From traditional paper and paint to the sonic and sculptural, “Cut & Paste” is a highly enjoyable survey of collage-as-technique even as the cutting edge of contemporary collage blossoms on social media.
In a classic episode of “SpongeBob SquarePants,” the titular hero enrolls in an art class taught by his neighbor Squidward. SpongeBob proves himself a competent artist, and his skill eventually enrages Squidward, who rips up SpongeBob’s art in a jealous fit. SpongeBob immediately crafts a new artwork from the destruction, providing a pretty agreeable definition of collage along the way: “You take a bunch of old ripped up paper, and you make a new picture out of it!”
A similar quote from the late sculptor Louise Nevelson opens the wall text for “Cut & Paste: Collage Today,” on view through April 20 at Jamestown Arts Center: “I make collages. I join the shattered world creating a new harmony.”
The “shattered world” and “a bunch of old ripped up paper” seem functionally equivalent. Funnily enough, Nevelson’s words hover next to Wanda Edwards’ canvas of a whale’s tail, composed with a torn paper technique à la SpongeBob.
A play of violence and rebirth often animates collage — hence the harsher-on-inspection idiom of “cut and paste.” As related forms like the remix or mashup can radically alter an existing work, so too can collage follow anarchistic whims. For a lucid example in this exhibit, look no further than Tami Holden’s untitled, resined canvas that reads “STEAL LIKE AN ARTIST” — one convincing salvo against originality when so much already exists to be retooled and reimagined.
Brooke Goldstein, Paula Mailloux and Didi Suydam served on jury duty, selecting 46 artists from 100 entries. Karen Conway, exhibitions director at JAC, noted the exhibiting artists’ variety of approaches, from traditional paper and paint to the sonic and sculptural. (Supplying the sound is Seamus Hames, who made an assortment of cheerful, tiny songs on a vintage Yamaha sampler.)
The results might not evince something as expansive as the “today” of the subtitle, though the truth of “collage today” is arguably found on Instagram and Twitter, not in art galleries. There one can easily find memes that mix scat humor and leftist politics with millennial nostalgia for anime and Nickelodeon cartoons. Memers continue the ethos of collage, the legacy of image plundering, and (for the moment at least) they teeter at the bleeding edges of “discourse.”
Zeitgeist aside though, “Cut & Paste” is a highly enjoyable survey of collage-as-technique. The subject matter ricochets from serious (slavery in Rhode Island, gun violence, child labor) to Cheerios, whales, quilts, Shakespeare, and a cute snail (the lattermost courtesy Michelle Keir).
Some pieces have seamless surfaces, incorporating ephemera or paper clippings into painted or drawn imagery. Ann-Marie Gillett’s towering tree “Oracle” is one example, its bark carved from bits of painted tape. Others delight in the disjointed feelings expected of collage. Providence artist Kirstin Lamb’s “Knitted Coat” is technically straightforward, consisting of a vintage catalog cutout balanced against heaping smears of acrylic paint. Atop a void-like linen background, its stylish energies feel succinctly fresh.
Likewise with a piece by Benjamin Lundberg Torres Sánchez. The artist dripped his blood onto paint chips, but the sanguine and sensational quickly cede to the swatches’ racialized names. “Well-bred brown” and “suitable brown” are sequenced alongside lighter hues like “cotton white” and “casa blanca,” pointing to the racisms that can hide in taxonomy (artistic or otherwise).
After previewing the exhibit a few hours before its opening on Thursday, March 14, Conway introduced me to Teddy Trocki-Ryba, the artist who scored Best-in-Show at JAC’s Members’ Show in 2018. Trocki-Ryba had readied a VR headset for the opening night of “Cut & Paste,” presenting the willing-and-able a world that is 3D-scanned from objects around Rhode Island. The resulting landscape is the aptly-titled “Neighborhood,” a place as groggy and dreamlike as it is suburban. Trocki-Ryba walked me through holes in a living room wall, past a glitched out TV playing “Shark Tank,” and through a temple-like interior populated with floating statues.
“CUT & PASTE: COLLAGE TODAY”
Through April 20
Jamestown Arts Center, 18 Valley St., Jamestown
Gallery Hours Wed.-Sat., 10 a.m-2 p.m.
“Neighborhood” could be construed as a fully fleshed iteration of Nevelson’s “Shattered World.” Like all good collages, it refuses something in the world as-is, recalibrating both image and surface. No wonder SpongeBob, eternal optimist, found something worth saving in the ruins.
Alexander Castro is a Providence area-based freelance writer focused on arts and culture in the New England region. Follow him on Twitter at @OhNoCastro.
To view the show, visit Jamestown Arts Center, 18 Valley St., Jamestown, during its gallery hours Wednesdays through Saturdays, 10 a.m.- 2 p.m thru April 20, 2019. Article available here