Interview: Cardboard Mastery and Fantastical Sculptures of Daniel Agdag
Maybe it's just me, but there is something quite comforting with controlled chaos. I like the idea of organization amongst all the noise of the world, where you let yourself blend into the mechanics of the modern world. Daniel Agdag, with his fantastical cardboard sculptures of machines, gears and technological structures that surround us, is literally breaking down and examining chaos in new and exciting ways. His newest solo show, "Stories I Haven't Written Down," which runs from February 17—March 17, 2018 at Jonathan LeVine Projects, will be his first solo in the US and feature an array of cardboard and tracing paper works that are both nostalgic and illuminating. We sat down with the Melbourne-based artist to talk about childhood, staying curious and naming his show.
Evan Pricco: This isn't so much a question but an observation: I assume you were a curious kid. Did you have all sorts of books and LEGOs and K'Nex sets?
Daniel Agdag: I was definitely a very curious kid, but quite introverted. I didn’t have a lot of lego – certainly not as much as I wanted – my parent’s couldn’t afford much so my mum would save for a special set that I would have my eye on. But when I did eventually get the set, I usually disregarded the instructions completely and just made my own things!
What, if anything, does your work say about where you live? In Melbourne?
I would say that I don’t try to specifically reference Melbourne, my inspiration comes from all over. In many ways, I am trying to create my own world, rather than replicate the one I see around me. Of course I do spend my time walking around the industrial parts of Melbourne to gain inspiration, but my work does have a global influence. For instance, I traveled to Tokyo in 2016 and spent the bulk of my time walking around the city with my head cranked up, looking at all the ducting, they have a very impressive arrangements of ducting. I love encountering odd little details too, like a submerged switches on the ground surround by a metal guard or an unusual funnel that receives countless pipes. Its really details that intrigue me, both as a curiosity of what they do and why they were designed to look in such a certain way. The details never get old, they are the strongest driver of my ideas and my questioning of their logic is what creates my narratives.
What were your first forays into sculpture? Did you initially work with cardboard, or did that emerge gradually?
I majored in painting and minored in photography. Sculpture did not emerge as a practice until I lived next door to an architect who introduced me to cardboard as he was using it to make his architectural models. I then began making objects and buildings before moving onto creating my more narrative driven pieces.
Maybe this is silly, but what is something that has piqued your interest recently in regards to your process? Like, what sort of structures or machines are you interested in right now?
Lately I had an series of ideas involving little compact compartments that are also vehicles of some type. I had a very tiny car once and I loved the cosy nature to it. The fact that is was so small meant everything for its function needed to be thought out to make it fit just right in it’s compact framework. I like that idea of people, engineers, designers having a desired set of circumstances that they have to make work and in turn it creates a unique outcome, a peculiar object, vehicle or structure.
What did you make for the LeVine show? I noticed that some of the works deal with flying for this one. What got that sort of train of thought moving?
I like the use of flying (and hence the flying machine) as a metaphor for many challenges and undertakings. I get caught up in these narratives of solitary people who dedicate their lives to a single cause, like inventors or engineers who spend their time pursuing an idea that they can’t let go of for some reason. I like to think of this idea that the works are the end result of such a lifetimes work, of someone doggedly pursing a vision that may never be recognised. And they are poised, ready for launch, possibly into fame and recognition for this work or into complete obscurity. Life can be like that.
I love the name of your show, "Stories I Haven't Written Down," and its like the perfect connection to your work. When did that name come up...
All of my show titles sort of emerge from a collective theme that all of the pieces that belong to it encompass.
With this show, I had completed a short animated film last year, that took over 3 years to make, and I was thinking about how with film, especially animation, everything has to follow a process and nothing left to chance. But even during this, my mind is always awash with little stories and ideas that I don’t get a chance to write down, even though I carry a notebook with me at all times. So, contrary to film-making, I think my sculptural practice really embraces this idea of improvisation, and allows for these stories to materialise in the form of a singular piece.
All of the pieces in the show are independent ideas on their own journeys but they are tangentially related to each other in some small way, they may cross paths, they all belong to that same unique world, but they are their own narratives.
Cardboard to me doesn't seem like the most sturdy of materials, and yet, its all about being pushed around and beat up and it does, indeed, survive. What do you love about cardboard?
Cardboard is a surprisingly robust material that always surprises me to the limits in which I can manipulate it. But also, I like it because of it’s egalitarian nature. It’s recycled, it’s non-toxic and regarded as a commodity. It has a tactility that lends itself to my ideas so well.
I’m not quite sure though if it's the material itself that fascinates me or what it provides for me that does. I find for me, the narrower the medium, the broader my ideas become. This limitation allows me to be limitlessly imaginative with it. And for me, it’s fluid to work with - without the need for elaborate tools and a large dedicated space. That said, I am constantly surprised by the limits to which I can take it. The most important thing about it is that as a medium for me it offers the least amount of resistance to conceive and express my ideas.
Will you be in NYC for the show? Anything you want to see or do in the City?
Yes, I will be here for the show opening. There are so many things I want to see here, I was here 17 years ago so its been a long time between visits.
I do want to relax a little but usually my partner and I like to go to a neighbourhood and just wander around, observing and discovering.
But specifically, I will be admiring all of the bridges, all of the Art Deco architecture, Some buildings of note: The Woolworth Building, FlatIron Building and of course, all of the water towers will get a special look in.
Daniel Agdag's newest exhibition, Stories I Haven't Written Down, will run at Jonathan LeVine Projects from Februray 17—March 17, 2018