Bit by Bit
At the Contemporary Art Gallery until January 8, 2006
Superman in a wheelchair, licking an ice-cream cone. A wrinkly night sky made up of black garbage bags and starred with sparkly stickers. Hundreds of Blade Runner posters cut up in Mayan patterns. A two-dimensional anatomical model with a blob for a noggin and a paddle for an arm, encased in clear plastic and roughly stitched with red thread. All this hairy, humorous, and disquieting disjunction is on view in the Contemporary Art Gallery's new show of collage, Bit by Bit.
Considered one of early modernism's greatest gifts to 20th-century art, collage was and is a direct means of addressing-and redressing-our image-bombarded existence. Collage's invention is usually attributed to Pablo Picasso, who in 1912 began to challenge pictorial convention by incorporating mechanically printed and manufactured products from the "real" world into his paintings. The later championing of collage by Dadaists and surrealists expanded its grasp beyond the formal and material into the social, political, and psychological realms. Odd juxtapositions of incompatible images both reiterated our hectic experience of the modern world and undermined our complacency about it. They also delved into the alternative realities of the unconscious mind.
Accompanied by an illuminating essay by curator Jenifer Papararo, Bit by Bit showcases a contemporary generation of hands-on collagists who prefer to get down and dirty with scissors and glue rather than assemble images at a distance through a computer. A playful sense of materiality permeates the exhibition, which features 11 local, national, and international artists, working individually or in collaboration. Their collages range in technique and expression from the visually sophisticated and immaculately executed large-scale kitsch of Jennifer Murphy, the strangely tasteful bouquets of Paul Butler, and the architectonic poster installation by Miguel da Conceií§í£o, to the anti-aesthetic, kindergarten-style messes of the artists' collective Dearraindrop.
Among the most compelling works here is Amy Lockhart's animated film, "The Devil Lives in Hollywood". With its altered found images and original song (the visuals play against toy sound effects and lyrics written and delivered by the artist), "The Devil" searches out the worm of desire at the heart of popular and consumer culture. Flaming cars, flocks of military helicopters and fighter jets, throbbing hearts, teddy bears, a conveyor belt feeding hamburgers into a big-mouthed kid whose head subsequently explodes, a childlike voice declaring, "I want to be a supermodel"-all the soul-destroying messages of overconsumption, violence, and empty longing are consolidated in this terrific little film.
A locally produced, zinelike newspaper, I Got Killed I Got Killed I Got Killed in World War III is probably the most Dada-esque enterprise in the show. The making of its cartoon drawings, the assembling of its found images and text, and the setting of its chaotic and intentionally juvenile tone fall to an anonymous local duo. (Anyone familiar with their drawing styles will quickly identify them.) The November 17 paper (along with microfiches of earlier issues) juggles social commentary with boy-art humour of the snot, blood, and shit variety. Collaged elements contribute to the antiestablishment sensibility.
No local collage show would be complete without the art of Jason McLean and Marc Bell, long-time friends and collaborators. This installation neatly segues from McLean's works (including the plastic-encased anatomical image) to McLean-Bell collaborations and then to Bell's works. Their individual voices and their fertile influence upon one another are beautifully articulated here. McLean's approach is perhaps more direct and existential, filled with references to death, while Bell's is more carefully detailed, colourfully modulated, and cheerful (in a bleak way). Both manifest an antic approach to their material that brilliantly revisits the image world Dada and surrealism loosed upon us in the form of collage.