Hannah Hoch: Sliced with the Dada Kitchen Knife Through the Last Weimar Beerbelly Cultural Epoch Germany(1919-20) 114 by 90 cm

Figure 3.4
Hannah Höch: Sliced with the Dada Kitchen Knife Through the Last Weimar Beerbelly Cultural Epoch Germany(1919-20) 114 by 90 cm

3.1 Collage Structures

The range in scale from collages with two or three fragments to those with over one hundred is extreme; physically, the smaller ones may be 6 by 8 inches (or even smaller--"postcards") and the larger ones 40 by 50 inches. However, as commonly reproduced on the Web, the big ones with one hundred-plus items are often not much larger than the little ones. The reduction of the large ones is so great that they are very hard to see with any detail, and I will not say much about them here, even though some are very interesting.

In many ways, the Dadaist Hannah Höch's portrait of Weimer Germany circa 1920 ("Slice with a kitchen knife through the beer belly of the recent Weimar epoch") is the Mother of all Collages. It is a very comprehensive gathering of snippets of the post War, Weimar cultural epoch in Berlin and they are displayed with great ingenuity in frame a little less than a meter by a little more than one (90 by 114 cm.) It is almost obligatorily cited by authors writing about photomontage, collage, or Dada. As a 200 pixel wide thumbnail, it simply cannot be viewed. I forego a sample of the Grandmother of all Collages, Hans Christian Andersen's Great Screen, which "did" the Victorian Era in four six foot high panels. (see e.g. Diane Waldman, Collage, Assemblage, and the Found Object.) These days fullscale resistance is being waged in Kiwiland by Peter Lewis.

Corey Eiseman: dot com

Figure 3.5
Corey Eiseman: dot com

Other considerations besides sheer density of fragments can impede seeing a large collage. When the fragments mix up the scales, points of view, and orientations of the fragments, we cannot take a single viewpoint for very long. The effect is of having to imaginatively reposition ourselves piece by piece. The image may seem very energetic (it used to be considered ideal for depicting urban life), or it seem unsettlingly agitated. In any case, we look for ways to break a large collage into sectors and we look for focal elements to organize what may otherwise seem as random scanning. So in the medium-sized image by Corey Eiseman linked to Figure 3.5, the vertical strips divide the piece into a triptych and we welcome the fact that the two central images that are rotated 90 degrees to the left are stacked one on top of the other. Eiseman's "Dance of the Penguins" contains thirteen rather large collages, but they are so well organized with directionalities, foreground and focal objects that they do not seem hard to see.

Laurence Gartel: Millenium Girl

Figure 3.6
Laurence Gartel: Millenium Girl


Laurence Gartel has worked with increasingly larger collage formats and he fills them with a great multitude of clips. He likens them to symphonies and tells us that in listening to them we should let certain elements stand out and then others. Many of the Web images are simply too small to "hear." One, which is his lead image, is successfully striking, and it uses a central image which is itself split into a photographically finished side and a sketched in side. Though this piece is one of a set on his visit to Italy, the image of the Millenium Girl and within that the pencilled-in square dominates and organizes the piece, becoming the newest "head" and spirit of the times.

Emblem 30 from The Mirrour of Maiestie (1621)

Figure 3.7
Emblem 30 from The Mirrour of Maiestie (1621)

Center and margin is a basic structural pattern across time and cultures. Kress and van Leeuwen offer some illustrations and speculations about it and its filiations (to Byzantine religious art, to Confucianism) and there are probably a number of connections one might make. One that comes to mind with some smaller scale collages is the tradition of the emblem book, especially because it mixes words and an image. Figure 3.7 is a page from a certain H. G.'s The mirrour of maiestie, or, The badges of honour conceitedly emblazoned(1621) and has very literally a margin of text surrounding the image.

We may think of the printing press mainly in terms of moveable type and the dissemination of text, but a very early and lastingly popular use of the press was to print books of emblems—drawings, often somewhat enigmatic, which were accompanied by a title and some verses in Latin and perhaps also a vernacular language, making them suitable for instruction in language as well as wisdom and sound morality. These were immensely popular for centuries. They carried on the marriage of image and wise lessons from the medieval manuscript beastiaries. The footnote lists a number of scholarly digitizing projects and on-line editions take you of some of the most popular ones. 3 The image of Figure 3.7 (Emblem 30) is, typically, somewhat enigmatic (that is the "conceited" part), and the Latin motto (inscriptio) and vernacular gloss (subscriptio), usually in verse, give pointers for interpreting the image which eventually can be seen as an illustration of the motto, or, the motto as glossed by the appended text.

