Join our newsletter
Interview and studio visit #17

David Renggli

In a twisted way

Ph. Jessica Soffiati
Ed. Jessica Soffiati

When transcribing a tape recording, you often depend on the random course of events. You go with the flow, navigating between questions which may sound banal and flashes of inspiration, born right there in that moment, creating a mutual, engaging exchange of ideas. In this case, we had a sort of “false start”, or maybe it was more of an initial adjustment period. That explains why the mood of the text grows as we go on, and tells something about the fact that David started talking with his sunglasses on, and ended without. This text is then a wet piece of cloth, hanged in the sun, not ironed. Dry, authentic, a little wrinkled.
J.S: Everything I can see in here seems to embody your art, even though the works are realised by using many different techniques. You use painting, silk-screen painting, you make sculptures...

D.R: Yeah you know, my way of working is about trying to be curious all the time, to be open, to avoid getting stuck in a certain kind of style and be free instead. I think this is a big privilege.

J.S: Do you think your work has changed a lot throughout the years? By simply looking at some of your sculptures, I can’t tell which materials you used. They seem to be camouflaged by colours, which cover them all and hide their weight as well. They could be really light or really heavy, I wouldn’t be able to guess. Do you work with metals too?

D.R: Yeah my work is constantly changing and I try to be as open as possible when an idea comes to me. Ideas are all welcome. There are so many things around in the studio because I make a lot of sketches, as you can see. This piece here with the coconuts, for example, is called “Gondola". All these sketches are also my ideas. I like them somehow and at the same time I don’t. This is an old sculpture that I made. It’s a wood welding. I tried to imitate the bronze sort of look of Giacometti’s sculptures. I thought that it was quite nice to create a surface out of a technique which is not meant to create surfaces but to stick things together. It’s not used to give an aesthetic look, but in this work it’s nice because it pretends to be bronze, Giacometti’s bronze. That was how I started the work, then I went more into drawing lines in the surrounding space.

J.S: How old are you?

D.R: I’m 44 hahah

J.S: You look younger! When did you understand that your path would have been to be uniquely an artist? When did you realise that you would have become who you are now? Did you do any other jobs before becoming an artist?

D.R: I always wanted to do what I do. When I was 18 or 19 I moved to Hollande to study photography and, you know, I was young and all and I was interested in collecting a lot of experiences, I used to club a lot..then, back in those days, I met a friend and we decided to start a band and play music. After that experience, the same happened when I started making art.

J.S: So you play music..what kind?

D.R: Electronic, disco music...

J.S: So, even if I can see a lot of guitars, keyboards and microphones around, you don’t really play an instrument?

D.R: I could pretend I can play all instruments. Pretending means that I can just make it look like I was able to play! Truth is, when I make music it’s mainly on my computer, or, instead, I play something with the instruments and then I load that into the computer in order to edit it.

J.S: How do you usually work? Do you start straight from the material, experimenting it physically, or do you rather study materials digitally, or do some research first?

D.R: You know, it may sounds pathetic by I'm constantly working, everything is working around me...I have a physical relation with materials and, regarding the colours, my choice comes just from a personal intuition.

J.S: What are you working on at the moment?

D.R: Some stories are born when you reverse normal sequences. Take a look at this man for example: normally, you would see him like this, lying down; but if I was to cut the image in half and revert the normal sequence of the frames, I would get a new story full of meaning, even more interesting than the previous one. At the moment I’m working on continuity of things and images. A two- dimensional image can become an object around which you can rotate. This is not all about creating a 360 degrees perspective of the object, but it’s rather meant to tell a story without any beginning and end.

  • gallery-image
  • gallery-image

Let’s go down, I’ll show you something!

There’s a lot of work behind this piece. You have to make the prints, test them and then apply colours. This is why I use computer graphics, I want to be confident about the output and make sure not to fuck it all up. Here you can see a canvas and a ropes grid on the top. You can look at it without the grid but the effect when you put it on, because of the black, is that you actually get different colours. It’s like if colours had different intentions. That’s why it's very important to make a good sketch before starting, otherwise it’s hard to know what the composition will look like. This is the reason why, for this series, I started to work with my computer and make prints to understand all the contrasts I could get without wasting a lot of time.
As regards my painting process, I use acrylics most of the time..sometimes it's really fast, some other times it takes ages. I prefer when it's fast!

