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Damien Poulain Captures History

The artist reinterprets historical events in toy-like sculptures.

The illustrator and graphic artist Damien Poulain has distilled significant events in politics and popular culture into toy-like objects for his his latest exhibition, Totem 49, at the Kemistry Gallery. Everything from the fall of the Berlin Wall to Britney's shaved head has been represented here, leaving us wondering about the new tribes and mythologies that we have created in modern day society. "Totems traditionally serve as the symbol of a family or clan," says the artist. "What interested me was the symbolism of the totem, the fact that a symbol was used by a group of people and worshipped. I wanted to reinterpret that in a contemporary way with our own codes and symbols."

Dazed Digital: How did you choose your 49 totems?
Damien Poulain: 
The themes of these Totems are events, people, facts and beliefs that have marked our society and me as an individual. They act as a timeline for the 21st century. I had to be selective about what key moments in history, people and landmarks to work with. They represent my understanding of the world. 

DD: Did you find it difficult distilling the essence of an event into a solid wooden form?
Damien Poulain:
 Each subject generally had a strong identity and presence, so the magic was already there. I just had to add my own fantasy and thoughts. For some of them, I did include my perception of the event in order to add something funny, political or provocative.

DD: There's a whimsical quality to the project that makes the totems almost like collectible toys – have you thought about extending this series?
Damien Poulain:
This project is now closed. It was a  a nice journey that I would make again but this time it would be to explore new territories such as furniture design, designing clothes, conceiving an architecturual space... who knows.

DD: What events that have happened in the past year would you still like to make in Totem form?
Damien Poulain:
The major event was undeniably the election of the President Obama. This was almost like the first man on the moon, an obvious moment in history that everybody witnessed.

'Totem 49' at Kemistry Gallery, 43 Charlotte Road, EC2A from 5 June - 18 July. To accompany the exhibition, Poulain has also created giclée prints of the totems as well as a book.