I was fortunate enough to be able to participate for a few hours this past week in a collage party at the Justina M. Barnicke Gallery at the University of Toronto (March 9 – 12, 2008).
The primary thing about this collage party is that it comes from a good place, a giving, non-judgmental place.
There’s the generosity of the gallery, which allows itself to be taken over and transformed into a working, instead of spectator, space, which pays the artist to set it all up, and provides some supplies and advertising. There’s trust between the gallery director/curator (in this case, Barbara Fischer) and the artist (Paul Butler who has staged over 30 of these events) allowing him to invite whomever he chooses to participate, and between Paul and the artists he invites, that the time they spend working there will be pleasant, colleaguial, respectful, and, when the doors were opened on the weekend to the public, between the gallery, the artist and the public, that this was a truly open event where anyone can join in, make stuff and put it up on the walls along with everyone else’s. All of this is, as we used to make fun of Martha Stewart for saying, “a good thing.”
The work produced during a collage party canvasses the best of 20th C art and moves into the 21st.
The amount of work produced during a collage party and its overall quality is overwhelming. A entire museum collection could be assembled by a prudent eye in less than a hour and for less than a thousand dollars, quite possibly for free as nobody, including the invited artists involved, is overly concerned about value, market, etc. The fact that this does not happen… nobody really notices or cares about art history here, let alone museum collections… reflects a larger trend I think, toward a new era in which art will be accessible and popular in ways we (at least those of us born before 1970) can hardly even imagine. Pic: Micah Lexier’s “black things” at Toronto collage party..
Walking into a collage party is like walking into a book.
There are works of art everywhere, unfolding in time as you move through the space, not unlike turning the pages of a book. You flip fluidly between modernist and post-modernist modes, where modernism is about combining fragments into a new kind of coherent totality equal to “the modern experience,” and post-modernism admits to the impossibility of creating an adequate simulacrum (or, arguably, resists the authority embedded in both the notion and the effort). [ ref ]
But in some ways the event itself supersedes the art. It comes, as I said, from a good place of trust, faith, openness. It’s naive and charming, not terribly self-conscious and optimistic. It’s a social space as well as a work space. It’s indeterminate, depending entirely (if not altogether unpredictably) on whether anyone shows up and does anything. The collage party event is a form of social practice, not unlike Harrel Fletcher’s work. It’s more Darren O’Donnell than Royal Art Lodge.
Collage is uniquely accessible among art media because pretty well everybody understand it whether they know anything about art or not. They know where the stuff (imagery, materials) comes from, how to put disparate things/images together and how juxtaposed images are to be read. People just “know” this. The conversion of the gallery into a working space with paper covered tables and scissors, paste, etc. available, and no inhibitions on littering the floors further robs the space, and the work being done/displayed, of formality and pretense. Pic: Zin Taylor’s eyeglasses at Toronto collage party.
I’ve spoken with Paul a couple of times now about the collage party and he said a couple of other things that seem important to mention.
Paul says a collage party is like art school, a group of people working away, side by side. It’s social, but not. You chat or you work on your own or sometimes you collaborate. There are no rules, no rights, no wrongs. It’s just time to create in a studio setting. That is a very hard thing to recreate outside of art school. Most artists will attest to that. Some are able to establish a studio practice outside of art school, working alone, making connections, etc. But many, most, have trouble with those things. For them (us I should say because I’d consider myself one of them) there should be a permanent situation of ‘art school’, a supportive, paid-for, critical environment. Pic: Paul Butler’s ‘Everybody” at the Toronto collage party.
Paul says he does collage parties so he can get his work done. He feels the same things I’d wager all the artists who participated felt before they arrived, anxiety, competitiveness, wariness, and during and after the event, shyness, apprehension, envy at all the incredible work other’s are producing, but then the event happens and the trust experience makes it possible to work, to play, to be an artist and not be Van Gogh lonely, and for that we are truly grateful.
Collage parties involve trust. Paul invited me and I went and I had a good experience, a great experience in fact. The collage party is honest work, not “work” as in “art work” because the event itself belongs in some in-between space of social practice, like Fletcher or O’Donnell, it is no longer “art” as we knew it, it is “art” in a new, broader way, familiar, engaged, interactive, cultural. Pic: My own “You are what you see” with John Bowley’s “Can you figure this out?” collage puzzle in the background at the Toronto collage party .
Now there’s an art catalogue about Collage Party, launched at Printed Matter in NY, announced on Hustler of Culture, introductory essay by Wayne Baerwaldt, co-published by Illingworth Kerr Gallery & Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art.
You can buy it from Printed Matter.