In a time where the challenges facing us as individuals and communities have grown to seemingly insurmountable levels, further exacerbated by the increasing toxicity of the political climate, artists are using their work to confront these challenges by engaging their viewers in a higher level of discourse. Through a virtual residency, twenty-five artists created collage works examining complex socio-political issues that contemporary society is contending with, in order to spark meaningful dialogue and inspire deeper engagement.
Although the main thread running through this exhibition is “political” in its broadest definition, the artists each chose specific issues to explore through the medium of collage. There are examinations of various forms of racism, ableism, sexism, and xenophobia; the consequences of colonization and capitalism; the effects of contemporary media; and the eco-grief or anxiety associated with climate change. By using collage, a form composed of juxtaposing a variety of disparate elements together, the artists are able to tell nuanced stories about their highly complex topics, inviting the viewers to regard a potentially overwrought issue from a fresh angle.
ABOUT THE PROJECT
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Although I have been working in political collage for over fifteen years, my interest in it arose by chance. Having just graduated university with a theatre degree, outraged by the state of the world in 2007, impatient to light the status quo on fire through art, but utterly lost at how to do anything, I found myself with a temporary visa to London, England—an almost mythical oasis after the arts-starved desert of small-town Ohio. The need to immerse myself into every available arts experience caused me to wander into the British Library one day and stumble upon an exhibit of Dadaism as seen through text and sound. A cacophony of gibberish and sounds echoed through strategically placed speakers; life-sized posters and long hanging scrolls with a variety of texts, fonts, languages, formats, and meanings screamed at the viewer trying carefully to navigate the spaces between, which were crammed with pedestals featuring pamphlets and performance records of the famous Cabaret Voltaire. It was intensely, shockingly chaotic and wholly exhilarating. Studying the history of Dada as an artistic movement reacting to the horror of World War I was a far cry from experiencing a physical version of it, having my senses overwhelmed completely by the artists’ interpretations of the chaos enveloping that era. I left the British Library understanding for the first time that all I had been striving to do in theatre and performance art could be equally accomplished through the power of text, images, and paper.
The history of political collage is much more extensive than its connection to the Dada movement. German artists Hannah Höch & John Heartfield, two of the leading innovators of photomontage, used it to comment on gender fluidity and shifting gender norms, respectively, in the 1910s, and then before and during World War II to satirize Hitler and the Nazi regime. It has been used worldwide since: to fight for civil and equal rights, criticize authoritarian or oppressive regimes, and shift cultural narratives toward wider, more inclusive representations. Collage, as an art form, is ideally situated for this political work due to its inherent nature of distilling and juxtaposing various elements—from the overload of information and sources we are exposed to on a regular basis—into one cohesive story or statement. Collage allows us to make sense of increasingly complex and interconnected social and political subjects through this selected juxtaposition. Given this, it has consistently surprised me how niche the medium of political collage is and how rare it was to find artists who worked in it exclusively: until the pandemic.
One of the major consequences of the past couple of years has been the enormous variety of forms of reckoning with what we have accepted as “normal”. Artists in general, and I would argue collage artists in particular, began to view their own work differently, seeing its potential to affect the conversations that their cultures were having about inherently complicated issues. Galleries, museums, and arts organization began hosting more exhibitions about social justice and politically minded work. Conversations about the role and responsibility of artists during this time of multiple crises were happening across the spectrum. The “Politics In Collage” residency was born out of similar conversations I was having regularly with different artists, about their desire to shift their work into more political or social realms due to a new sense of urgency. Working with the extraordinary coordinators of Kolaj Institute, we found a host of brilliant guest speakers who, over the course of a month in a virtual forum, lectured on the history of political collage, influential artists, the art of curating, and the process of creating.
The participants in the residency were stunning; not only in their work but in their passion and drive to learn more about political collage itself, as well as how to push their own work further. During the residency, the selected artists were challenged through collage exercises they practiced, which often forced them out of their artistic comfort zones; they were confronted with engaging in immensely difficult, and sometimes uncomfortable, discussions about our roles as artists when working with socio-political subjects; and finally, they were charged with creating a final collage project about a subject of their choosing, as a culmination of what they had learned. It is difficult to describe how phenomenal it was to watch them work through this immensely challenging process. Their fierce passion, openhearted vulnerability, unflinching honesty, and boundless creativity shone through their discussions and engagement, but especially through their art. It was an honor and an inspiration to work with each of these artists, not only to see how their individual practices developed during this residency, but to work together to grow a community of artists invested in this unique and critical art form. I am thrilled to show the results of their remarkable work together in this catalog. I hope you find it as captivating, as thought-provoking, and as imperative as I do.
G. E. Vogt has exhibited in various juried exhibitions across the US. In 2019, Fresh Paint Gallery held a major exhibition of her work and she spoke on the “Women In Collage” panel at Kolaj Fest New Orleans 2019. She is currently participating in five-month virtual residency with The Crit Lab, working with other artists in the field of critical, ethical art. Her works continue to explore the themes she has been interested in since her performance work which have become increasingly relevant—the unmanageable socioeconomic gap, the various forms of inequality prevalent in the U.S., and the toxicity of our political climate.
However, as her work has advanced, Vogt has become increasingly committed to working with and building a community of other socio-political collage artists. She created and is currently curating the SoPoCollage page to showcase these artists; participated in Kolaj Institute’s virtual Money Money Collage Residency, illustrating Eleanor Porter’s 1918 social commentary on capitalism and wealth, Oh, Money! Money!, with eleven other collage artists; and most recently coordinated and directed Kolaj Institute’s “Politics in Collage” virtual residency to further advance the field of socio-political collage, and help artists grow their work in this field. Vogt lives and works in San Diego, California.