why i collage

Collage & Fragmented Attention

On finding order in the chaos/

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I think a lot about marketing and selling. Mostly because marketing is my day job, but also because, like most artists, I aim to make work with value.

And because I think about marketing, I think a lot about attention. How to get it. How to keep it.

But also, how to prevent others from stealing mine.

"Our life experience,” William James once said, “will equal what we have paid attention to, whether by choice or default.”

At times, it all feels like a losing battle. There are so many things vying for my attention — some good (work and art and family) and some not great (social media and the internet and the news) — I find it hard at times to focus on any one thing for a sustained amount of time.

Maybe the real breakdown is between analog and digital. Maybe smartphone/social media addiction is real. That the habit of sitting down at a computer, or checking a phone, and staring at a screen for hours is the new smoking.

Or maybe the war marketers are waging on our attention is real. 

"Most advertisers are trying to out-distract people from their distractions and even what they actually want to be doing. Often, you’re looking to capture the attention of someone who is either searching and being presented with multiple options (like in a search campaign), or they’re not searching at all (like in display and social advertising). To make matters worse, they’re probably multitasking, too. So, how do you win against those odds?"

- from Disruptive Advertising

So maybe that's why the tactile nature of analog collage, and the process of cutting and pasting, feels like therapy to me. 

Because it gets me away from the screen and "the feed," and the anxiety-inducing effects of both.  

"Everything had broken down ... and new things had to be made out of fragments."

- Kurt Schwitters

My studio is in my unfinished basement. There's not much down there besides laundry and storage and a dehumidifier. It's just me and pile of old books and magazines, some scissors and Xacto knives and glue.

It's a place for me 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.

"We become what we attend to — nothing more, nothing less. A steady and exclusive stream of reality TV, entertainment gossip, social media chatter, and 'breaking news' about the latest celebrity scandal or Trump’s most recent tweets — all endlessly cycling into each other — turns us into the bland clickbait of the attention harvesters. Yet, though we justifiably consider the enslavement of bodies a terrible wrong, we willingly surrender our minds for the profit of others. This new, almost hip, kind of slavery is sought, not fought."

- from LARB review of Tim Wu's The Attention Merchants

In the end, I believe collage to be a place for me to reclaim a small part of my pre-digital brain. 

It's a place to find connections. To people, to things, to ideas.

And connections between fragments of thoughts, to weave them together into a whole that makes sense, and that provides order to the chaos of my mind. 

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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