James Elkins speaks of the emblem artists cultivation of the "interesting possibilities afforded by dividing a viewer's attention, shuttling it between text and image, and suspending it in a state of deliberate partial mystification" (Domain, 197). His sense of the emblematic mode is I believe exactly right and this chapter very much worth reading. If anyone lacks examples, let them look on the back of a US one dollar bill.

Pat Street: Prisoner of Love

Figure 3.8
Pat Street: Prisoner of Love

The collage by Pat Street (Figure 3.8) has the retro look and connects even farther back to the didactic emblem. The "courting" couple constitute the center; the margins are given over to pasted in German vocabulary words with pretty-pretty doll faces at the corners. Beneath the couple there is pasted a kind of caption or sentence "The prisoner will soon have cause to rejoice," which Street says is taken from The Book of Fate (Napoleon's fortune book). The piece is entitled "Prisoner of Love." As noted, circling the couple with the primness of the school text are some German nouns and their plurals with English translations: they are the words for hand, skin, breast, pleasure, night, and sausage. The tension between the decorous old "courtship"center (and ribboned border) and the margin of plain Saxon monosyllables for the business of love probably should not be resolved in favor of crude physicality, nor, however, can that aspect be completely elided.

Natsuke Kimura: Morris (1997)

Figure 3.9
Natsuke Kimura: Morris (1997)

Kress and van Leeuwen say that with center and margins, the center represents the "nucleus of information on which all the other elements are in some sense subservient" (p. 206) With the collages online that I have been collecting, the center can function as a contrast to the margins ("in a world like that, what about this?) This is a strong structural principle for the Japanese collagist Natsuke Kimura. In Figure 3.19, the central image of William Morris, who had famously strong ideas about interior design, and the modern apartment margin are again in a relation of high contrast. Many of Kimura's compositions involve two contrasting things. This may be a result of a deep biculturalism, even though the contrasts are often within one culture.

Shirin Kouladjie: in Collages at www.5hirin.com

Figure 3.10
Shirin Kouiladjie: in Collages at www.5hirin.com

In Figure 3.10 by Shirin Kouladjie, the margin is not verbal, though it is a somewhat familiar "text" in a way. The putti are bringing forth a new image of feminine beauty. The huge torn edge does not appear to have directly to do with revealing her or the putti, but it does suggest a huge rupture. At same time, however, by a wonderful "misalignment" one cherub seems to be flexing the model's right knee so that a direct connection is implied even though we know that there are upwards of five centuries between the cherub's hand and the knee. So yes, they are "subordinate" to the center image, in a complex and ironic way.

Pierre Robin: Forbidden Collages

Figure 3.11
Pierre Robin: Forbidden Collages

The center is hardly dominant in this composition, though the entire piece is about the margin's fencing the center in with prohibitions of all sorts, where the center, larger and dim, suggests erotic attraction. With this organization, the red, cautionary plaque ("one still dies of it") is applied to the shadowy intimate scene of the center (and not, say, to accessing a restricted area without authorization and so forth), and the words "sin," "naked," and "blood" would seem to move in this direction as well. There is a great tension between the center and the margins and it is by no means clear that the margins will manage to contain or control the center of desire.

connect the parts:

This structural type is rather sparing of components and not organized with a center. Rather, the implication is that all the parts are connected and it is up to the viewer to see how, though a portentious title usually gets one started on the way. This could be said as well of many Surrealist paintings (e. g., Magritte's), and especially it could be said of those where the components are simply placed and do not overlap or collide with each other. With collage, however, the placement of these oddly sorted objects within a single commonsense realistic world is disrupted by the cutting of the images from different visual worlds and displaying them in an abstract space.

Helmuth Goede: Angel of Heart and Home

Figure 3.12
Helmuth Goede: Angel of Heart and Home

Figure 3.12 links to a piece by Helmuth Goede, who speaks of his work as surrealism. However, the photographs carry the piece away from general classes and trigger questions that would probably be irrelevant on a surrealistic reading: when were Electrolux vacuums like that new? is that a "foundation garment" on the woman? of what era? what is her relation to the artist? if mother, why the FM heels? Similarly, the black object appears to be a document envelop suitable for use in a safety deposit box. How does that fit into the "story?" Finally, the title appears to echo Max Ernst's "Angel of Hearth and Home" (1937), which is a savage and anguished work bearing very little visual relation to the image at hand. The title, however, may refer to a more widely circulating epithet for the good wife/mother. Most of these considerations converge fairly well on a protrayl of a late 1940s feminine ideal. Contradictions, anomalies, ruptures and so on are notably absent.

