Rein Vollenga

by Chantelle Johnson

"Let’s appreciate the small gestures of life, our notion of fantasy and imagination"
It is often said that the best destinations are reached without a map, a view that Berlin-based sculptor and artist, Rein Vollenga subscribes to when creating his oddly beautiful headpieces which have garnered worldwide acclaim. Crafted from an unusual array of disparate found objects, he renders a new object from the remnants of these unwanted things.

All of his work is conceived organically without making sketches. In fact, Vollenga describes the concepts of his pieces as being derived from a three-dimensional way of thinking which leads to an evolutionary process where the outcome becomes unexpected.

Then, using a hands-on method that can only be explained as a labour of love, the objects are fused together, lacquered and polished. The resulting headpieces are structurally breathtaking and tactile, their forms ranging from animal horns to more familiar items such as knives or guns and veering off to complete abstraction. With these creations, Vollenga forces us to question both our view of beauty and the nature of human identity (their attached masks obscuring the face) as the animalistic aesthetic of the headpieces merges with that of the wearer to fashion some strange new being.

We caught up with Vollenga to discuss the origins of his interest in the natural world, the future of the craftsperson in a culture that increasingly seeks instant gratification and learn why the streets of Berlin serve as his personal treasure trove.

Where did your interest in fauna begin? Do you remember the first time you became intrigued by wildlife on a deeper level?

I think as a child, I was mainly interested in fairy tales that featured animals, like the evil wolf in Little Red Riding Hood or the cat in Puss in Boots. Actually, the origin of my name Rein comes from a medieval fairy tale too. It's called Reinaardt the Fox. The story is based around a group of animals living as a community in the forest. All the animals represent a sin. Basically, the fox does many horrifying things to the other animals. He’s so sly that he gets away with everything. It's a story with many morals. I don't know what that says about me though (laughs).

What was your childhood like and how has that informed the nature of your art?

My childhood was very free as my parents always supported my creative outbursts. In primary school, I was only dreaming about what I would do as soon as I got home. I would create a play, make something out of clay or make some masks for example. My primary and high school days were just a waste of time really. I was always conforming to mainstream expectations of life. Over time this resulted in total anarchy. Nowadays, nobody tells me what to do anymore because I realized my time and imagination are valuable too! Now I only do things that make me happy.

Talk us through the process of creating a mask from when you first conceive of the idea to its execution. How long does it take to create one?

Depending on the complexity of the project the creation can take a few weeks till several months as my work is very labour intensive. The pieces I create are made of assembled found objects. The objects I collect are very ambiguous. For example, mass-produced organic shapes like toys, dolls or mannequins. The found shapes are roughly cut and glued together to create a new object, which is then covered in a layer of epoxy, obsessively sanded and polished until it reaches “perfection” before finally being painted in several layers of color and lacquer for a glossy finish. My process is very visceral, I need to feel the shapes. I never make drawings beforehand because that just doesn't communicate my three-dimensional thinking — and besides that, it’s great when unexpected things happen during the making of a piece. These surprises can change your perception and perspective during the working process. They can open your eyes again. I see them as a gift.

Do you find that you encounter a lot of happy accidents when creating your pieces? Have there been times where, because you don’t work from drawings, the end product has been vastly different from what you envisaged? Is that a frustration or a pleasure?

Yes this occurs very often but these are gifts of nature. The hands never do the same as the head. This can be frustrating but I've learned to embrace this over the years. It makes me realize that I'm human after all.

I know you have previously stated that you like to collect objects for inspiration. How big is your collection and what are some of the notable objects you’ve found?

My collection is huge and becomes bigger every week. I live in the outskirts of Berlin. The area is pretty rough and there's a lot of things to find on the streets. They are a big source of my work. What might be trash to others is very precious to me. The other day I found an old potty on the street. I'm transforming it into sculpture now. This sculpture will on display during my solo show at Gallery Xavier Laboulbenne in Berlin opening the beginning of September.

Considering that culture, fashion and how we consume it, are moving faster every day, do you think that the craftsperson, the artisan is moving towards extinction or will there always be a place in the industry for individuals like yourself who are carving their own niche?

I think there is a limitation to transforming creativity and artistic ideas to modern technology. For instance, If I see a 3D printed object I still see it’s 3D printed, the cheapness of it all shows. I think it's a modern day problem that everybody thinks they can be an artist or a craftsmen. I call it the Kardashian syndrome, but no worries. I think the future will sort this out by itself and quality will overcome quantity and fake fame.

Is it shortsighted to think that an artist can’t be a designer or vice versa and what role does fashion and commerciality play in what you do?

I don't single out any platform to showcase my art and it's also not up to me to decide if my work is fashion, art or design. I like to play with these gestures and confuse and mix up these expectations. Concerning fashion, I love the theatrical side of fashion shows, but honestly the industry is deadly boring.

We live in a time where people seem more obsessed than ever by surfaces and aesthetics. What is beauty to you? Do we need to reevaluate our definition of it as a society?

It's hard to define beauty as it comes in my forms and its very subjective and personal. In my opinion, as a society we should reevaluate the celebrity culture and fame. It's vastly overrated. Let’s appreciate the small gestures of life, our notion of fantasy and imagination, instead of living up to a commercialized dream.

Vollenga will be showcasing new pieces including a large-scale sculpture combined with elements of performance in an exhibition at Gallery Xavier Laboulbenne in Kreuzberg, Berlin on the 2nd of September, 2016.