Vivien Kohler: Finding Beauty in Decay

Artist Vivien Kohler has mastered the art of re-purposing discarded objects to create poignant snapshots about humanity and society.

Compiled by: Thanduxolo “Thandz” Buti

Vivien’s latest body,  Reveries, is proof that even discarded things carry beauty and lessons. The work sees him reconstructing discarded objects, such as cardboard, and turning them into profound images that capture the complexity of humanity.  Last year the work was shown at Johannesburg’s Agog Gallery and recently at the Cape Town Art Fair where it was praised by art critics.

Vivien is a Cape Town-born Fine Art graduate. He has established a path for himself as a multimedia media artist who is experimental with materials. His work can be described as “a reflection on his own identity and contemplation of the human condition in relation to the urban environment, and a man’s innate ability to transcend ‘the conceptual decay’.

Vivien chats to us about the meaning of his work and his life as an artist.

Finding treasure in discarded objects
Currently, I am working on a series – to be shown at the Turbin & JHB Art Fairs – using objects such as cardboards that I find mostly around the city. I take objects that have been discarded and regarded as unusable, and I reimagine and reconstruct them to give them a new meaning.  In psychological terms, they call that pareidolia, which means ‘the tendency in which the mind responds to a stimulus (an image or a sound) by perceiving a familiar pattern where none exists’. I love the concept because as artists we are able to find treasure in things that many might not find value in. We are able to feel objects in a deeper way.

(Artist) Vivien Kohler
(Artist) Vivien Kohler


The beauty in cardboard
Cardboard is such a beautiful contemporary material. We are surrounded by it constantly and it serves so many purposes in our lives.  Even though it’s quite subliminal, there is some sort of beauty it possesses. I like the fact that one day it can carry valuable items, the next day we might be sleeping on it or using it as shelter. As an artist I always try and use materials or images that are culturally relevant because we live in a country with a very specific visual vernacular. I believe that everyone should look at art and get something out of it. It doesn’t matter if they are educated or not, whether they are wealthy or poor.

Life as an artist
I think every artist is born an artist, you just have to settle into the understanding of who you are. I have always been an artist but it was only in 1998 that I decided to pursue it fully. At first we are very ignorant about what it truly means to be an artist.  Initially, the idea of money is not there, it’s just pure passion. Eventually you have to learn about the market and all other components that are not as fun as just sitting in the studio and creating. Every single component is important, even the hard ones.  I personally think we should never have it easy in any career. Hardships teach you to value what you do and also they give it some weight. My journey as an artist has also had its ups and downs but everything has led me to this point.

Those who dream
Those who dream

Artists should not be confined to labels
I struggle with the concept of labelling myself. Perhaps I would call myself a ‘contemporary expressionist’, if I really had to categorise myself.  It’s funny; I don’t even call myself a mixed media artist, even though I do mix my media. That’s mainly because when I envision my work, the thought comes first and not the process. The process is usually secondary, even though it’s also important. I think as artists we shouldn’t be confining ourselves in categories even though it’s important for the art market, in terms of selling. Art is in a beautiful space now, where we cannot be confined in specific spaces and I love that.

What my work does for me
My work settles me. It helps me see the bigger picture because many times in life we get stuck in the here and now – the temporary daily issues.  We forget that all our daily issues are leading us somewhere. So, my work helps me get a great understanding that whatever I am facing now is temporary and it will lead me somewhere.  I hope it does the same for the people.

Vivien working on his new series
Vivien working on his new series

My Creative process
In the beginning of my creative process is all about discovery.  I try to be present and enjoy the moment.  As you work, you start to understand what you are doing; the concept begins to formulate itself and then you become clearer about where the work wants you to go. It feels like an intersection. Part of it is also prayer because you are taking part in conversation with something higher than you. Creating is trying to access a bigger picture and that requires you to go into something like a spiritual state.

To my younger self
When I was young I didn’t think I would amount to much but everyday I realise I can. I would tell young Vivien today to dream bigger; ‘you don’t know your full capacity, young man, so dream bigger’.

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