one-sided perception. Additionally I construct most works for a close and a distanced viewing, e.g. in some pictures the composition completely falls apart, when looking at it from two feet, but at the same time opens up a detail level you wouldn’t be able to perceive from ten feet.


untitled, 07c01, 46 x 67.5 cm, 2007

C & P: Some of your final pictures have elements from handmade drawings and other computer generated imagery layered into them. Are these your drawings? Or are these found? How long have you been incorporating these non-photo-based types of elements into your work? And what was the reason for doing so originally?
Nicolas: Since I started my studies I have always worked with more than one medium and never solely concentrated on one discipline. Towards the end of my studies I explored different working methods and strategies to filter those aspects I was interested in.

C & P: What are your thoughts on the relationship between photography and drawing? What makes you want to juxtapose the two mediums
in your work?
Nicolas: Photography and drawing are two strategies for me to work with images and create pictures and both are highly fascinating to me. They can, to a certain degree, quote each other but in the end have completely different and separated origins to result in an image.

C & P: When looking at your images it seems that space, color, form, and scale are all very important to you. Could you talk a bit about what you are trying to evoke with these constructed images?
Nicolas: I want to reflect the phenomena of spatial perception. From my point of view our recognition and orientation starts with conceiving form, color, shading and lighting. In my works I try to filter and abstract certain aspects of these correlations within the complex and sensual experience and transform them into the plane of the image. So it is more the construction of the characteristics of a place I’m interested in more than its actual appearance.

C & P: It seems that you are interested in a spatial experience in a 2D format. What interests you about representing three dimensional reality as a two dimensional surface of an image? Have you ever worked as a sculptor? Does sculpture influence your work? Are there any particular sculptors that you are looking at?
Nicolas: In the work Verplanung (planar planning) I started with the idea of mapping houses, apartments, and living spaces without using the mathematical functionality for orientation of blueprints, roadmaps, and topographic maps, but rather focus on the atmospheric impression one gets with being at a place.
I wanted to create a new kind of cartography, a visual equivalent to the space-human-relationship one gets at these spaces in order to give the viewer the possibility to get an emotional, archetypical or atmospheric impression of these places.


untitled, 11d03, 57 x 42 cm, 2011

C & P: You say that you are interested in the “gradual decomposition of objectness.” Could you talk a bit more about this.
Nicolas: By looking at photographs the brain indicates and names the elements in the picture. I want to avoid the situation, where you purely describe the parts of the picture in your mind and attach your remembrance of the denoted objects to the image. In this scenario I try to erase or diminish the objectness with various methods to have an undisguised view on the visual presence of the piece.

C & P: Your work reminds me a bit of the paintings of Albert Oehlen. Is he an influence at all? Are you influenced by other abstract painters? Other artists?
Nicolas: I know Albert Oehlens work and have looked at his pictures. You could call him an influence since I believe that everything you have seen affects one’s own work no matter if it is because of similarities or contrasts to your own work. Seeing something that is very close to your perspective might arouse the need to more precisely formulate your own ambition, which eventually helps you being more clear about your aim or goal.


untitled, 07b01, 60.5 x 89.5 cm, 2007

C & P: Some of the abstract patterns in your work also brings to mind graffiti. When I first spent time in Berlin I did notice that there was graffiti everywhere… does graffiti influence your work at all?
Nicolas: I don’t think graffiti specifically influences me, it might rather be the quality of painting and paint in general that I am concerned with that sometimes shows in my works.

C & P: When your work is shown in a gallery how important is size, scale, and sequencing? How do you usually exhibit your work?
Nicolas: Some of my works really don’t get along too well, they will try to kick each other off the wall, because each of them needs its own space. That is one reason I mostly choose a very clean and distanced hanging with enough white or wall in-between. I couldn’t imagine them hanging on top of each other either. For each work there are set dimensions I wouldn’t change for any reason. The size is imminent to the picture by the level of detail and the dimensions of single elements in my works.

C & P: Where can one see your work online?
Nicolas: Here and here.

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