J.S: What about this “cage” piece?

D.R: This was the beginning of a series, it's called "Mid-century Duplex, House for a Chicken”. It’s actually playing with what I called “Consensus Architecture”, which is what people think “good architecture” is, like California’s Mid-century Architecture that represents the standard model for new replicas, to build new houses. I think it’s quite humorous to play with this concept because all the houses have the same appearance.

That was the first sketch but then I got more into using iconic design furniture like those pieces that appeared in old Vogue Casa, AD etc..I wanted to use iconic furniture which also relates to iconic art that appeared in those magazines. I mixed it together with this shopping cart: an iconic image for homeless people as it represents the place where they put all their stuff into. I found out that, formally, these two very different iconic pieces are actually so close!
I think it's very interesting to mix these two objects and see how they remind of California’s Mid-century Architecture, they are open houses but at the same time they look like cages, prisons! I can show it to you here on my phone. It's shitty because my screen broke but this is a good example of what I was saying.

J.S: I see that you like to use Instagram, what’s your relationship with social networks?

D.R: I think it’s very nice to have access to information whenever you want. Instagram is like what Google Images used to be. If I want to see some stuff I can just go on Instagram and find whatever I’m looking for.

"I like old movies because there was so much more freedom instead. Impossible things happened which were actually fitting the story very well".

"Some stories are born when you reverse normal sequences"... 

J.S: Do you ever use images found on social networks for you collages?

D.R: No, I only use printed materials for my collages. Although, look at this sketch: this "A" actually comes from a photo stock logo. It’s stocks claim images, they destroy them with their logo, so you can’t really look at them, you have to pay for that. Look at this photograph of an old painting for instance, I don’t see why they should be able to claim it, you know? It’s nice to use this as a sort of a layer, a formal layer, and say “oh you want to destroy this? Well, I’ll embrace your negativity and I will turn it into something positive.” This means trying to see how the logo, which apparently destroys the image, could be an advantage instead, could create a new meaning for the image itself.

J.S: Do you usually think about mistakes and failures as materials for your work?

D.R: I learn a lot from mistakes, from things that just happen and make me think “aw, that’s cool”, when I wasn’t aware that they could be cool. I try to be open and think that mistakes can happen and actually become benefits. This piece we just talked about though, as I showed you with the bird houses before, it's more about the concept of ownership, ideas like: “this belongs to me, this belongs to you; I have more than you; you cannot come to my house because I own this piece of land...”. It’s about the representation of how stupid it is that someone can buy a piece of land that belongs to everyone. This work for me speaks about the claim of property. "This is mine and you have to pay to look at it". I say: “fuck you!"

J.S: There are a lot of funny, odd microhabitats all around this place. I think I would have to spend at least three days to describe all I can see in here.

D.R: Haha, that’s true! Look at this little house, I find it really cute. I have a series of them but if you look through the windows, you can tell that there are some naked girls inside this one. You can even turn lights on, but still it’s hard to see them properly. It’s a gift from some friends..they thought about me because the sequence of little houses, connected by the cable, reminds of my my toy train.

J.S: So you are a collector of stuff... 

D.R: Unfortunately, yes! Haha...

J.S: and pieces of art... I see a lot of paintings by other artists here, are they presents or pieces that you bought?

D.R: Yes, I love to collect artworks by other artists, my favourite is Andreas Dobler. These other ones are by Kevin Aeschbacher, Tomi Ungerer and Dana Schutz.

  • gallery-image
  • gallery-image
J.S: I can see that you also collect different kinds of books. What's your favourite book? The one you choose or think of when you need inspiration?

D.R: I have a lot of favourite books but, for example, I also collect a lot of erotic magazines from the ‘60s. I like them because they are all so shitty, you can really tell that it's handmade, it was non-professional people who made them. I like it because it’s unprofessional, and they have really nice colors. The graphic design is so freaky! I always have the feeling that these people used to do this during weekends, in empty factories where no one was watching.

J.S: Amazing! Some of these books seem to take inspiration from the old “fotoromanzi” from the 70s, you know, that comic novels with photographic frames and tableau vivant. In Italy this format unleashed real Divas.

