Interview: D.M. Nagu

First few basic questions, who are you, what are you doing, where do you come from?

I have a background in linguistics and literature, and I work in academia. In other words, I work with words. Making collages allows me to engage with things that have nothing to do with words.

Why collages? How did you start to do them?

I discovered collages while I was still at school. The idea of using material that was already out there, unused, discarded, falling apart, always fascinated me. I grew up at a time when recycling as a means of countering environmental problems first gained popularity. So, creating something new from waste instantly appealed to me. I never wanted to be a writer or an artist, I never wanted to create anything from scratch. Instead, I was extremely interested in the aesthetics of the outsider, the poor, the obscene or the ugly.

What inspires you or your work?

Almost everything. I don’t really search for inspiration. But the kind of artists that most inspire me are those who follow their path without thinking about commercial success but are completely in control of what they’re doing and are serious about it. And in the studio, I find inspiration in the quality, good or bad, of the paper, a book is printed on, the colours etc.

Can you tell me about the process of making your work? When you have an art session, do you have a similar pattern of how the creative process flows?

Since I mostly work from books, my studio is full of them, and they’re grouped loosely in terms of subject matter. I can’t pin down the moment when I decide the time is right to start a new project; whether I should do minimal collages, which would involve hardly more than a couple of pieces, or more complex ones containing many pieces in several layers. Sometimes I’m inspired by a book that I just found on the street and, for a while I might work exclusively with that. Sometimes I take a book from a shelf that has been sitting there for years, which I have browsed through innumerable times but never known what to do with, and inspiration strikes. For example, when leafing through a book of photographic portraits taken during the time of National Socialism, I was struck by the realization that in every human being lies the capacity for great destruction. I then started putting together ethnographic portraits of women and children with images of cities that had been destroyed during World War II. Another time, I became fascinated with coffee table books from the German Democratic Republic, especially the way they highlight the country’s progress using glossy paper and lots of bright colours (particularly lots of red!) while actually the real world was rather grey. So that series turned into a commentary on how that imagery was used as propaganda.

How long does it take to make a collage, and do you work on several at a time?

I mostly work in series, and therefore I often start by laying out the pages that I want to use as a base. At the same time, I start to cut up the material that I want to glue on. This leads to a long process of putting bits and pieces of paper here and there without gluing. As I start to pick up individual pages to glue them, of course, everything changes. Everything looks different once it’s been glued, initial enthusiasm may turn into momentary frustration. So unfinished pages go back to the floor only to be picked up once new scraps have been added to them. This process can take quite some time. A vague guess would be that it takes me several hours to finish a single collage. When working on minimal collages, it obviously takes much less time gluing…

What do you look for when you go through the materials, what catches your attention?

Almost anything can catch my attention, the quality of the paper, the way the page has been laid out, striking colour combinations, saturated blacks, faded or gilded colors, ordinary people trying to look model-like, everyday drama and destruction, the emptiness of all kinds (landscapes, backgrounds, faces), seriously anything. And in general terms, I prefer some gritty old pornography to glossy fashion photography.

What are your favorite source materials? How do you find them? Do you spend much time looking for them?

Currently, my favorite source material is coffee table books from former Eastern European countries as they are printed on high-quality paper and the colours, particularly in black-and-white books, can be amazing. Also, the world these books show is quite different from the world in the vintage material used, particularly by many American collage artists. Those books can easily be obtained from flea markets in Berlin. But I also look for discarded books of all sorts that people just leave on the streets or in abandoned phone booths that are being used as book exchanges, though I try not to use books that people will probably still want to read.

What kind of connection is there between your message and the actual way you create your art?

Basically, I would say, the message only takes shape in the process of making the collage.

How critical are you, how easy or hard is it for you to finish your collage? Do you ever get burnt out on a piece, and what do you do to keep working and being productive?

I like to think of myself as being supercritical during the process, but from my experience of working together with other collage artists, I think it would be more accurate to say I’m just critical. While I find it fairly easy to finish minimal collages, knowing when a complex work is done is clearly harder; and I often feel that I don’t know when to stop. But I love the moment when, after a long time of struggling with composition, a certain piece just brings total relief. You just know this was the right thing to do.

If you should describe your art with one word, what would it be?

I’d like to think of it as musical.

D.M. Nagu around the internet

Instagram: @d.m.nagu