Whether it was working the floor at famed record store Other Music in the 00's, as a co-founder and former member of "cosmic beatbox band" Excepter, or going to see good shows and smoke-filled sets by Blazers Sound System (featuring ex-excepted bandmate DJ Zebrablood aka Nathan Corbin) you've likely seen Dan Hougland. Quiet and unassuming, Hougland occupies something of a rarefied space for a small but influential number of musicians and artists who possess a shared, if unspoken, respect for the guy.
For someone as omnipresent in New York's music and art scenes, it wasn't until I started hitting the link button on Dan's steady stream of photograph-like collages appearing in my Instagram feed, that I also felt like I was seeing a wholly new side of this artist. It soon became all-too-clear that Hougland possesses a unique talent perfectly attuned to our times. Hougland is beyond prolific in his output having posted over 5,000 artworks in just a few years, keeping up a pace more like a Kardashian than an artist. He utilizes both a methodology and platform that is perfectly suited for our FOMO culture except that it's impossible to miss out on what Hougland is creating as his works are a brief respite from the monotony of Instagram cliches. In fact, this visual 'sampling' and 'remixing' that addresses a certain quotidian angst is not far off from being a visual analog to the compositions of Carl Stone, who used found samples from his records along with his own field recording to create extraordinary musical bricolages.
And perhaps bricolage is the more apt term that describes Hougland's work, despite the artist classifying his art as collage. When Hougland first bought an Android phone, he found the artistic tool he'd been looking for as it enabled him to nearly eliminate the traditional time delay inherent in collage. With the phone, Hougland can take a picture and deftly manipulate it and infuse it with a truly artistic sensibility in a matter of moments. It should be noted that the digital, two-dimensional nature of his work feels inspired but wholly different from modernist and postmodernist techniques such as Merz, polystylism, and three-dimensional assemblages, all of which are predicated on the blending and transformation of disparate materials into something entirely new. Uniquely, Hougland modifies the moment as he displaces our traditional notions of collage through the very means by which he creates his works.
His work, like that of a photographer, feels fixed on what lies directly in front of him, be it a car jam or a staple of internet or pop culture. The fact that Hougland tends to churn out pieces several times a day also gives his work a sense of urgency, as if he needs to create this work in order to to reinterpret his day. This slice-of-life dimension to his work is at times psychedelic, at other times minimal, often funny, and frequently elicits an earnest "WTF?!" in the mind of the viewer. But these vast stylistic shifts reinforce a certain presence Hougland has within his own work, and not simply by inserting distorted images of himself into the work. The placid quality of his work belies a restless mind eager to revivify the day, to remix it in the image of its creator's third eye. And in turn, when one visits Dan's Instagram page with all of his pieces in one place, certain works conjure up particular psychic moments in your own life, perhaps the thought that was weighing down your mind when Hougland's work entered your data stream. It's like digital hypnagogia tiptoeing toward consciousness, but instead of a hazy recollection of one's audiovisual inputs as a child, this is from the all-too-recent past, adding a truly uncanny dimension to this already loaded work.
In viewing his Instagram page the breadth of Hougland's creativity, oddball sense of humor, and overall desire to inject a bit (or a whole lot) of weird into the everyday comes into focus, resulting in art that is in equal turns meticulous, haphazard, unfocused, lucid, and endlessly paradoxical, but also fun in a way art seen in a museum or gallery really is. So if your 'Gram is in need of a taste of the weird and unique, follow Dan and lose yourself in the prosaically psychedelic.
Zurkonic: Could you first just give us a background on yourself, especially as it relates to your work as a visual artist and how you came to collage as your primary form of expression, or at least what you choose to share with the public? Do you create in any other mediums?
Dan Hougland: When I was a kid I could draw. I don't seem to be able to anymore, though I've thought about trying in earnest again. It's interesting your qualification within the question because I almost see collage as a social thing, if not political. Obviously it goes way back and my vague knowledge of art history makes me want to point to Dada and Hannah Hoch and that.. I do work in a weird way as kind of a non artist though,. This will come up again when we inevitably discuss music later but I think I'm a fan / observer/ perhaps critic first then an artistic impulse comes second (and only then because I do have some basic talent or flair and, as I mentioned, that was also said about me when I was very young). I don't often relate to a typical custodial or even aesthetic sense though, so I like the action of it out in the world and how it affects my life generally. To me that is more the appeal and that involves certainly a selfishness but I also feel I'm living a bit more generally punk rock than I'm given due. Or perhaps I am given it, I dunno. The selfishness isn't always punk though, it's often just pure indulgence.
Coming from Texas, what did NYC represent to you in terms of possibilities and what you wanted to realize about yourself?
DH: I came to go to NYU Film School. I got disillusioned pretty quickly, but I was definitely quite alarmed by the city around me and...disappeared into it, kinda. I am still tripping on it. I've had a lot of lucky breaks which have allowed for a vaguely responsible adult life interspersed with what you're about to ask me about .
Many people, myself included, who are most familiar with your work in long-running Brooklyn electronic freak-out collective Excepter as well as your steady presence at Other Music in the 00s, might be surprised to learn of your visual arts background. What led you to start shining more of a light, so to speak, on your collage work?
DH: Society. I ended up in a band with other film students. All different schools. I wish I'd stayed in the Art History course at NYU now but I just couldn't grok it. It wasn't alive to me. I also thought everyone my age now was hopelessly full of shit. That's a constant. I was only a clerk at Other but yeah, pretty recognized. That place wasn't all my vibe but I would be lying if I wasn't psyched that a lot of ppl were put off by it. I'm friends with all Kim's guys now that I'm a visual artist.
