Nikki Buettner – Collage Artist

Posted on: July 9, 2014 by Pandora Schaff

For Sale

Tell us about yourself

I’ve always been a very observant person which led me to be critical of a lot of aspects of society. I find it hard to relate to a lot of things, generally associated with mainstream. Over time, I developed interest in environmental issues. I wanted to make artwork that was somewhat concerned with the values that I have.

Under the 19th Street Bridge

What messages does your work strive to convey?

We can see our own impact on the Earth. Stop buying useless products that we will throw away, only to replace it with another one that is slightly new or updated. The ideas of planned obsolescence and consumerism were definitely in mind when I was making these collages. I really want to reduce the amount of materials it takes to make art. I like to use recycled materials. The boards I mount the materials onto are scraps from art students on campus. I avoid buying new products.

What ignited this notion of awareness?

I think it was a gradual process. When I was in high school, I certainly didn’t want to be imposing on anybody, whether it’s something as little as littering. I always knew littering was bad, but never consciously thought about it. I think a lot of it came from starting to become vegan, which I learned from my sister. A lot of values came from my sister initially. Veganism sprouted into environmentalism. There wasn’t one certain thing that ignited it. My artwork through college slowly developed into that. My first couple years, I didn’t produce anything that was socially conscious. Until one series on the urban sprawl and unfinished construction projects around town. Big giant slabs of concrete left in a field because, for whatever reasons, they put it aside. I couldn’t continue doing film photography because it was taking things from the environment. I actually wanted to construct something, and not use all these resources associated with darkroom processes. Traditional film photography uses a bunch of water and chemicals that may or may not be filtered out of the ecosystem. That thought led me to digital photography, which can be done over and over without environmental contamination, besides the initial manufacturing process.

Ditch Behind CVS, Bozeman, Montana

Would you consider your artwork as documents or photographs? How would you define your medium of art?

Collage. Photography is a means of recording my work, so I can distribute it for people to see. Most of the collages I make and then deconstruct, so they are no longer an object. I don’t think my artwork is valuable in itself. It’s more about the message. I was never really concerned with selling prints. For my trash collages, I recycled the recyclable materials I gathered. I had no intention of making anything lasting. I wouldn’t consider it photography, but the trash could be considered documents of different locations around town.
What do you want people to experience while viewing your pieces?

Just having people seeing the trash. Everyone is aware of littering as a problem, but seeing it in an organized manner makes people more self-aware. It comes down to being mindful of your own individual impact. It’s systematic. We are taught to be okay with disposable things, the idea that nothing is reusable. You can get your to-go coffee cup.

How can we create work that makes people actually give a shit?

I think taking it out of the gallery space is one thing we can do, creating public installations using trash or a pile of shit in one location. It may be aesthetically beautiful from a distance but once you get close, then people realize the true material. Making it more visible and not segregated from public life, like so much art is. You more or less expect to find some sort of activist or environmentally conscious artwork at some point, but it’s a question of whether or not people take it to heart. That is one the largest struggles of being an artist. To move people or make them more conscious of their own actions or society’s actions. I always ask myself whether my efforts are worthwhile as an artist thus far. If I’m making art to criticize society, I should be able to put into practice the values that I’m promoting. But if it just ends there, it’s more or less stroking my own ego. Like “Look at me! I’m making recycled art,” but it doesn’t solve anything. My art is an attempt to do something out of my frustration with the world.

Best Buy

Have you had any negative feedback from people?

No. Most people give me positive feedback. If anyone has anything negative to say, they keep it to themselves. My trash series is pretty safe, especially in Bozeman, where people are more or less environmentally conscious or at least promote an image of being that. The only image that I produced that evoked some sort of reaction was ‘Best Buy’. People were confused, asking what I was trying to say with it. The idea of that image is “ethical capitalism,” or being able to buy your guilt away. Obviously there’s poverty in the world, so if I buy this TV and a little bit of profit goes to help some kids in Africa, then I’ll feel better about myself. I can justify my reasoning for buying a TV under that promotion. I am questioning why that company is promoting the image of being compassionate, when really it’s just a miniscule amount of money to them. It’s all about public relations and profit.


Who are some of your inspirational figures?

The one artist that comes to mind is Barbara Kruger. She is very to the point. She doesn’t try to hide behind abstractions. Currently, my inspiration comes from people who produce their own work and distribute it freely, like the DIY mentality of zine production. I read a lot of zines that people produce online. I am always searching for them. I read personal accounts of their own experiences, artwork, and/or political theories. I like any sort of artist that incorporates their values into their artwork as a statement, rather than being about aesthetics or beauty. Which is fine – there’s a place for that – but it really doesn’t inspire me. Another artist I like is Eric Drooker, who has very politically motivated stuff. He works in printmaking, wood-block style. It’s an interesting time for artists who are doing these specifically motivated creative pieces, that we do have to live up to our statements and not be hypocrites. I think it’s impossible not to be a hypocrite. I’m a hypocrite sometimes.

How do you explain that to people who really don’t understand alternative means of production or commentary? What’s your response to people that think you should be making a profit off your work?

I have a day job that covers my expenses. On some level I feel like I have to compromise what I do to be able to sell something. It’s easy enough to photograph a pretty landscape and put it in a nice frame and sell it for a couple hundred bucks but that’s not what I want to do. I don’t want to do weddings – nothing commercial – even though that’s what pays. I don’t think there’s any place for me to make money with the art I do now. Art is just something I do for myself to keep me sane on some level, along with writing. Any sort of expression, even on Facebook, some of the things I vomit out.


Is there a piece of art that has been monumental for you?

I try to avoid picking favorites or the most influential because I can’t say there is a single work. I’m a big believer of inter-sectionality. Everything combines and everything cumulates. Everything builds together and reacts with each other.

How should we expand the conversation on capitalism in art?

The persistent push for buying products is inherent in capitalism. Just the idea of getting phone calls from people trying to sell you stuff or receiving mail that you can’t stop because they paid a certain person to send you this mail. I think capitalism has made it very comfortable for most people to live with the idea of “buy this thing, get rid of it, then buy another thing… repeat.” That message is not compatible with my own. How to communicate that to an audience is a struggle. Just being able to use the word “capitalism” in that context gets people thinking.

I don’t want it to be about the individual, like it’s their fault that the environment is going to shit because they happened to buy McDonald’s and they threw it out their window one time. I’m more concerned with what is it in our culture that makes that sort of action okay, and seem normal. I would say most people don’t agree with the notion that buying things makes one happier, but it’s still in the back on some people’s minds. Society is so fractured, everything is so commoditized. Part of the reason I don’t sell my artwork is because I don’t want it to become another commodity that someone with enough extra money will put on their wall to make them look cultured. I want my artwork to be available to everybody who wants it, even if they can’t afford it. Which fortunately, I make enough money at my job to be able to afford to do that. In that regard, I’m still a hypocrite. The creation of my artwork is a constant struggle between myself, my ideals and how to navigate through society in a way that makes me feel satisfied. I realize what I do is valuable, the question is how do I define valuable?

Abandoned Underground Parking Garage, Bozeman, Montana



Posted on: July 9, 2014 by Pandora Schaff