Hip-hop artists, skateboarders and break dancers have changed the terrain of urban spaces, Detroit included. In collages that explore modern urban life in areas like Detroit, Berlin-based artist Jakob Kolding illustrates how this emerging lifestyle creates contradictions in how city spaces are planned and used.
UMMA Projects: Jakob Kolding
Through Oct. 24
Though Kolding has received much attention and acclaim in Europe since he began showing in the late ’90s, his UMMA exhibit is his first solo display in a North American museum. According to UMMA associate curator of modern and contemporary art, Jacob Proctor, that makes Kolding an ideal artist for the UMMA Projects series, which began when the Maxine and Stuart Frankel and the Frankel Family Wing opened last year and focuses on emerging artists on an international level.
Kolding mixes his study of sociology and art to comment on urban planning and life through collages and mixed-media sculptures. His collages contain diverse material like black-and-white images, cityscape photos, patterned paper cut into phrases and his own drawings.
“Collage allows him to combine different spaces, to insert something into a space that wouldn’t normally be there,” Proctor said of Kolding’s use of the medium to challenge the ways people normally view cities. The medium also acts as a cultural sampling similar to what you find in electronic and hip-hop music, which are important influences for Kolding.
Kolding grew up in a suburb of Copenhagen, which Proctor said is also a strong influence in the artist’s views toward urban use.
“Growing up in a hyper-modernist context like that, people are still playing soccer in the streets, skateboarding or making graffiti,” Proctor said. “They’re acting in that environment in a way that’s not how they’re supposed to be.”
Proctor said Kolding’s use of language within his collages is more vague than his earlier work, but Kolding maintains clear statements about urban spaces with his imagery and rhetoric. Some of his collages feature cityscape backgrounds with natural elements growing through them like grass growing through cracks in concrete — an intriguing commentary on the blur between urban decline and urban renewal.
In the framed collage from 2008, “Don’t let the bastards grind you down,” one corner features the Death Star from the “Star Wars” series surrounded by the words “Power, corruption and lies.” And in the collage titled “When was the future?,” an image of a derelict East German city is juxtaposed against a background photo of Los Angeles peeking through in the lettering.
“Both cities have a whole different utopian idea about what a city is and can be and should be — both of which are outmoded at this point,” Proctor said of the collage.
For Kolding’s Ann Arbor exhibit, Detroit became the ideal inspiration to create original pieces. Kolding explored Detroit with a camera to collect material for the mixed media sculpture, two original collages and two posters he made for the UMMA exhibit.
“He’s so interested in cities like Detroit both because of the changes and contradictions that exist within the urban fabric, but also because of the cultural production,” Proctor said of Kolding. “Musically, Detroit has been such an important city for so long.”
One of the original collages he made for the exhibit is titled “Sound Patterns,” and the background features a photo of a parking garage in downtown Detroit. In one of two posters, which are plastered on two walls and available in stacks for free, Kolding shaped a black-and-white image of Detroit by overlaying a British DJ and the bright-white words “Urban planning and local initiatives.”
While Kolding’s solo exhibit is housed at UMMA, he is featured as an artist in the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit’s fall show about imaginary cities, which Proctor helped arrange.
“The MOCAD show is like a little satellite of our show,” Proctor said. “We wanted to have a way to bridge the divide between Detroit and Ann Arbor.”