Collage as Collaboration

A working theory/

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I have a working theory that collage is always collaborative

By that I mean, as a starting point, you are always working with someone else's work: an old photograph or postcard or advertisement or book that someone else at some other time created.

Then, years later, someone like me comes along, cuts that artists original creation into pieces and then re-assembles the scraps (often combining the work of many disparate scraps) into a new whole.

I call this historical collaboration. 

But there is also contemporary collaboration, which is just a fancy way of describing two (or more) collage artists working together in the present moment to create a single piece of work. 

I guess this idea of collaboration is on my mind because I recently came across some work from 2014 that I did with Blake Mackowick—whose individual work is some seriously cool, seriously tripped out, seriously 80s inspired cut-and-paste.

Our process was pretty straightforward. We each created a stapled booklet and pasted a few random images on each page. Then we traded the booklets and used the starter images as the foundation for a finished collage. In the end, we each kept a finished book. 

It'd been a while since I'd looked at the work we made, and I was blown away by how fucking rad some of the pieces are, how they are such a perfect blend of our two aesthetics.

A small sampling of the pieces is below. 

Works in Progress

April - May 2018/

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Recently, I've found myself pairing black and white portraits of businessmen with cut scraps of pinkish papers.

I'm not sure what I'm searching for with these collages—there's something about the juxtaposition of the traditional images of masculinity with the soft, gentle pink tones (a color often utilized as a shorthand for femininity and/or seduction)—but, honestly, right now, I have no idea what I'm trying to say.

All I know is that it feels right, so I'm gonna keep plodding along in this direction until the 'why' materializes.

Until then, a  short collection of some of these pieces are below. 

Enjoy.  

Video Collage

Cut-and-paste in motion/

A friend of mine sent me a link to a music video today. She said she thought I'd like it. And she was right.

The video (above) is by collage artist Winston Hacking (who also does more traditional cut-and-paste ... and collage GIFs!) and is reminiscent of Peter Gabriel's "Sledgehammer" stop-motion classic (which is reminiscent of Terry Gilliam's amazing Monty Python animations). 

And while I dig the Shauf music video, I really fucking dig the one Hacking did for Flying Lotus (below).

Watching these videos, I started thinking about other video collages I've stumbled across online recently. Specifically, the animated loop "Tango" by Polish artist Zbigniew Rybczyński from 1980 (via).

The Rybczyński video reminded me of the Bonobo music video "Cirrus" by animation artist Cyriak (who, btw, also did the opening sequence for w/ Bob & David (which is the follow up to the greatest sketch comedy show ever created, Mr. Show with Bob & David)).

I'm not sure if there's a larger point to this post other than to share all of these awesome videos and to say: Collage is amazing and versatile, and amazingly versatile. 

Cut. Paste. And repeat. 

My Process

Three minutes of paper scrapping/

In late 2017, I completed an 8-week fellowship here in Pittsburgh with fifteen other artists (all working in different artistic mediums: dance, photography, writing, film, painting, and so on).

As a final assignment, the organizers asked us to give a three minute presentation about our work (this was a clever bookend to the fellowship which began with us giving a similar presentation on the very first day ... so this final presentation was meant to illustrate how much better we were are talking about our work, ourselves, our process, our vision, etc.).

Some fellows performed, others utilized PowerPoint ... I made the short video above which played behind me as I spoke about my process. The video doesn't have what I actually said (in fact, there's no sound), but I think, visually, it's holds its own.

Infinitely Discardable

Finding validation in The Handmaid's Tale/

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Recently, as I read Margaret Atwood's classic novel The Handmaid's Tale*, I came across the following passage where the protagonist, Offred, during a secret meeting with her master, comes into contact with a fashion magazine (which, in the world that this story takes place, were all supposedly destroyed ... the only reading that is permitted is from the Bible (of course), and only men are allowed to read from it):

"Staring at the magazine, as he dangled it before me like fish bait, I wanted it. I wanted it with a force that made the ends of my fingers ache. At the same time I saw this longing of mine as trivial and absurd, because I'd taken such magazine lightly enough once. I'd read them in dentists' offices, and sometimes on planes; I'd bought them to take to hotel rooms, a device to fill in empty time while I was waiting for Luke. After I'd leafed through them I would throw them away, for they were infinitely discardable, and a day or two later I wouldn't be able to remember what had been in them. 

"Though I remembered now. What was in them was promise. They dealt in transformations; they suggested an endless series of possibilities, extending like the reflections in two mirrors set facing one another, stretching on, replica after replica, to the vanishing point. They suggested one adventure after another, one man after another. They suggested rejuvenation, pain overcome and transcended, endless love. The real promise in them was immortality." 

When I read this, I thought, "Goddamn, I collect all of these old ass magazines—these ancient and forgotten relics from a bygone era—and in two paragraphs Atwood perfectly captures what these objects are to me, but also to others." 

