I am a collage. Genetically, I’m a blend of peoples from many places in the world, according to oral accounts of my lineage. Some day soon, I will research my ancestral heritage through a sampling of my DNA because I want to know for certain where my progenitors are from and who they might have been; I know how these things have a tendency to morph during emigration and over decades of transmission and potential white-washing. I’m curious especially about the food traditions, artisanal crafts and ceremonial practices of the cultures I come from.
Culturally, I am a collection of attributes that the multifarious influences in my life have led me to–I choose to hold and perpetuate those which are consistent with my beliefs. Sometimes I quarrel with myself over the vague but heavily-charged boundaries of cultural appropriation, even as I believe that if a particular practice serves an individual and they are reverent and respectful of its origins, then its use serves to honor the whole (to put it simply). I try to invent my own rites and rituals based on what I’ve found to be powerful in my quest for spiritual anchor, along with the general concepts and elements that are inherently sacred to me. It is a micro-culture that remains private, for the most part.
I recently had an epiphany about collages: #1, they are valid works of art and #2, that I had been secretly telling myself they weren’t for most of my life. I had some strange insecurity about the fact that they employed found images or objects that I hadn’t created with my own hands, from my own imagination. This is ridiculous when I consider the possibility that everything an artist produces is borrowed from the world around them. Even their interior world is informed by what they’ve seen and experienced in the physical world–the one that they share with the rest of us. The materials they use might be in a simple, raw and basic form (charcoal, for instance) but they are only materials…it’s the life that the artist breathes into them which makes them art–the meaning they become infused with. I wonder this: is collage a form of collaborative art when the materials are sourced from another creator? Must co-creation be consensual?
As a teenager, I found collage to be the medium in which I could most easily create a sense of what I wanted to impart. Instead of having to deal with all of the time-consuming, sometimes frustrating technical parts of drawing and painting, I was able to effectively express through the amusing act of sourcing and repurposing objects and imagery and combining them in my own context. My process involved selecting and extracting the materials to arrange and rearrange, watching the relationships between each element shift and waiting for a potent and powerful combination to emerge, which I would then affix to a surface. Sometimes the process itself inspired new directions and revealed new meanings.
I started suspecting that collage might be totally legit when my excellent friend Ivan showed me this book:
The paintings beyond the link below look like collages but they’re NOT! Tricky!
These days I’ve been focusing on two dimensional visual art, mainly because I needed to narrow my field of focus a bit and I wanted to gain the skills I require to complete illustration projects. However, I generally feel more compelled toward the consumption and creation of things that provide a multi-sensory experience. I love installations, film, music and other mixtures of media for this reason.
The following is a really wonderful New Orleans project featuring lots of super great artists and makers of things. Check out the website AND the video!
At the Frye Museum, I witnessed an awesomely artful video installation called An Ode to Octavia, a Sonic and Kinetic Ritual by The Black Constellation, though unfortunately I can’t find any images from it or the video itself. I wish you could see it. If you’re in Seattle, go check it out because it’s beautiful.
What is your perception of collage as a medium? Do you know of any outstanding artists who make collages, be they flat, three-dimensional or interactive?