Kinga Britschgi: Letter to the New World

Figure: 3.13
Kinga Britschgi: Letter to the New World

Kinga Britschgi is another collagist who uses a few items in a frame (and displays them large also, almost full size at 1024x745). These are very definitely mixed media compositions and make considerable use of rubber stamps she has designed. (Many collagists do this, including Claudine Hellmuth and the famous Nick Bantock.) Britschgi was born in Hungary and lived there until 1995. In 1993 she married an American from Idaho working in Budapest; after teaching together in a local high school for two years, they moved to Boise, Idaho. The fragments include parts of one or two letters, in English, including the words "might be going." Four rubber stamps are used and fragments of a map of Idaho. The base is an envelop and its size is 6 3/4 by 8 3/4 inches. There is an image of a US half dollar pressed into sealing wax and a mailing label (perhaps). Read biographically, and the information she gives invites that, this is not so much about her attempts to imagine Idaho as it is about her removal from Budapest to Boise.

Figure 3. 14
Shirin M. Kouiladjie

Shirin M. Kouladjie was born in Iran and made her way with her parents through France to Canada and the US, and from mathematics to medical school to collage, digital art and animation. She is prolific and uses the Web as a primary place to show her work. Her work exhibits great range from old to newest styles and technologies. Figure 3.13 links to torn old-style collage. Like all of her work, it is untitled, but a topic is not hard to find that links the pieces. The top slice is a smarmy ATT "corporate family" blurb about a career for a girl with the company in 1965; this is interrupted by an apparent scene from a chemistry lab; the bottom piece is apparently drawn from an Iranian brochure about careers, in this case masonry. Dominating the center are the twin images of a young girl contemplating her feet and the two hearts impaled on a diesel train. I am inclined to read this as what the culture really says a girl's career is. Her red-ribbon address sticker is a kind of authenticating stamp (she uses it many times in the series of collages from which this one is taken).

Shirin M. Kouiladjie: g029 from Found Images

Figure 3.15
Shirin M. Kouladjie: g029 from Found Images

This image is from her "Digital" branch, which means the edges have all been done with the Seletion Tool, and has a title-like phrase and only 4 things to connect. It is difficult to say what the thought is, since "the things that are important are the things that are unseen." Perhaps if you keep looking, you will see the connection.

Figure 3.16
Seán Hillen: From 4 Ideas for a New Town

In the 1980's, Seán Hillen was an Irish art student from Newry, a town just north of the Irish border and very much in the center of "The Troubles." He photographed many scenes of occupation and strife, and began to elaborate the photographs with bits of others, gradually adopting collage of photos (with scalpel and paste) as his medium. He has on display on the web 39 of these, which were exhibited in smaller groups, but have in common his technique of juxtaposition of war-zone documentary (mostly black and white) with touristy images, figures from TV and comic books, religious images and astronauts (mainly Yuri Gagarin). Hillen does not expect these fragments of worlds, topical as they are, to identify themselves; rather, he provides a paragraph or two of explanation for each image, which explanation is crucial to grasping the "dialectic and political satire" that he acknowledges became their informing purpose. He hopes for a resonance in these works which goes beyond political satire (in the sense of summoning a pious outrage or contempt). They are nonetheless made up of only a few sharply contrasted pieces pasted together to suggest a single space. In Figure 3.16, there are only three segments. The St. Pauls -Newry street opposition needs no comment, but the anatomized corpse figure illustrating wounds, which appears a second pedestrian, is a bit phantasmagorial since it doesn't appear to touch ground (the black stain beneath it being a plausible "shadow"). It saves the image from being simply a sardonic pointer to British hypocrisy.

Similar effects are obtained in other collages in the series, as for example in "Who is My Enemy?" (click the " up" arrow and then scroll to the bottom right of the display). This piece juxtaposes an ordinary street scene with the image of a sentry guard-house found out along the road to the city, creating an extraordinary image of life under occupation. Again, the third figure added--that of the movie-poster bad guy pointing a gun at us--displaces us from a polemical stance, pointing perhaps to a culture of violence in which we are all implicated rather than resting in a denunciation of the British occupiers.

Like Victor Burgin and Geoff Broadway, Hillen makes these images to "show the contradictions" between oppressor and oppressed. Unlike them, he does not use language to put voices in opposition to images; his main means for showing the contradictions is the cut, the edge of juxtaposition, that seems to lie at the very heart of collage. The contradictions are certainly present even in Hannah Höch's "Schnitt" with which we began the section. What keeps us from calling the "Schnitt" polemical is its love of energetic, playful absurdity and whimsy, and indeed there is a streak of whimsy in Hillen's various apparitions in the midst of these highly contested spaces.