In grade school, my riches came in the form of back copies of Total Girl and Barbie magazines and Teen Vogue hoarded cautiously, then eventually stored in secret envelope compartments, the faces of Aaron Carter and JoJo smiling on Tiger Beat covers. Keeping those pages intact however proved a slight challenge. After reading through the magazines for what felt like the umpteenth time, a metaphorical light bulb flicked on and prompted an afternoon consisting of glue stick residue and slivers of paper covering my fingers as I placed carefully cut-out feet adorned by strappy Weitzmans beside a picture of shiny spilled nail polish. It was a feverish kind of hunt, looking for images from various pages. When Vogue couldn’t satiate it, I’d dive into travel magazines from which I’d cut out unfamiliar red brick walls covered with ivy and glistening sushi. The idea of destroying laid out worlds and creating new landscapes seemed pretty fascinating to thirteen-year-old me. Collages, they were called.
This medium, traditionally speaking, has been around since modernism reared its fantastic little head into the art history timeline. The art of assemblage already began manifesting itself as early as Victorian 1800s with albums being peppered with fantastic creations such as Georgina Berkley’s collage of a Victorian woman and child sitting on top of a giant pelican and tortoise respectively, extracting figures from their original black and white spaces into much colorful settings. Whether it was Picasso wrapping chair caning around his mishmash of painted media that would generally be deemed as initial spark of collage, or aging, bed-ridden Matisse holding up scissors, blades the size of a rulers, cutting through brightly colored paper that would make up the latter part of his artistic career, arguably no knows who decided cutting and pasting would create this potent new medium.
Untitled page from the Berkeley Album, 1867-71. Collage of watercolor and albumen prints. Musée d’Orsay, Paris.
This idea of hunting for bits to create personal imagined lands is something that echoes even in contemporary collage artists such as, Jel Suarez whose creative treasure hunt involves, “finding forms in details — the build of a muscle, surfaces, the fold in a fabric, the edge of a structure —cutting up and reconstructing these objects/ details in images may be very erratic in process, but oddly it’s also where I’m able to exercise maximum control.” To reassemble and make whole—now doesn’t that sound like an incredibly noble act?
Jel Suarez. (Untitled) Remnants I. Collage and photo transfer on fabric. 2015.
In the past, collages were seen as a way of lazily creating art that doesn’t require the technical skill of drawing and painting; the I-can-do-that spiel being thrown at anything that teeters away from the traditional. Carina Santos breaks through this stigma emphasizing collage as not just aesthetic but as a personal crafted narrative. Her pieces have penetrated physical gallery spaces (West Gallery, Silverlens) and various art fairs, enticing aficionados and buyers alike. “… it’s technically “easy” to make collages that catch people’s attention, since what it entails from you is to cut and put together images in a way that mimics other collage styles that already resonate with an audience, but I think what you have to develop are your own “voice” or style and also a way to say something with your images and not just making a pretty picture.” Art beyond just technique after all sings in the nuances of visual storytelling.
Carina Santos. The Navel of the World. Collage Mixed Media. 2013.
In contemporary media, there is a resurgence of collage as a medium. Social media platforms decorated by high impact images meant to capture the fidgety eyes of this generation hungrily going through headlines, opt to showcase collages. And amidst the pre-made clutter of photo filters and pre-cut collage frames, artist Pau Tiu believes that there is a craving for the uniquely crafted. “People are starting to appreciate crafted/handmade things rather than their mass produced counterparts. Collage falls in that DIY category.” Much like the growing support for slow fashion, contemporary visual consumers want carefully created pieces. “There’s this rawness in collages that appeal to a lot of people, maybe it’s because of the use of vintage photos, the surreal dreamlike storytelling or the scrapbook aesthetic …it will always have this nostalgic quality to it.”
Pau Tui. Untitled. Artists Collection.
For some it’s shaking up what exists. Think of images as that playlist you’ve listened to on loop for days on end. You aren’t sick of the songs per se, it’s just the order that looks depressingly dreary. Collaging becomes the shuffle button for the visual. Collage artist Maine Manalansan describes her play with images, “… There is a controlled sense of freedom in collage. You can do whatever you want, but with the material available to you. I love how it’s like a balancing act between the two. It’s good reminder that as much as we want to let our imagination run wild, we’re also only bound by what our minds can achieve.” And in a world peppered by machine generated memes, customized compositions satiate our visual wants.
Maine Manalansan. Work for Young STAR ‘To the Filipino LGBT Youth.’ 2015.
Collaging strips images of original context and places them into equally fitting ones. Revisionism isn’t the correct word to describe the act, but rather a retelling packaged in a language fluently spoken by this generation. Just like the craft of storytelling, collage-making can be learned, form and technique can be practiced. Collage workshops around the metro are just as customizable as the medium. One-on-one workshops hosted by Woman, Create through their School of Collage can be done in Ortigas or Makati, various days of the week according to your schedule.
Group classes can also be booked through Steph Pallalos who conducts Art Journal classes inclusive of collage-making by contacting her through email@example.com. If you’d much rather learn from the comfort of your own home, on a laptop, sipping warm lemon water try out Sofia Cope’s online course “Basic Digital Collage Art Workshop,” being hosted on openartschool.com. Together with other interested creators, reassemble existing worlds to craft much more fantastic ones and inject new landscapes into seemingly archaic images.