Artist interview with VERMIBUS about his recent exhibition "CONTEXT" at POP KUDAMM as well as his work and inspiration, his fascination with Berlin, Street and Art and NFTs and personal reflections on beauty, advertising and consumption.
The first works of contemporary artist VERMIBUS popped up on billboards in Berlin around 2011. Large-scale advertising posters, in which the artist questions ideals of beauty and in which, in their artistic interpretation, unfold a fascinating and at the same time disturbing power. Vermibus‘ works are always closely connected to the context in which they are perceived. His works usually strike us randomly in the city and surprise us by their unexpected appearance. This contextual question in particular is the central focus of the current exhibition „Context – Disturbing Beauties by VERMIBUS“ which currently is presented at POP KUDAMM. 10 years after his first works and in the exciting contrast of the Kurfürstendamm, his art creates its own dynamic and draws our eyes not only to fashion and lifestyles, but also to the development and adoption of urban spaces.
We had the great pleasure to meet VERMIBUS at his exhibition and talk to him about his inspiration and work as well as beauty, urban places, street art and NFTs.
Hi Vermibus, for more than 10 years you have been exploring the streets of Berlin through your creative positions. What inspired you to create your art using advertising and fashion photography, and how did it all start?
Since I have use of memory I have been doing graffiti and expressing myself through it in public spaces. When I started to study I was very inclined to creativity and communication, and advertising was the better option, as living as an artist was an idea that none of my professors suggested. Just before my moving to Berlin I was working as a photographer for an advertising agency and still doing graffiti on my free time. So, both the advertising world and working in the public space were part of my day to day.
Just when I visited Berlin during my holidays I got fired from my photography job due to not fitting the beauty standards that the agency wanted for everyone facing to the public, so I decided to stay in Berlin and to find out what’s next. Just by chance, but influenced by my background and this shocking event that Vermibus was born.
What fascinates you specifically about the medium of advertising and fashion prints and what is the charm for you to deal with them as an artist?
As an artist I believe you must find your own way to develop your creativity, not only in style but also in new uses of the media and the materials. I work with a very particular type of materials, mostly with a solvent that I have formulated myself, totally adapted to my needs, and printed advertising posters that I find in the public space. I find it fascinating to be able to create new images out of existing ones with as little as solvent and a brush. As well as working with highly recognisable images and giving a second life and message and a much more interesting aesthetic.
What does inspire you in your work?
I see inspiration like a bag where you put in your living experiences, what you see, the conversations that you have with people, the movies you watch, the music you hear… Everything melts in ways we don’t fully understand and builds who you are. And this, of course, is reflected in the work you produce.
You were born in Spain. What pulled you to Berlin and what attracts you to this city?
When I moved from Spain to Berlin I was driven by the freedom that the city was offering, for the low living costs and for the huge street art scene that Berlin use to have.
How do you feel about street art in Berlin and especially at the Kurfürstendamm?
I think the scene it’s quite dissolved. There are really few active street artists and at Kurfürstendamm street art has totally disappeared. Unfortunately there is no space for public use in a highly commercial area like Kurfürstendamm. That’s why it’s good that we can be showing my work in the middle of Kudamm with such strong and opposite message as what people can see around.
Your work and your current exhibition is about questioning ideals of beauty and the limitless growth through consumption. Why does this topic interest you?
My work talks mostly about humans, and their relationship with beauty, public space and advertising. What interests me from these topics is the influence that symbols have on humans, and of course how different uses of these symbols generate different emotions and behaviours. My work aims to give an alternative vision to what we are used to see on advertising spaces, hopefully with a more ethic and human result.
Your exhibition is subtitled „Disturbing Beauties“. What does beauty mean to you?
I don’t have a particular response on what beauty means to me, but what I can say is that in our society beauty is an oversimplified concept. While I think many people recognise it when they see it, they often see it only in the “beautiful things”. Beauty can be seen in unexpected places and I hope the viewers of the show can find it on my paintings as well, even if at first glance they can be quite shocking.
Especially at Kurfürstendamm with all its fashion brands and stores, your works unfold its very own dynamic. What do you think about Kudamm and what does it mean to you to show your works and to be experienced by Berliners right here?
I would say like most Berliners, I don’t have a very active life at Kudamm. It’s this type of areas where tourists go mostly for shopping. In my opinion it’s an area that adds very little, as it’s a place of consumption mostly, besides of course some history and cultural places around. I’m happy people can experience something radically different when they encounter this space. Hopefully this exhibition adds up a bit of the original underground culture from Berlin.
In your artworks, actual ads are significantly alienated and yet the models can still be easily guessed. Is there any trigger that inspires you to use these ads and faces for your work?
