Contemporary Collage Companion vol 1
Pizza is crust, and toppings. If you take away the toppings it’s just bread, and if you take away the crust it’s a formless pile of ingredients that–although likely tasty–would be awkward to eat. Pizza is a lot like collage. Collage is images, and glue. If you take away the glue it’s just images, and if you take away the images it’s just a formless pile of glue. The result of the actions of collage are obvious: images arranged and juxtaposed in impossible and unlikely combinations to engage the viewer. However, the image created by collage can be reached by either digital or analog means with little to no distinction between the results. When art–whether analog or digital–is viewed as the object of consumption rather than the means of production, art becomes pure capitalism. Capitalism discards the labor of the artisan who creates, and instead only values easily recognized goods that can be exchanged for capital. Calling all these images collages is just an obtuse way of saying, “we hold no reverence for craft, so give us the art.” And that message is very different from the popularized narrative of: “we love artisans, and craft-made goods!”
With the proliferation of computer graphics that replicate collage’s emblematic properties many people would like you to believe that collage is a noun, a type of image, but it's not. Collage is a verb–an artistic practice with unique limits, peculiar strengths, odd habits, and a singular form in which the artist uses images to reshape the audience’s perception of society and culture. Collage is a unique set of actions and tools unlike any other artform, the same way that sculpture is a unique set of actions and tools unlike any other artform, and computer graphics and 3D printing are unique sets of actions and tools unlike any other artforms. Carving a sculpture in marble is very different from 3D printing one, but these two distinct artforms can produce objects that are essentially identical.
When we look beyond the object and examine the differences between the two practices, they diverge drastically. The 3D printer has to spend a great deal of time sourcing the proper filaments from distributors, or merchants online, but once acquired those industrial supply chains are rarely disrupted. The sculptor has to spend a great deal of time in stone yards, and needs to always be on the hunt for new suppliers since the supply chain for terrestrial art materials is in a constant state of flux. In this way the practice of sculpture creates a bond between the artist, and the terrestrial realm, the natural world where materials come from. The 3D printer on the other hand, is sourcing filament from industrial suppliers, and thus their practice fosters no connection to the terrestrial world, only the capitalist world. The same is true of a digital collagist who does not
lead a life collecting printed materials to cut and glue into collages. Collage isn’t just about making images, it’s also about collecting and knowing images from the analog world. I'm not suggesting that digital art is somehow lesser than analog art, however I am affirming that analog and digital arts have radically different effects on the lives of the artists who practice them.
Analog arts aren’t rooted in the material world simply because they came to be prior to computers. Each art practice, including collage, is an encapsulation of different facets and phenomena of our society. Society is how humans relate to the natural world around us. Each artform reveals something different about human existence in the natural world. If we mistakenly conflate the clunky materiality of analog collage with the streamlined ease of digital graphics, then we disregard collage’s potential to connect us to the natural world, and that cannot be regained from within a digital paradigm.
"Any order found within collage is a disruption of all order found outside collage"
And once all the analog-born artists die, so will the essence of the myriad artforms that have been flattened into one uniform field by photoshop and illustrator. And when new artists are born into a digital world devoid of analog practices they won't understand the difference between a photo, a painting, and a collage because they all get made with a computer, and they all produce the same results.
So then, what is collage? Collage is how you go out into the world, how you move through it, what you take from it, and what you leave in it. Collage is the endless search for new images relegated from capitalism’s grasp through
sale tables at book stores, yard sales, flea markets, and other secondary marketplaces.Put less romantically, collage is about being a person who collects old books, magazines, catalogs, postcards, and other printed ephemera from society's refuse piles. The act of collecting the materials for collaging is grotesque. In capitalism’s hierarchy of consumption the materials for collage come from the lowest tiers,and frequenting the establishments that sell these discarded materials does not afford one access to a cache of cultural capital. You have to spend money in unsexy–according to dominant social narratives–places to get good collage material. The collagist moves through a capitalist landscape much like a skateboarder through a city, subverting the intended uses of the given materials, and disrupting the given narratives of social order. Collaging is the art of using society and capitalism’s images to author subversive narratives that cannot be silenced with words. A collage is a realm of exception where things are and aren’t at the same time.
The collagist sees things that aren’t there, but the collagist also un-sees things that are there. Collage isn't just about the generative gaze of the artist creating art where there was no art. Collage is also about removing the noise of society to create serenity and reveal the art that is already happening all around us. Collage relies on a kind of synthesis much like cooking. A chef understands the flavors of their ingredients, and knows how to prepare those ingredients in order to retain or change the flavors, textures, and defining characteristics. The chef then adds other ingredients, and other flavors, and other preparations balancing everything out to transform a previously imagined configuration of ingredients and methods of preparation into a real edible meal. Collage is not about being a masterful manipulator of images so much as an always curious student of images and signifiers. The collagist will arrange a room in an orderly fashion, but the collagist’s notion of order is far from common. The order found in a collage is not found anywhere else, and so its organization isn't intended to make it legible within normalized narratives–which is the opposite of what we expect order to do.
We use order to make things easily recognized, and order facilitates the persistence of non-critical-herd-minded-non-thinking homogeneity. Any order found within collage is a disruption of all order found outside collage. In order to disrupt collage you need fire and/or death.