Only parts of us will ever touch parts of others
Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac, Paris, France
It was heartening to see in the group show ‘Seuls quelques fragments de nous toucheront quelques fragments d’autrui’ (Only parts of us will ever touch parts of others), that the fusional pleasures of collage are still alive and well. Focusing on montage and fragmentation, the exhibition curated by Timothée Chaillou at Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac was conceived as a follow-up to a show entitled ‘Infinite Fold’ (2010) featuring art works based on folded paper. The present exhibition was designed as a giant, gallery-sized collage, with works interacting harmoniously or jarringly with one other, unifying and fragmenting their surroundings simultaneously.
British-born artist Linder, one of the most important practitioners of contemporary collage, whose work is currently featured in a major retrospective at the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, contributed a work from her recent ‘Escort’ series. Known for her minimal-intervention collages, Linder maximizes the value of a single modification, often to memorable, iconic effect. Here, in Escort Series XII (2012), an apricot-tinted rose is pasted over the head of a naked woman sitting at a dressing table. Her reflection in the mirror is left untouched and unaltered, giving the work an Alice-in-Wonderland dimension. Though the flower is often deployed as a romantic or sexual symbol, Linder has given it a somewhat darker significance, commenting that the collage is ‘a biotic experiment – a dummy St Valentine’s Day massacre obeying the Law of Common Fate’. There has always been an ambiguity to Linder’s works. Their intentionality as feminist criticism of the male gaze can often backfire because of their fetishistic showcasing of the female body. Her attempts at subversion seem somehow insufficient, or at least profoundly equivocal in their outcome.
Other minimalist collagists included Noa Giniger’s The sorrow the joy brings (2011), which, according to the artist, springs from ‘a simple desire to make a weeping willow laugh’, by cutting out the tree’s foliage, flipping it upside down and sticking it back on the tree. Robert Heinecken managed to create a collage effect without the intervention of a pair of scissors. His Cibachrome photogram process in P.P. Two Women Z (1991) allows the two sides of a magazine leaf to blend into one picture. Despite its playful title, Kelley Walker’s Aquafresh plus Crest with Tartar Control (2003) depicts a photograph taken during the Birmingham race riots, showing a student being attacked by a police-dog, the very same image used by Andy Warhol, with jets of pinkish-greenish toothpaste obliterating parts of the scene. Walker claims that the nature of the photograph is overtly sexual, thus prompting the artist’s suggestive use of toothpaste. The fluorescent streaks left on the photograph have a spiked, ferocious quality that exacerbates the photograph’s violent implications, rescuing it from the sphere of the merely obscene.
Perhaps the most intriguing works in the exhibition, several collages from John Stezaker’s ‘Flash’ series (2007–8), superimposed star-shaped cut-outs of Ladybird books on images of antique furniture. Knowing that they were inspired by the 7/7 London bombings lends these pictures a new significance. It also gave the title of the show a rather grim interpretation, conjuring up the horrific consequences of suicide bombing. In his text in the show’s catalogue, Stezaker points out that the images of antique furniture seem less gratuitous when you consider the fact that the bombers were promised great chairs and thrones as well as virgins in the afterlife. The childish, Ladybird explosions conjure up a world of innocence lost in the wake of violence.
Writer Denis de Rougemont once remarked that making a collage allows you to ‘think with your hands’. Conversely, you might say that viewing a collage allows you to escape from ratiocination. What’s known as the Koulechov effect in montage, the influence of one image on another, is undoubtedly a creator of narratives, but what this exhibition also illustrated is that adjacent images have the power to tease us out of thought, to echo John Keats, making us feel rather than reason.
This lively and varied exhibition displayed real glee in the art of juxtaposing mediated, second-hand images. As Tom Burr remarked in his conversation with Chaillou, ‘there’s an adolescent libidinal energy in gluing, pinning and pasting together things and images’. Although some works in the exhibition were nourished by the erotic underpinnings of iconic saturation, most of them displayed a reluctance to indulge in the profusion of first-wave Surrealist collage, preferring restraint and minimal intervention, perhaps as a reaction to the avalanche of information triggered by the advent of the digital age. This apparent longing for a previous era also comes through in the fact that many of these works were sourced from magazines and books published in the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s; computer-generated collages only made up a small minority of the works on display.
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