I always use printed photographs from ads, fashion and beauty as a base, and try to unfold different ways to see these images through my artistic process. Sometimes you can recognise the original images and models, but always with a radically different concept and aesthetics.
For your artworks you take real ads from urban space, artistically transform them and bring them back into the original space. Thus you create irritation and fascination and draw our attention. How do brands and models react to your work when they see it? Is there any feedback you’ve received on this?
I have had all sorts of reactions, but I must say mostly have been very positive. Both in the fashion and advertisement industry are highly creative professionals, people that have a very trained eye and can recognise originality when they see it. I’m happy to say that I have many collectors that come from both those industries. Both because they appreciate culture and recognise the creativity but also because they know better than anyone the problematics I’m talking about with my work.
And how do people walking by react to your work?
As always, there is a bit of everything. Some people get very enthusiastic, make photos and interact with the works on one way or another. Other people get very strong reactions, sometimes fear or disgust. The second group mostly is before understanding the ideas behind the work.
Your current exhibition also deals with the context in which art is perceived and the space in which it becomes accessible. How was the idea for this exhibition born?
I’ve always been very interested on how perception changes based on it’s context. All the factors around the piece, not only physical but political, socio-economical, etc, have a significant impact on how a particular piece is perceived. For this show I wanted the visitors to question themselves what art wins and loses when it’s being experienced in one place or another. That’s why we brought original artworks, installations reproducing original street-furniture and virtual-reality installations as NFTs.
Your work is usually seen in urban spaces such as train stations or in light boxes on the street. Here at POP KUDAMM, however, your works can be seen in an exhibition space. How do you feel about how your artworks are perceived in urban spaces or here in an exhibition? What differences do you observe?
There are things that you win and things that you lose. When you encounter one piece in the public space, mostly you encounter it by chance. This strong impact usually it’s not possible to reproduce it in an exhibition space. On the contrary, in an exhibition space you have time to reflect, you’re open to understand the message behind and you can have a guided tour by a curator or the artist that will help you understand the message behind. While in the street you’re on your own.
In order to bring in as much as I can the context from the public space, I have brought to the exhibition a series of 360 Virtual Reality videos that are also NFTs. In these videos the viewer can be transported to the place and moment in time when these works were publicly installed, and they will be able to see everything that was happening around them.
How do urban spaces influence your work and your artworks in general?
My work is very influenced by urban spaces and urban life. In general I’m very interested on how humans gather together in relatively small areas and coexist in large numbers.
Advertising of course profits from heavily dense areas, as ads are being seen by more people than in rural areas, so the type of advertisements that I use to create my work can only be found in big cities. I’ve been mostly installing my work on these areas but I’m now trying to bring this message also to less crowded areas, because I feel street art is often too centralised. I like the idea to bring also this type of art where nobody would expect to find it.
What does urban art mean to you and how can art contribute in perceiving present topics, pressing questions and challenges of a city such as Berlin and in thinking new paths and solutions?
That’s a very difficult question to answer, as my definition of urban art has been changing over the years. I believe urban art not only needs to have elements that come from the urban space, or a challenging message but the fact of being installed in the public space needs to make sense in the first place. Sometimes I see street art that the only thing that is challenging is where it is installed. It happens the same with most of NFTs. The art needs to be interesting besides where it is installed, both in the street or in the blockchain.
You currently combine your work with digital media to create virtual experiences. In your opinion, which new perspectives do virtual reality and augmented reality open up for the perception of creative positions?
I take the documentation very seriously as my work lasts very short time installed and will be seen mostly online. To record everything in 360 technology it was a natural move. In my case, with my street art installations, it does help others to experience a moment in time that is long gone, and helps to understand what was happening back much better. To sell them as NFTs and storing them in the blockchain is just the perfect combination. Like I mentioned in the previous answer, conceptually speaking makes a lot of sense to use these both new technologies, is not just for the “fireworks”.
What’s next for you and what projects are you currently working on?
I’m always working on next shows and with my mind open for new ideas and inspiration. At the moment I’m exploring the possibilities that the NFTs have opened. Very excited with that new world and I believe I have a lot to add in that new space.
ABOUT THE ARTIST
Vermibus is a contemporary Spanish-born artist. His work focuses on commenting on the depersonalizing effects of advertising, which he negates through exaggeration. He removes official commercials from public spaces and transforms them by using solvents. In doing so, he dismantles the retouching effects on the faces and flesh of the models featured in ad-campaigns, blurs and removes brand logos, and then places the re-signified ads back to their original context. Among others, his works have been shown in numerous exhibitions from London, Brussels, Paris, Vienna, Madrid, Stavanger, Berlin to New York.He lives and works in Berlin.
More about Vermibus at:
Cover Photo: © Rui Camilo
Exhibition Photos: © Courtesy of Vermibus
Interview by Dennis Wartenberg