To some, they are infinitely discardable. Content to be consumed and forgotten. Trash.

But to me, they are transcendent. They are immortal.


* Plot synopsis from Wikipedia: The Handmaid's Tale is a dystopian novel by Canadian author Margaret Atwood, originally published in 1985. It is set in a near-future New England, in a totalitarian, Christian theonomy that has overthrown the United States government. The novel focuses on the journey of the handmaid Offred. Her name derives from the possessive form "of Fred"; handmaids are forbidden to use their birth names and must echo the male, or master, whom they serve.

Chasing Imperfection

Nothing is perfect and that's fucking beautiful/

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Cut-and-paste collage is never perfect.

The cuts are rough. Things never line up as perfectly as you want. The paper buckles or wrinkles from the glue (or it is so old to begin with that it crumbles in your fingers).

And no two fragments ever truly go together. 

Human error is a feature (not a bug) of analog collage, because, well, it's made by humans. 

In an age when technology seems to be isolating us more than bringing us together, there's something to be said for embracing tangible, messy, human things. 

A recent episode of Seth Godin's podcast, Akimbo, touches on this idea of quality and imperfection and the concept of six sigma (a set of techniques meant to improve the quality of the output of a process by identifying and removing the causes of defects and minimizing variability). 

In the show, he basically says that, in many cases, perfect isn’t the point.

"As humans, the six sigma thing can get out of hand. As humans, maybe we have enough of that sort of quality. And there might be a different sort of quality that we seek. This could be the quality of wabi-sabi. Wabi-sabi means 'imperfect, handmade, irreplaceable.' Wabi-sabi tells a story. Wabi-sabi is incomplete. ... the opposite of the six sigma perfection. ... the Kindle may be a fine place to read books, but it has no wabi it has no sabi. It is merely a collection of letters. All the books look the same. Yes, you can carry a thousand books around in your pocket  but all of them are the same. There is no patina. Every book looks and feels the same. You don't remember where you bought that book. You have no recollection of who you lent it to. Who touched it beforehand. There's no coffee stain, or folded pages, or notes in the margin. It's sterile. It's perfect." 

The more I think about what I'm trying to do with collage, what I'm trying to say, the more I believe that nothing is perfect.

And that's fucking beautiful. 

Intensity vs Consistency & Quantity vs Quality.

On showing up every day and doing the work/

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I've made a commitment to make at least one new collage every day. 

On the surface, making new work on a regular basis sounds like a no brainer. And maybe it is. Or, at least, maybe it should've been more obvious to me that an artist should do one thing:  show up every day and make work. 

But that's not how I approached my work.

I would go long stretches of time creating nothing. My mind was always thinking about collage, but I wasn't carving out the time to do actually do the work.

And when I would finally sit down and start cutting, the output would be incredible (I once made three dozen pieces over the course of four days). It was ridiculous and exhausting--and totally unsustainable. And apparently the wrong way to approach not just art but life. 

When I would finally sit down and start cutting, the output would be incredible, but it was also ridiculous & exhausting—& totally unsustainable.

Recently the swissmiss blog shared a video that paired a talk Simon Sinek gave entitled "Intensity vs Consistency" with the animation of Jocie Juritz. And it's fucking rad. Check it out.

This, coupled with the idea that quantity (or frequency) often leads to higher quality, especially when it comes to art making, has me doing things differently. 

And so, I'm making new work every day. First thing every day, in fact. 

I wake up at 5 am and start cutting and pasting until at least one collage comes together. And then I start the rest of my day. 

So far, I've made a bunch of pieces that I'm not crazy about. But I've made others I really really like. But the most exciting thing is that the daily ritual is keeping my mind more focused on the craft (and concept) of collage. And I'm starting to see that the pay-off of effort is not about a single day of success, but the success of many days

Previously, when my output was sporadic, sure, I thought about collage a lot. But now that I'm actually doing it everyday ... shit, it's all I think about. 

Which is the best possible outcome. 

The ABCs of Collage

Always. Be. Cutting./

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Always be cutting. Srsly, that's the only rule. 

There are no bad cuts. There are no mistakes. Just keep cutting. Keep making a mess of things. Keep pairing images down. 

Smaller. Stranger. More fragmented. And then wait for something to take shape. 

Now paste.

And repeat.

 

The Importance of Hoarding

"All power to the packrats!"

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I opt-in to a lot of e-newsletters. Partly out of optimism ("I totally have time to read 1,000 e-newsletters a day!") and partly because I suffer from the hoarding compulsion (more on that below). 

Out of the dozens of e-newsletters that I receive, there are only a handful that I read everyword everytime. One of those is by the writer/artist Austin Kleon, who sends a simple weekly email of 10 Things he thought were worth sharing that week. In his most recent newsletter, he shared his thoughts on the concept of "Tidying Up." 

