It all began with a broken record
“I was upset. Even though it was a children’s LP, it still was a perfectly good record.
And after my kids broke it into pieces, all of a sudden I realised the beauty of the fragments.”
|WORDS & PHOTOS: MIKKEL INUMINEQ & MARIE BRANDT|
In a backyard just of Weserstraße in Neukölln, Berlin – the current melting pot of Berlin in-crowd artists, students and creative professionals rubbing shoulders with working class Berliners from all corners of the world, we stumbled upon artist Willi Tomes – deeply focused on recreating the texture of a piece of wood with thousands of vinyl fragments. Colourful and with the precision of a surgeon, in a way Tomes is a modern version of a renaissance mosaic artist as he utilises fragmented LPs to create sculptures and decorate surfaces. In his little studio stands a row of jet black crow head figures that look like they were taken directly out of a Tim Burton movie, every little piece of the plumage made of chipped vinyl.
The incident with his kids breaking a vinyl on the floor was an epiphany for Willi. He always despised what he calls “the flea market-style”, where bowls and other kitchenware are crafted out of old vinyl. And even though he’s a great record collector, he never considered using them as a raw material for creating his art. But with Tomes's artistic fragmentation, LPs are transformed into thousands of unique shapes and sizes are part of his personal and professional quest to combine the minimisation of waste and unnecessary consumption with creating art.
As an artist, he started out drawing and painting in a more traditional mode while a student of arts at university, struggling to find his own unique approach. “I’ve always been very interested in materials – just as much as the motives – but I always wanted to have my own unique material to work with,” says Willi. Through the years he tried to invent new approaches for himself towards painting or sculpting, but it is only recently that he had a breakthrough. By carefully melting polyethylene plastic bags (aka shopping bags), he creates a substance that it’s possible to paint pictures with, recycling the most day-to-day symbol of consumption. “When it comes to the vinyls and polyethylene – I re-introduce materials but with a different application,” he says.
At the moment he is at the beginning stages of planning a journey to the Pacific Ocean to gather some of the plastic waste that has accrued there in an island – and then turn it in to artwork, or even initiate a larger scale initiative. “I dream about turning the plastic soup in the Pacific into big, LEGO-like blocks and create an easy-to-use housing concept for rapid disaster response” says Tomes.
Aside from being a sculptor and a plastic artist, Tomes is also an experimental DJ and sound artist. With an interest in afrofunk and jazz, he explores the sound of vinyl in more elaborate ways – appreciating the small unnoticeable scratching sounds at the very beginning and endings of a record. “These sounds are unique to every vinyl. They are the DNA, the fingerprint, the identity of that very record. I use them, amplify them and live-mix them to create a beat or a soundscape,” he says. Tomes explains how he and a collaborator have constructed a reverse record player to play the backside of the record while it is lifted up, to experiment with the impact on the sound when the gravitation pressure is reversed – apparently making the record sound a lot softer and airy. In a digital world, where everything is intangible, Willi keeps on to his records and passion for the physical. Not of nostalgia, not out of some mistrust of technology, but out of a profound love for the material itself.