“The peculiar characteristics of photography and its approaches have opened up a new and immensely fantastic field for a creative human being,” wrote artist artist Hannah Höch (1889-1978) in 1934. Höch was a pioneer of collage and, notably, one of the few female members of the Berlin Dada movement. The subversive group emerged amidst the harsh landscape of WWI, disillusioned with social structures, politics and artistic conventions. Höch is recognised for making some of the earliest photomontages – spliced together from magazines, fashion images and illustrations. Here are five artists who offer a fresh take on the collage tradition: cutting, pasting, crumpling and overlaying to create new configurations.
The term “collage” was first coined by Cubist Georges Braque (1882-1963) and Pablo Picasso (1881-1973), from the French word “coller” or “to glue.” From here, a movement emerged – one based upon avant-garde assemblages, fractured forms and deconstructed subject matter. Since then, many practitioners across the globe have been inspired to dismantle visuals, literally “piecing” new pictures together whilst drawing attention to the fragile materiality of images. Alma Haser’s (b. 1989) puzzle-piece portraits negotiate the boundaries between the real and the manufactured. These intriguing and unsettling images are disruptions of the human form as we know it today, asking intriguing questions about the manipulation, construction and obfuscation of the self in the 21st century. In an age of hyper-self-awareness, increased video connectivity and social media profiles, these photographs reflect upon the shifting nature of identity.
“It is said that a crumpled piece of paper can never regain its original shape; the trace persists. In the same way, nature, which is disrespectfully invaded, is forever broken, and in many cases, unrecoverable.” In Topographies of Fragility, Ingrid Weyland (b. 1969) manipulates, alters and enacts “violent gestures” on the land, twisting and contorting images until the depicted landscapes become something altogether different. Weyland’s photography taps into the age of Anthropocentrism – the role of the human hand physically and dramatically shaping ecosystems from the inside out. The collages, building on the parameters of “expanded photography”, include original images from Argentina, Greenland and Iceland. In the final compositions, the remnants of untouched landscapes are still visible underneath central crumple zones.
In the baking Berlin summer, German-American photographer Jessica Backhaus (b. 1970) arranged a number of transparent paper cut outs. In the direct sunlight and concurrent heat, the shapes began to rise from the surface, bending and curling into one another whilst casting block shadows on the page. She captured their dance- like forms as pink, blue, green and yellow sections began to intersect as abstracted Venn diagrams. Beyond the visual appeal of tessellating colour samples, Backhaus invented a “photography of chance” as each paper sample began to bend according to its own will, wilting as the moisture evaporated and the cuts shrank in size. After the initial layering of samples, she became an observer of events – documenting an aesthetic experiment – with little control over the final composition.
“Some magic is a trick; hold a card this way to palm it and it disappears. You practice and get good at it. Other magic is a long game; the needle does go through the hand, you bury a card and wait 10 years. This is the long game.” Matthew Shlian is an artist and paper engineer, innovating in the field of contemporary origami through folds, compressions and extrapolations. His work extends from drawings and large-scale installations to collaborations with leading researchers and scientists, including macro level paper-folding structures, which are then translated to the nanoscale. These intriguing works – boasting complex diagrams and cut patterns – vary massively from piece to piece, with pleats constructed through acid-free archival paper, needle points and PVA glue.
Karen Navarro’s (b. 1990) series is instantly captivating. Laser-cut embossed archival inkjet prints – cast in bubblegum pink and pillar box red – split models’ faces into concentric circles, vertical strips and checker board tiles. This aesthetic is typical for the Argentine-born, Houston-based artist, who pushes the boundaries and dimensions of images across surreal planes of distortion and obfuscation. Navarro calls upon photography, collage and sculpture to investigate the concepts of race, gender and belonging, as well as how they converge. She notes: “At once colourful, surreal and minimal, my constructed portraits invite the viewer to challenge their own perceptions and biases by highlighting the complexities that make up who we are. Identity is a social construct. Like a puzzle, the various elements of our personhood intersect, coming together to create a pluralistic sense of self.”