Signs and symbols have become a new material for many young artists. They appropriate certain returning elements of the global image industry – ranging from logo's and typefaces to heraldry – and use templates and printing techniques to make them the building blocks of their work. On this foundation of references they then create space for a personal artistic positions, an attitude, which gives them a certain sense of control over (capitalist, geopolitical) processes of depersonalization. This way, the logo of a brand of energy drinks suddenly becomes a symbol for the promises of the system and the following inevitable disappointment of the individual. A fake Louis Vuitton bag filled to the brim with Pringles, lying on the bare wooden floor of a squatted apartment. Opposite to the overwhelming forces of globalization and monoculture, these artists place the question what the agency of the individual might still entail. They are deliberately sloppy in their workmanship and show the doubts they have while creating works as an indictment of a uniform and interchangeable professionalism.
Paradoxically, the reason that these logo's and symbols can act as materials can be traced to the weightlessness of digital visual culture. A generation has grown up with the screen as an extension of their habitat. They think in vectors and unlimited scalability. For them, seeing the Nike swoosh sign as pixels on a screen or as paint on a canvas is part of the same domain of representation. This while they are obviously distinctly different renditions. The one is a very temporary composition of colored lights, while the other is a eternally solidified gesture in paint. Here, the Internet functions as a sieve for meaning. Through boundless repetition and perpetually changing contexts the form is shaken loose from its marketing strategy – its mission, motto and slogan – and becomes part of a collective image database. This database is put to use to create memes, a contemporary response to the allegorical image.
Niko Riedinger is very aware of the interplay of appropriation and reference in his work. He views it as a game traditionally driven by power and exclusion. By questioning the universal validity and historical shelf life of a symbol, he resists systems in which the recognition and understanding of a sign is a rite of passage. Or rather, systems in which certain – socio-culturally determined – readings of the sign have become an oppressive norm. In fiery strokes of paint and hysterical compositions he claims control over the signifier. He tries to open it up for subjective interpretations by breaking its armor of absolute reproducibility. Is the abstracted image of a pine tree – a recurring visual element in his work – a reference to the dark woods of his native Germany, to the iconic air freshener or to the fact that humans like to reduce their lived reality to bite-sized portions? Niko seems to ask for a postponement of the answer, a moment to take in nothing but the shape and they way it manifests itself in paint.