An interview with sculptor Daniel Agdad from 2012 by Gideon Egger and Karen Lo.
Sculptor Daniel Agdag focuses on details and demands both logic and beauty. His mind is filled with intricate machines, vehicles, and buildings. He realizes his visions in cardboard, and on film. His most recent exhibition is Sets From a Film I’ll Never Make.
Daniel Agdag on sculpting with cardboard:
It began as pure necessity. I had a small space to work in and it was a very convenient. I just needed a blade, a ruler, some cardboard and a cutting mat.
I did fine art originally but I majored in photography and I minored in painting so I wasn’t making anything sculptural. I went back to school after a period and did filmmaking but the cardboard is something that is very much self-taught.
The very first model I made was a traffic light. It was a very complex traffic light and I really liked the cables and junction boxes and I thought it was a straightforward piece to start with.
I don’t draw; I intuitively cut the cardboard and begin with a general idea of what I want to make. From that the proportions develop themselves and I find myself chopping and changing pieces in and out, then it pretty much forms in front of me. That’s why I describe it as ‘sketching with cardboard,’ because it’s not planned. It’s a lot of trial and error.
I really like a lot of art deco, especially in New York City and that boom of art deco that appeared there – but also a lot of the turn-of-the-century industrial revolution stuff. I suppose that’s where people get the idea that its very Victorian, with a lot of smoke stacks and plumbing and caviling.
When you see it in real life and can get a closer look at it, you can see there’s two little rail tracks that lead up to a little car that’s holding the base of the hot air balloon. So its just a little launcher of the hot air balloon and that’s why I call it “The Wait” –- because it’s waiting for the ideal time to launch and its also got a double meaning with the weight that it has to carry.
That’s like a reel-to-reel recorder. That’s got leads running off and there’s a little microphone at the top of the platform where the chair sits.
That’s the one that took two-and-a-half months. That is effectively a radar dish and I call that “The Approach.” It actually rotates on the very top but it’s static in photos.
There’s a logic to everything I make. They’re all systems in one way or another and that system has got a massive combustion chamber that spins the wheels that turn the dynamo that generates the electricity. The very final part of that is a little extension of pipes that lead to a power point at the very base of it –- I’m not sure if you can see that clearly in the images. That’s a self-contained power generating machine.
On memory and imagination:
I don’t have a photographic memory but I do have a strong attention to detail.
When I walk around a city I’ll look at the details: I’ll look at the pipe work or a little junction box–all sorts of things, and I retain those little elements.
When I build these little sculptures, in my mind, there’s a very clear logic as to why all of the parts are in the position they’re in.
They build up slowly so one part leads to another. I don’t plan it; I just start with an element that I really like.
For example, the radar dish– its very similar to a dish from Heathrow in London, and there was a Herringbone pattern which I consider very British, so I started with that. From that, all the other elements combined to complete the piece. It can take a long time. Slowly but surely they come together and then make the complete piece. I spend a lot of time thinking about the proportions, I like things to be very top heavy, almost like they can’t support their own weight.
There’s a level of aesthetics and also a logic to the pieces so they’re not just aesthetically driven.
Certain buildings might have characteristics of one building and another and I bring those together to make a unique building. There are elements from different parts of the world that come together and I sort of conjure up what I’m making.
I mainly use an actual surgical scalpel that doctors use, and number 11 blades. I also use a very standard hobby knife and that’s pretty much it: just a couple of blades, a pair of scissors, and a metal ruler to cut straight lines.
I love the fact that I can work in a small space with it. I actually like the limitation of the material because I find that alleviates any limitation I have in my imagination. Because the material is so pliable and so useful, I can create anything I want and I like the fact that I don’t need fancy equipment or tools to manipulate the creations that I want to make. I like the accessible nature of it.
It is sometimes extremely hard to know when I’ve come to the end of the piece. When I get to a certain stage I like to have a look at it, think about it and dwell on it quite a bit. It is very hard to find a finish point. You always feel like you should go back and refine something some more –- like in drawing.
I always wanted to put them under the bell glasses. I wanted to do that because people feel the cardboard is very fragile. In most cases its not. There is a lot of intricacy to the pieces and they are fragile in some circumstances but I wanted them to be like artifacts. I felt like when they are under glass, there is something special about looking at them. I’m not sure why I thought of bell glasses other than I felt the pieces were specimens in a sense.
I do take all the photos myself. There’s very little filtering. If anything there might be a subtle contrast adjustment but I do stage them under lighting so they’re almost as good as they can be when I take the photos.
I suppose a sense of whimsy and also an understanding of how these machines work. I feel that these days a lot of the world passes us by and most people are not curious about how our daily machines work, or don’t realize how dependent we are on these little machines. I think what I want to emphasize most is how these machines work. They perform a duty for us and in a funny way they are our life support. They’re all so important to us — even when we take energy for granted or the way our computers work, they’re all working for us. They are very complicated machines that do complicated things. I want to put that into the forefront of people’s minds. There are machines all around us and our entire world is made up of machines that make our lives easier and more convenient than they would have been once upon a time.
On sculpture and film:
I feel like my films are about systems and my sculptures are also. I think systems are a very primary theme amongst everything that I do. In many ways they’re all designed to help me understand things — its kind of therapeutic for me. I feel as though by creating these systems or making reproductions of them and creating their own logic to them it helps me understand how things work. Both the films and the standalone pieces speak of the same thing.