Nils Völker

Nils Volker

Nils Völker


By: Katie Micak | Nadine Lessio

Nils Völker is a media artist based in Berlin. He was born in Aalen, Germany and studied Communication Design at the Bauhaus (graduated in 2004). Völker originally started making electronics out of Lego, but soon moved to larger site-specific sculptures and kinetic installations. His work is mainly focused on ideas of repetition, mechanical rhythm, and how inanimate objects mimic living organisms which he explores through simple materials such as plastic bags, cooling fans, and custom code and electronics.

 

Sixty Eight - Nils Völker

Sixty Eight – Nils Völker

 

Although each piece is unique, his sculptures all share the same characteristics including: integration into an established environment, activation in response to human presence, they offer moments of surprise, their pace is slow- almost meditative. Völker is also interested in replicating natural phenomena, such as waves, or breathing, geysers (volcanoes) or the expansion of atoms. It can be seen that Völker is concerned with exploring a familiar found material, and conceptualize how to personify these inanimate objects, creating a whole new experience and use for these products.

 

Makers and Spectators

Makers and Spectators

 

Volker describes his work as of “a rather technical nature; creating electronic circuits, programming, drawing circuit boards and soldering. But in the end all the engineering lies hidden under an organic appearing surface and can only be imagined.”

When asked how Völker began with robots, he states, “It’s somehow great to deal with these purely logical and abstract things to end up with something that isn’t logic at all.” (Regine)

Although Völker states his work is not ‘logical’ he hopes to capture something that cannot be captured by either creating containers (air in bags) or putting in contradictory elements (air in water). By using air Völker shows movement, and in a sense makes these works come alive, as if the viewer is standing in front of a newly discovered animal. The animal (sculpture) ‘sees’ and ‘follows’- it has a brain (computer) and lungs (fans and container).

volker fans

Fans

 

Völker considers his approach to art more pragmatic – material investigation- and less conceptually concerned. By finding ideas in accidents, experimentation, or glitches, his work is very much based in formal concerns and exposing the natural state of his materials. The materials he chooses are generally everyday offerings (such as bags), re-arranged and brought into new situations or scenarios.

In “Bits and Pieces” Völker uses found plastic children’s toy called hoberman spheres. These spheres expand and contract (much like plastic bags do) fold into a fraction of its original size using simple joints. It is a complex structure that emphasizes size and movement through expansion. “Each one is moved by a servo motor and individually controlled by a micro-controller creating the illusion of organic waves appearing to move throughout the space although each single plastic ball simply expands and contracts at the right time. “ (Völker) The installation was shown at NOME Gallery, Berlin in 2016.

Bits and Pieces

Bits and Pieces

Starting in 2010, Völker produced numerous “choreographed breathing” installations which all follow the same sense of logic: simple motors and fans are activated by the viewer’s’ presence- this fans ‘follow’ the viewer as they move through the space. Völker’s most notable and widely shown breathing piece is “One Hundred Eight.” As per the title, 108 plastic bags are mounted to a wall and inflate and deflate in sequence and relationship to the movements of observers in the space- as the viewer approaches, they inflate and as they recede, the bags deflate. (Völker) Völker has remade this piece in numerous iterations and shapes, and has named each of the installations for the number of bags used.

 

By titling this series of choreographed breathing installations pieces in relation to the number of bags present, it can be inferred that Völker is interested in aligning this series within a formalist art tradition. Seen commonly in abstract formal painting, the title of the work is often in relation to when that painting was created in a sequence.  This series is also concerned with only utilizing what is necessary to the meaning of the work. In Völker’s case focuses on the minimal activities of this materials and activates breathing- equals- life, the viewer activates the art.

This is only one area of his practice.

 

 Arguably, Völker’s most interesting piece is the object performance “Captured” done in 2011 at MADE Space, Berlin in collaboration with his brother, Sven Völker. This piece consists of 304 framed graphic pages surrounded by a fields of 252 inflatable silver cushions. There is a light show in addition to the inflatables, and 12- minute narration broken into four chapters: the intangible, the volume, the border and the ephemeral. The cushions were programmed in relation to each chapter, creating a sense of change over time. The lighting intensified the drama of the air cushions, and created a close relationship between all the elements at play.  (Völker) Audience members attended a live performance, and then the narrative was played as an installation over the following three months.

 Another work discussed in our presentation was “Fountains” (2012), a permanent installation in the Xixi Wetland Park in Hangzhou, China. This ephemeral work is a  to contrast with the solid public art which fills the park. The piece remains hidden under water until visitors walk by, then small fountains of shoot up in sequence throughout a pond- following the visitor as the move. Only using simple PPR tubes, steel and custom electronics is this satisfying and active artwork achieved.  (Völker)

 

fountains

Fountains

Although Völker does not speak often about the conceptual parameters of his practice, we believe that his work is soundly conceptual. Through his simple and elegant installations Völker asks viewers to see his chosen objects as more than their primary purpose. This re-contextualization forces viewers to relate their bodies to inanimate objects, or consider their movements in relation to the world around them.  In Völker’s world, bags breathe, light tells a story, toys become atoms, and all of these reach out for connection with those who stand before them watching idly.

 

Thirty Three

Thirty Three

 

Works cited

P. Natalie. “Nils Völker transforms NOME into a living organism via Bits and Pieces”  Widewalls. http://www.widewalls.ch/nils-volker-nome-exhibition/. 2016.

Völker, Nils. Artist’s website. http://www.nilsvoelker.com/. 2016.

 

Jobson, Christopher. “Bits and Pieces: An Expandable Kinetic Toy Sphere Installation by Nils Völker” This is Colossal. http://www.thisiscolossal.com/2016/04/expandable-kinetic-toy-sphere-installation-by-nils-volker/ 2016.

 

Grieco, Lauren. “Nils Völker breathes life into 108 Hoberman spheres suspended inside NOME Gallery.” Frame.  http://www.frameweb.com/news/nils-v. 2016.

Mary. “ART: Nils Völker’s One Hundred and Eight.” S.O.T.R. http://sickoftheradio.com/2010/12/01/art-one-eight-mesmerizes-viewers/. 2010.

Neunhiem, Anke. “Nils Volker” iGNANT. http://www.ignant.com/2012/09/05/nils-volker/. 2010.

P. Natalie. “Nils Völker transforms NOME into a living organism via Bits and Pieces”  Widewalls. http://www.widewalls.ch/nils-volker-nome-exhibition/. 2016.

Völker, Nils. Artist’s website. http://www.nilsvoelker.com/. 2016.

Regine. “A quick chat about robots, Lego and air bags with Nils Völker.” We Make Money Not Art. http://we-make-money-not-art.com/nils_voelker/. 2011.