You've shared with me IRL some of the visual art apps that allow you to easily manipulate existing images and arrange them on your phone. What was your methodology for creating collages before this technology was available?
DH: I remember pause button editing a bunch of video pieces of way late nite TV in the late 90s, that was kind of leading up to Excepter, and good preparation. The inception there was pretty innocent between JF & I in a way but the furthest thing away from like a friendly rock thing like you see now. Talking shit was still order of day and I kind of miss it. I think there was a bubble there that's popped now, so I do the work I do as an outlet with more casual facilitation. I think I was waiting for this technology all my life. It is so easy to use these apps and they are mostly free. I love certain other instagrams and there is probably a strong aesthetic connection. I don't think anyone can quite replicate what I'm doing. I also feel that way about a lot of the music I was involved with. Kind of limited rinky dink in a way, but with as much imagination jammed into it as possible. Also sort of a sadness, just to throw some red meat to the goths.
And how has it changed, both in relation to the profusion of apps and Instagram as a platform on which to share your art? I didn't know you made visual art until I started following you on Instagram. Has Instagram served as something of a catalyst for you to start making more of your collage art or have you been doing it all along and simply now have the tools and means with which to share your art?
DH: Yeah it's pretty much all been Instagram. I was a late adopter due to Android then I got encouragement right away. There are ppl who respond to it negatively as well. It's always been a locked acct, so it is a small world. I have reasonable turnover. But there are some insane follows that mean a lot to me, just as when another cult artist liked Excepter. I think I'm part of an extended global community of freaks. I think a strong case could be made haha. (Writer's note: It most certainly could.)
What visual apps do you use in the creation of your collages? Where do you get your source material and do you also photograph some of the images that you then collage? And what is your general process in assembling your collages? Are they informed by the source material itself, a greater idea you might be wanting to explore, or both (or neither?)
DH: All the Android free apps I've tried. I paid for one called Fragment. I take a lot of pictures but I rip off a lot as well. It's just a moveable feast, really.
How do you personally define 'collage' as an artistic practice? For instance, while it is defined by the cutting up and pasting of different images onto a backboard, your backboard is digital, as is your cutting and images. On the other hand, you have the notion of a 'bricolage' which is an amalgamation, an artistic mixing-up comprised of materials readily on hand. With these two types of collages and their definitions, where do you feel your approach fits in?
DH: I really don't know. Again I don't come at it with as much sense of what's come before as I probably ought to. I have ideas, or quick visions of what I could do, and then I post the ones that work out ok. I think the ideas / processes vary but I'm repeating myself all the time in lots of ways.
Do you see a marketing angle to what you are doing or is this simply what you feel is the most apt for you to share on Instagram? After all, Instagram is idealized as platform where we can show "the real us," albeit with digital filters and lighting alongside all the effort that goes into setting up a shot. Do you feel like you're showing 'the real you' in some way, however abstract? Or is just convenient?
DH: I guess I'm going the fine art way, which is a nice world so far actually. I think I'm affected by being burned out by my music experience actually. I don't really use social media as social media as you've probably seen. I put up some party pics hehe...but again, I come from that era. I now look at epiclylaterd.com archives with some awe because he captured a cool time in a personal way, and just before all this shit went down (he even stops it in like 2011-12).
You once told me that you approached your collages with the mentality of a photographer, which comes across in your art, which often doesn't appear like a collage on first blush. What do you consider unique about your approach to collage and could you give us a quick (or not) rundown of your evolution as a collagist? (And is that a title you'd use to describe yourself? If not, what is?)
DH: Nah, well, I'm amazed anyone cares in first place but I'm a little puzzled as I also do some "straight" stuff that I think is pretty good. I'm not gangculture but like he has been v supportive, likes my stuff. I think the relation, or thread, with others I interact with on there is more in the auratic area of experience, perhaps political. I just know when something hits my receptors right and I post it.
Who are some of thee other artists, collage-based or otherwise, that you're currently inspired by? Personally, your work calls to mind the collages of artists like Bryan Olson or Joan Hall who take an almost painterly approach to their work. How does your photographic sensibility align ( or not) with other collage-based artists?
The most visceral experience I've had was recently and that was the Sigmar Polke at MOMA. So insane. Five decades of wild murder. It really sent me into another zone and reconnected me with childhood feelings I'm still exploring. I guess I needed it. So there's again some emotional exasperation at root of it and I'm not the best archivist otherwise. That might be because I was so surrounded by that exhaustively going on with music. I know way less about Art. I did see a Magritte exhibit at De Menil in Houston as a kid and that did flip me out to see in person. I only took photography courses in high school but like lurked at Bookstop enough to know a little about everything that seemed interesting out there in culture. This was well before Internet obv, though it did exist nominally. One funny thing about those courses in high school is I took Photo 1 freshman year then 2 in Senior. But I seem to recall getting in contests. I really have had luck my whole life with getting creative stuff out there. All signs have pointed to it.
Finally, any closing comments on how you view yourself as an artist, and what your goals are with this project? You had a show recently, correct? Are gallery shows something you'd like to explore further?
Yeah Pali at Safe Gallery really has made this showing physical evidence of my stuff a viable thing. It went well and she then put me in an insane group show at Canada which, again, I'm a lucky mf. I am not sure what I'm allowed to talk about as far as future, but yeah stuff in works, and there's still stuff for sale haha!!