DAG

On DAG

by Peter Funken (2008)

DAG’s art operates at the peripheries of artistic genre boundaries, unveiling potentials for bridging the gaps between painting and drawing, design and meditation, between dot, line and colour.

His is a take on art that employs industrial means within the confines of electronic reality to orchestrate subjective perception. With his drawings, paintings and murals, the Berlin-based artist’s approach touches on visual realms that could be argued in terms of a theory of hybrids.

Media theorist Derricke de Kerckhove once claimed: „Man is the first ever hybrid life form. And he exists in a paradox. A cross between mind and matter, a transmission and handshake between mind and matter and vice versa, man consciously or unconsciously lives in a permanent state of hybridisation.”

The actual driving force and language of this hybridisation should be art, not science alone. The prerequisites for creative processes between present and future can be found in the everyday practices of sampling, zapping and surface shaping, all of which allow world and reality to enter into ever new alliances and liberations, into new modes of collage and decollage - resulting in slurs, caesuras, montages, constructions and deconstructions.

In DAG’s work this aspect of hybridisation is not superficial, but manifests itself as an intrinsic phenomenon. A paragon of hybridisation, he operates at the peripheries of artistic genre boundaries because it is here that new opportunities for technical interaction and intellectual insights first emerge.

Precursors to DAG’s style can be found in both in modern art and certain strains of contemporary sound and rhythm compilations. Although he does not consider music a parallel language to visual art, soundscapes have a decisive influence on his notions on serialisation and tectonics. In his work, the artist reaches visual conclusions with an extrinsic affinity to the works of constructivist and proto-minimalist 20th century modernity, to members of artist groups like ‘circle et carré’ and ‘abstraction-création’ in the early 1930s, to Hélion, Vantongerloo, Herbin or Vordemberge-Gildewart. Nevertheless, this relationship is a fleeting one – his art’s fundamental matrix does not trace back to modernity, but refers to systems of contemporary image and sign positing. To this end, street art and graffiti, too, have left their inspirational mark on his output. The underlying structure of DAG’s own artistic approach hails from Berlin’s vibrant club scene: for inspiration and materials, he likes to raid office supply repositories, supermarkets and Zeemann shops. To this end, his work tends to reference technical standards and reflect a bizarre present from the perspective of popular aesthetics and visual media.

At the same time, DAG pursues “a quest for the basic point of view, for simplicity, for something that is hard to find and depict”. And this statement applies to both the formal-aesthetic aspect of his work and the actual materials employed: the artist’s deployment of ubiquitous, mass-produced commodities like marker pens, adhesive dots, plastic strips, tea filters, shot plasters, packaging materials, plastic drinking straws and other normed stock from the realm of office supplies and industrial production also embraces the above-mentioned aspect of simplicity, as none of these standardised products are charged with significance or meaning - unlike, for example, Carrara marble.

This underlying approach – a penchant for what is simple and standardised – also explains his use of standard picture sizes: initially based on a format of 50 × 50 cm, most of his current works conform to the measures of 80 × 80 cm, 115 × 115 cm or 150 × 150 cm.

DAG uses felt-tip pens to dot mounted canvas and cotton surfaces. Thousands of individual speckles coagulate into shapes reminiscent of microorganisms, amoebas and cellular structures. Scattered over the flat, white expanse of the substrate, these tiny dots blend and overlap to create, in the chiaroscuro of their manifestation, rough notions of landscapes, cloud formations and volcanic eruptions. For visual inspiration, the artist scours the Internet and newspapers for templates of these images comprised of nothing but dots and white, yet these templates are rough guidelines only, not blueprints. “The worse the template”, DAG claims, “the better it will serve my purpose.” Some of these pointillist marker pen drawings allude to the era of romantic arts, when artists chose to approach nature and landscape through painting or drawing, when they used art to appropriate nature and landscape. During this period, titles often reflected the artwork’s location and DAG, too, follows this tradition – his dot creations are named ‘Near Kyritz’, ‘Approaching Lüneburg’ or ‘At Jena’ - always suffused with ironic subtext. As part of the same series and employing the same technique, he juxtaposed these landscapes reminiscent of Romanticism with catastrophic images of conflagrations, volcanic eruptions or hurricanes; images of a natural balance disturbed by humanity, a critique of the reputed status quo and the ignorance of those responsible.

In one of the artist’s drawings (‘Beyond Olpe’, marker pen on canvas, 80 × 80 cm, 2004) two almost perfect, white semi-circles cut into dotted, cloud-like areas of different densities harbouring a central disc. Further to the right, the dot aggregation spills into a vertically rising line that separates the space. In this work, the precise shape delineated by the white curves meets the dotted - and thus seemingly vibrating - landscape structure of ‘Beyond Olpe’. DAG calls these dot pictures ‘new romantic’ works. They allow him to fashion hybrid blends of naturalistic landscapes (akin to those painted by Carl Rottmann (1797 – 1850)) and abstract all-over structures. In a way, he shapes his pictures from a collection of individual pieces of information, the results of a systematic artistic stance and calculated spontaneity. Although his characteristic all-over technique, based on isolated dots and dot agglomerations, does not betray a handwriting in the usual sense, his artistic commitment takes the images into a mesmerizing grey area between illusionist representation and conceptual abstraction.

DAG tends to work on different pictures at the same time, using different modi operandi. A further series pursues a concept no less consistent than the dot works, a line supplying the sole image development factor. In these stripe pictures, long lines (drawn with a ruler and marker pen) dominate the white, primed canvas, yet at the same time they seem absorbed by the substrate. Untidy edges convey the illusion of a very slight vibration, accompanied by a sense of plasticity - at first sight and close-up, the lines appear almost embroidered. The uni-coloured, clear and simple composition tends to emphasise the diagonal or radiate out from one dot into space. Because of their intense monochromacity and clarity of composition, the series manages to conjure up impressions of dynamics and energy in a field of concrete abstraction, in a no man’s land between drawing and painting.

Both of the series described – dots and lines – have evolved from the artist’s earlier works, imbued with a spirit of playful abstraction and also realised in felt-tip pen or emulsion paint. These pictures, citing design notions from the 1950s, blend numerous illustrative ideas and miniatures, scriptural passages and colour codes in a composition reminiscent of pop and the aesthetics of the combination of construction and organic elements as evinced by ‘circle et carré’. Although these works might have served as preliminary stages for DAG’s current oeuvre, they exhibit enough autonomy, rhythm and elementary power to hold their own besides his more recent output.