The long(ish) post is worth a read—and mentions everyone from Marie Kondo to George Carlinbut the part that really landed with me was the section about the "Sassiest Boy in America" Ian Svenonius and the "war on hoarders": 

While I find the Kondo craze mostly benign, I do think there’s something insidious about what Ian Svenonius calls the “war on hoarders,” in which Americans are being convinced to give up all their paper books and CDs and other material clutter and embrace the digital cloud, accessed by sleek machines sold and controlled by powerful corporations.

“ALL POWER TO THE PACKRATS!” Svenonius exclaims in Censorship Now!! He knights hoarders as “the only thing standing between the incomprehensibly rich, all-controlling, degenerate, digital despots and the absolute destruction of any deviant or alternative consciousness.” (Let’s not forget that Winston Smith’s first transgression in 1984 is owning and writing in a paper diary.) If part of the artist’s job is to be that alternate consciousness, then we must keep our weird stuff around — stuff that other people find no value in.

I think a lot about hoarding, because, well, I come from a long line of packrats and hoarders. And collage, by default, requires one to hoard. 

I may not be a candidtate to appear on the TV show Hoarders (yet), but I'm definitely a collector and a clutter-bug. 

If you research hoarding it's often referred to as a mental illness that requires maintenance. I believe collage is a conduit to achieving mental health. So, in a way, my compulsion to collage cancels out my compulsion to collect.

It feels like I'm turning a negative into a positive, like I'm walking the line between collecting and hoarding.  And really, at the end of the day, I find comfort in all my clutter. It's physical evidence of my existence. 

P.S. You can sign up for my e-newsletter below.

Why I Collage | Part 2

There's something cathartic about stripping images down to their simplest forms and then building them back up again.

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As I mentioned in my previous post, for me, collage is about making connections.

Usually, that means the connections between two disparate scraps of paper. But more often than not, it's about making deeper connections.

To thoughts or ideas. Or feelings.  

In fact, when I see hundreds of paper fragments spread out on a table out on a table I think, "That's exactly what my brain looks like. A fucking mess with tons a bits of things floating around just waiting to be utilized."

There've been plenty of articles written about creativity and making connections, and even cult leader Steve Jobs once said, "Creativity is just connecting things."

And I believe that to be true.

It is also magic in the way that it can connect the past with the present. 

It's impossible not to feel connected to a bygone era when you spend hours poring over 70-year-old news magazines. Collage is all about recycling, reinterpreting, and reprocessing our collective past, present, and future. 

There's also something cathartic about stripping images down to their simplest forms and then building them back up again.

Collage is a place to put my anxieties and fears, to exercise control over the world itself, and to brush back the overwhelming digital crush of apps and push notifications and social media rants and constant news and updates and marketing messages and images upon images upon images. 

With collage, I'm in control. 
 

Why I Collage

The act of collage to me is all about discovery and connection. It's about giving order to a self-created chaos. It's about mental health. 

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I've been thinking about this a lot recently. Why I collage.

I'm wrapping up a three month fellowship program and so much of our time has been spent talking and thinking and writing about what we do—and why. 

What I do is easy: I make pictures out of pictures.

The process is even easier:

I cut, paste, and repeat. 

But the why ... that's been more difficult to nail down.

It seems like every week since the fellowship started, I've had a new angle on an artist statement, a new reason why. But in the end, the only thing I know to be true is this: 

The act of collage to me is all about discovery and connection. It's about giving order to a self-created chaos. It's about mental health. 

I don't have a set way that I collage. Every piece is different. I have a few preferences (source material usually predates 1960; a human face is rarely left intact or uncovered; and I always cut, never tear). 

But that's about it. The rest is about feeling my way through each piece, about the simplicity of and a fascination of paper. It's about sorting through scraps and disparate pieces. It's about pushing on that feeling until something new takes shape. 

Sometimes nothing feels right. Sometimes I don't find what I'm looking for (whatever that is). And other times I walk away from my work table with ten newly assembled pieces. 

But it doesn't matter if I make something new, only that I showed up and sorted through the debris. 

The tactile nature of collage, and the process of cutting and pasting, is therapy. 

It's relaxing and it gets me away from a fucking screen and the internet and every other distraction in my life. It's analog and it reclaims a small part of my pre-digital brain. 

Also: I'm a kinetic person who abhors idle hands. I need to be doing—and in doing, I often find connections. To people, to things, to ideas. And, in this case, between fragments. 

Fragments of thoughts.

And various random scraps of paper. 

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Starting Points

Let the failing begin.

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I feel like I've been working on this web redesign for three years. But the reality is that I've merely been thinking about working on this redesign for that long. 

I've allowed myself to be psyched out by the challenge of creating work worth sharing—and blogging about things that are worth reading. 

I know this is normal. This fear to begin. Because once you begin, you can fail. 

But failing is always better than never beginning. 

So I'm prepared to fail. And fail again. 

Let the failing begin.