Collage Works

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Nothing to Prove to No One by Jennifer Hartnett-Henderson ©2018

Collage was perfect. The act of assembling a new cohesive narrative out of discarded discordant ephemera appeals to me. I got curious about this practice and went to find out more.

Collage was a movement, but before that it was a useful skill employed in 19th century graphic printing processes. Just like then, collage juxtaposes incongruent text, images and color. The result challenges us because we can’t rely on the original context and narrative of each piece and we may not even know where it’s from. Viewing a collage forces us to create a new story to explain the new context. The messy work of mapping out the fluid relationships between formerly fixed elements taxes the maker and the viewer.

The panelist abstracts from the Collage, Montage, Assemblage: Collected and Composite Forms, 1700 – Present Conference in Edinburgh on April 2018 shed some light. Namely that when collage is used an art form the form itself performs several functions and conveys several things.

Collage is a way to conserve. Salvage arts such as collage are often a patriotic gesture during the make do and mend culture of war time.

Collage can be a way to mourn or heal. The act of compositing can be an emotional outlet when physically or emotionally displaced. It can serve as a reminder of lost places and relationships or a way for participants to rediscover and reinvent their identities. Collage can be an act of violence, pulling things apart, and an effort to self-heal by putting them together again in new ways.

Collage can also be used as a way to seize control of the narrative. The act of making a collage gives back a sense of agency, a way to write yourself back into the picture or write your self a new picture. Reconstruction demands decisions about what to take and what to leave behind. Collages subvert mass media images of news, success, etc and takes control of their meaning.

The practice of collage works on so many levels. The emotions expressed can be of sadness or of joy, of disorientation or order, or anything in between.