D.R: Yes, in a way it's funny because it’s "naif", it's not like watching something "dirty". That’s what I like about them, that they really make no sense, they don’t follow any kind of rule. Photos are placed in random spots in the pages.
Also, for instance, look at this image: you can actually tell that they wanted to create a dirty cage but they probably didn't find the way to do that, so they decided to draw the bars by themselves! There are a lot of good collages as well, and really nice colors.

J.S: Where did you find these books, I you have a pusher?

D.R: yeah haha, a books pusher! There is this guy who sells comic books. He knows I love comics, so one day he called me and said: "Come here, I have to show you something you'll really like”. They were these old erotic magazines! He's from Zurich but the books are from Sweden and Finland.

J.S: You said that you like to talk to people and have interesting exchanges of views. Do you think it's more important for you to talk with people from the art world or do you usually prefer to discover other people’s gaze?

D.R: It’s always interesting to speak with people who aren't into art, whether it’s children, showing them the beauty of art and maybe teaching them how to look at a piece from a new perspective, or adults who have different passions from yours. Someone who is passionate about motorcycles, for example, could teach me how to recognise different motorbikes by listening to the different sounds. But if a motorcycles enthusiast meets an other motorcycles enthusiast they can go straight into a more challenging level of conversation, with no need for basic explanations.
With people that are into art you don't need to explain everything. In general I like to speak about very different things, I'm just interested in contents and I enjoy talking with people who have strange views or logics, different from yours, or have a passion for something and can tell you about things that you don't really know and that you wouldn’t otherwise. It’s great because it gives you new inputs.

J.S: Now that I had a look at your book collection I’m really curious to know what’s your taste in cinema..what about your favourite directors? Is there a film scene that you find brilliant?

D.R: I like Italian, American, Swiss cinema..I have a list of one hundred favourite films. You know, I really love movies from the ‘60s and the ‘70s. They were so free and sometimes so Pasolini’s films. When I say illogic I’m thinking about modern movies that have logical sequences of scenes, they are so “normal". You see the protagonist entering the door, people talking, they seat in a car and then they shoot..It’s always so logical. I like old movies because there was so much more freedom instead. Impossible things happened which were actually fitting the story very well. They would give you a different view of things. Nowadays movies show you future scenarios, people that can fly, can shoot but it’s still really logical. I like when something happens in a twisted way instead, and gives you a different experience in seeing or understanding. To see these old movies you really have to go to the cinema, because you have to seat down, you have to get into the language and the rhythm of the film, with the risk to get bored. It's not a quick easy consumption.
What I like about Tarkovsky, for example, is that it’s very philosophical. You have different layers at the same time: what is happening and what is not happening. Stalker is my favourite one: to reach “The Room” where wishes come true, the protagonists must walk in a slalom, instead of how they normally would, but they accept it as real. They believe in it and it's so real. I like the fact that they accept real things as well as those that are not. Tarkovsky’s cinema has also some of the best visual effects. Do you remember the end of Stalker? When the guy is carrying his daughter because she can’t walk anymore. You have this frame on her only and it looks like if she could walk again! Then the camera zooms out and you can see that he is actually carrying her. This idea that his walking can go into her body and give her the same movement is a really great, simple effect, I think!

  • gallery-image
  • gallery-image
J.S: In a way we could say that the impossible becomes possible, if you really trust in it. What do you think a religious moment is?

D.R: Religion is about faith and power. For me there’s not a big difference between communism, religion and fascism or's just about the acceptance of the fact that you are not an individual but part of a group and this acceptance that you are part of something bigger gives you power.

This can be good and bad at the same time but I generally don’t like people who follow something, even if I can understand the power of religion and there were moments in my own life that I could define religious. Moments when I became smaller than what I am, and felt like I was part of the world. I believe there was some sort of dignity during these moments. Dignity in accepting this, and to be keen on the world. This is what I think a religious moment is...

David Renggli
Bülach, Zürich

Contents curated by
Translated by Vittoria Paglino
Camerae is not a journal as it is updated without any periodicity. It can not therefore be considered an editorial product under Law No. 62, 7.03.2001.