Perhaps thanks to our innate ability to recognize patterns in the world around us, humans are pretty good at discerning when a photograph has been rendered digitally.
Tommy Støckel, the Danish-born, Berlin-based sculptor, reverses that dynamic completely. Støckel uses off-the-shelf materials like printer paper and styrofoam to build environments that look startlingly digital. Arranged in mandala-like patterns on the gallery floor, his meticulously modeled boulders, lattices, and mineral formations look straight out of a late-'90s video-game environment. Støckel has worked in digital media before. In 2007, he used Second Life to build Primitive Collection Field, a piece of land art that completely subverted the meaning of the term.
In the five years since, he’s migrated back towards physical sculpture, creating paper installations that are somehow both off-the-cuff and obsessively precise. Take Structured Studio Situation, for example. The piece was created during a residency in New York this year. Støckel used tape to block out the exact dimensions of his studio on the floor of a SoHo gallery. Then he placed more than 1,500 paper objects on the ground, arranging them in seemingly random, repetitive patterns. "The sculpture is composed from objects that accumulate in a studio," he explains over email. "These are all objects that reflect my studio practice during the residency." From afar, the piece looks like a rug or printed image, but up close, it’s easy to pick out chopsticks, Google Maps printouts, styrofoam cups, strips of discarded paper, and fresnel lenses.
One of the things that makes Støckel so different from other artists who use paper—say, Thomas Demand—is his emphasis on ready-made materials. Preparing to create another piece called Proportional Material Arrangement for a Berlin gallery earlier this year, he realized that the two rooms he had to work with were roughly proportional to standard A3 and A4 paper sizes. He bought a load of A3-size paper and created a tableau inside of the larger room, photographing the results and destroying the piece immediately after. Then, using A4 paper, he re-created the exact same installation in the smaller room, working from the picture.
Støckel describes the objects in his work as "quite random," and says his method for arranging them is completely casual. It’s the repetition of those random piles, solidifying them in "a system or structure," that makes his work so uncanny. He talks more about his process in this video, if you’re interested.