Collage is a process of cutting and splicing images, creating a single cohesive image rather than an array of scattered fragments. The Surrealist game Cadavre Exquis (Exquisite Corpse) provides a practical example of this thought: the first player pastes a cut-out onto a piece of paper, then covers part of it with a fold, over which the next player joins another cut-out; and so on. Though assembled by and from different hands and sources, the result is nevertheless a continuous image.
While the game’s collage and drawing formats both produced images of hybridised human bodies, the collage version generated less eroticised images than its drawing counterpart, simply because players were limited by publishing censorship rather than their imaginations. Collaged Exquisite Corpse, as the example in Luxembourg & Dayan’s exhibition ‘The Ends of Collage’ shows, did however enable artists to scrutinise the way in which bodies were portrayed in printed matter. The ‘Cadavre Exquis’ (1938) made by André Breton et al. juxtaposes bourgeoisie and working class bodies symbolised by gleaming high-heeled shoes against industrial machinery. In the late twentieth century, feminist artists continued to employ collage to examine the ideologies of bodies in print. Barbara Kruger’s ‘Untitled (We won’t be our own best enemy)’ (1986), depicts a woman haunted in her sleep by the titular slogan, parodying body anxiety installed by advertisements directed at women. Meanwhile, Richard Hamilton’s ‘Fashion-plate (Cosmetic Study XI)’ (1969) features interspersed strokes of cosmetic makeup; glossy cut-outs of purple and blonde hair, and eyes of varying shapes assembled from Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar. This is also, an image of an umbrella light, posing a direct correlation between the constructive process of collage and enhanced, chimeric depictions of female beauty in fashion magazines.
Evidently, the meaning of Hamilton’s work is bound up in the relationship between the technicalities of collage and the medium’s tropes, and yet, contrary to that, Luxembourg & Dayan compartmentalised the two features of the medium across its two galleries. London explores themes of disembodiment and reframing, while New York examines cutting and image manipulation. (In London at least, as evidenced by Hamilton’s collage, the division is thankfully ineffectual). While on one count, the show’s conception of collage is flawed, it presents a complete and compelling account of its connection to other mediums. Immediately in front of the gallery’s entrance, introducing the exhibition, hangs Joan Mirò’s ‘Métamorphose’ (1936), demonstrating that the medium emerged from a tradition of painting. This is also shown in Linder’s ‘Superautumatisme, Grand Jeté XV (2015) which features a colourful swirl of enamel. Painting continues to be an integral part of twenty-first century collage.
Film too features heavily in the show, which, like collage marries elements of cutting and splicing. As Alfred Hitchcock said of editing, “Cutting implies severing something. It really should be called assembly […] assembling something to create a whole.” That is, though a film is comprised of a number of frames, it gives the impression of continuous motion; for that reason, time is expressed as a closed circuit in Jack Goldstein’s ‘The Jump’ (1975). A diver repeatedly, leaps, somersaults and plunges without any sign of a resultant splash. Mimicking the projector’s rotating feeder, the diver is stuck in an endless time loop. Similarly, Max Ernst’s collage books ‘Une Semaine de Bonté (A Week of Kindness)’ (1933-34), which contrast quotidian bourgeois life with fantastical scenes of sex and therianthropy, are subtitled by the days of the week, setting a cyclical narrative structure. While this notion of circularity is deeply imbricated in the language of film, it also underpins the overlap in collage between one fragment and the next.
The ‘cut’ in collage became increasingly indistinguishable and immaterial with advancements in digital technology in the late twentieth century. As the curator, Yuval Etgar, notes in the introduction to the exceptionally rich history and theory of collage presented in the exhibition publication, “Today, […] the term ‘cut and paste’ refers more commonly to digital operations rather than […] scissors and glue”. Two years after the invention of the digital camera, Richard Prince made ‘Untitled (Living Room)’ (1977). The artist tore out interior design adverts and then re-photographed them but cropping the torn edge, and effectively obscuring the contact between image and artist. Prince called the practice ‘pirating’, a term that anticipated the ever more clandestine and immaterial ways in which films were stolen and shared, transitioning in the 2010s from cinema camcorder reproductions to internet torrent sharing. As the exhibition’s title suggests, there is no simple, single end to the application of collage. Now more than ever, the medium performs a vital role in understanding the progressively rapid stream of images.