Collage @ the Counihan

Collage art is popular, people generally like it. They are familiar with it and have often done some themselves. They also like the amusing juxtapositions and fantastic transformations that can be created with collage. After seeing many collages by many artists, including artists, like Max Ernst who are notable for their collage work; I think that the charm of collage is that the results are all pretty good but rare does anything rise above this standard.

In preparation for the exhibition of collages at the Counihan Gallery I found Cut & Paste – 21st Century Collage by Richard Brereton with Caroline Roberts (Lawrence King Publishing, 2011, London) at the Coburg Library. But it wasn’t that helpful; the book has great design, lots of pictures, love the cover, but almost no content except for a very brief introduction and equally brief introduction to each of the artists. The artists weren’t exceptional; more good collages but that’s it.

The catalogue for “Cut With The Kitchen Knife” is a better read; in it the curator, Emily Jones explains the history of collage as art and introduces the exhibiting artists. The exhibition gets its title from a collage by Hannah Hoch. There are plenty of good collages in the exhibition but there are some artists in this exhibition who move beyond tradition of the Cubist collages and the Dada/Surrealist collage.

There is the optical intensity of Elizabeth Gower’s “Savings” series made with the repetition of printed discount promotions. Combining op-art with the optical features of advertising design transforming the everyday into art.

Christian Capurro also uses advertising material but he erases rather than combines images. Now this isn’t exactly collage, although sticky tape is used, but is certainly worth including in the exhibition because the work is almost anti-collage and the images he produces from meat advertisements have the fantastic qualities of combined realities found in collage.

Mandy Gunn’s work has a permanent presence in the lobby of the Counihan but it was good to see more of her work. Gunn takes collage and deconstructing books in a post-minimalist direction. Text, music scores or Braille are shredded into small sections and arranged in a grid with variations of wave formations.

The exhibition was light on collages that used objects rather than just paper. Heather Shimmen’s “Suspended Anima” were very surreal and one of the few collages to use three-dimensional elements. Suspended from the gallery ceiling their Rorschach test shapes throwing great patterns on the gallery wall.

Collage continues to use available printing and graphic technology, think of the Dadaist photomontages, and in the 21st Century this extends to digital images. Joan Ross’s digital collage depicting a forged colonial Australian history, “BBQ this Sunday” is animated in a fun 5-minute video.

We live in a cut and paste world and if collage seems ubiquitous “Cut With The Kitchen Knife” demonstrates that there is a future for collage and moves beyond the techniques perceived limitations.

About Mark Holsworth

Arts administrator, artist, musician, philosopher and writer. Writes Black Mark - Melbourne Art and Culture Critic. View all posts by Mark Holsworth

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