Sunday, 7 April 2013

Perspectives on collage

Photographers' Gallery 18 January - 7 April 2013

'Untitled' by CK Rajan. From here.
Useful exhibition on what works and what doesn't in collage.

As a sample of collage work from 8 artists, it would be unfair to comment extensively on any one artist, as the work here surely is not representative. The curators nonetheless have an impressively ambitious aim, being both to survey the use of collage an broaden what we regard as collage to include, for example, several installations.

So it seems appropriate to try to draw some conclusions abut contemporary use of collage. I have four.

1. Information overload. Collage can reflect the new 'neon age' of excessive information, where everything is available all the time, but we don't know how to process it. Batia Suter's 'wave, floor version #1' is an example here. The literary antecedent that sprang to mind was Borges' conceptual parody of Drayton's Poly-Albion, as a poet attempts to describe all the flora, fauna, and things of his homeland.

2. Satire. Not specifically a contemporary idea (unlike 1 above) but photo manipulation is ideally suited to satire. CK Rajan's commentaries on the poverty and riches in India are the most powerfully charged works in this exhibition, despite their small size.

3. Abstraction. Arranging and layering found objects, whether three-dimensional objects or photographs, encourages abstraction. Here, both Anna Parkina and Nicole Wermers produced some beautiful simple works, mostly around geometric patterns.

4. Cubism. Interestingly, the oldest artist here, Jan Svoboda (died 1990), is the only one to use collage as originally introduced to high art, as a way to detach us from a single perspective.

These were the four themes I found illuminating. Clunie Reid's work seemed banal and childish, while Peggy Franck was represented by two modest works that left no impression on me. Roy Arden's dadist collages did contain a style, one that I might have added to the four above, but I also found them pinched and irrelevant (and so missing the humour of the original dada).

I'd expect collage to become increasingly prominent as a medium, as our information age becomes more intolerable. But satire is possibly the most appropriate use of collage, alongside cubism, though the latter appears to be an entirely exhausted movement.

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