Collage Politics and Punk Practices: Cutting Edge
Conference, Lecture – Catherine Grant, Amy Tobin, Alice Correia, Elizabeth Robles, Chandra Frank, Allison Thompson
- 8 October 2021
- 12:00 – 2:00 pm
- An event as part of the multi-part conference programme 'Cutting Edge: Collage in Britain, 1945 to Now'
12.00–12.05 Welcome by Elena Crippa (Curator, Modern and Contemporary British Art, Tate)
Chaired by Catherine Grant (Senior Lecturer in the Art and Visual Cultures Departments, Goldsmiths, University of London)
12.05–12.20 Amy Tobin (Lecturer in the Department of History of Art, University of Cambridge), ‘I Can’t Swim I Have Nightmares’: Linder and Photomontage 1976–2019’
12.20–12.35 Alice Correia (Research Curator, Touchstones, Rochdale), ‘Chila Kumari Burman: Punk Punjabi Protests’
12.35–12.50 Panel 3 discussion & questions
Chaired by Elizabeth Robles (Lecturer in the History of Art Department, University of Bristol)
13.00–13.15 Allison Thompson (Division of Fine Arts, Barbados Community College), ‘Come Together: Collage Aesthetics in the Work of Sonia Boyce’
13.15 –13.30 Chandra Frank (Post-Doctoral Fellow, Taft Research Center, University of Cincinnati) 'Fragmentations and Glimmers: Archival Experimentations with Collage'
13.30–13.45 Panel 4 discussion & questions
13.45–14.00 Multi-panel discussion
Amy Tobin, '"I Can’t Swim I Have Nightmares": Linder and Photomontage'
This paper emerges from my work on Linderism, a survey exhibition of Linder Sterling’s work at Kettle’s Yard, Cambridge and Hatton Gallery, Newcastle. The aim is to trace two approaches to photomontage in the early works produced in the 1970s, and in the later works produced after 2011. I will discuss the competing influences on Linder’s practice from Berlin Dadaism, to the gender and erotic politics of Surrealism and the Situationists. I argue that this confluence of chosen histories, combined in the crucible of the post-industrial North, formed a new and radical post-punk romanticism. The other side of the more obvious association between punk and the aggressive cut – in this paper I suggest that transition, transformation and juxtaposition are also crucial to photomontage, and become particularly important to Linder’s practice as she explores the mythic undercurrents of visual culture; first in the earlier photomontages through the de-sublimation of desire and consumerism and second in the later photomontages through Linder’s exploration of archaic figures and archetypes in her reimagining of Barbara Hepworth’s The Family of Man and her refiguring of St Wilgefortis. I argue that Linder’s photomontages are concerned with an economy of images and the unique effects of their inappropriate juxtaposition, rather than playing with the real and realism that collage allows. Working with images, symbols, archetypes and ritual, I suggest that Linder’s practice has shifted from the 1970s and from a Situationist-inspired critique, to an embrace of photomontage toward a new figuration tuned to a culture shaped by images and style.
Alice Correia, 'Chila Kumari Burman: Punk Punjabi Protest'
In his influential writings on the histories of Black and Asian artists in 1980s’ Britain, Kobena Mercer identified a trend in artistic practice: across the work of Rasheed Araeen, Eddie Chambers, Keith Piper and others, he noted a ‘cut and mix aesthetic’ whereby artworks comprised hand-made images, collated visual sources, texts and objects, that were selected, manipulated and positioned in proximity, in order to express something of a lived diasporic experience. Indeed, Mercer has argued that ‘the formal dynamics of collage … [are] especially relevant to the hyphenated character of diaspora identities’.
Although Chila Kumari Burman has been a consistent presence in discussions of Black and Asian art in Britain, much of her work has been neglected in narratives of British art. Burman’s collages, photo silk-screen prints and multi-media works have utilised archival family photographs, images amassed from magazines and books, and the material culture of everyday life. Cumulatively, her works present and reflect upon her active participation in, and solidarity with, racial, gender and class struggle. However, despite being ‘one of the first Black women artists in this country to produce political work’, prior to her celebrated Tate Winter Commission (2020–21), she was perhaps most well known for her seemingly kitsch, pop, self-portraits.
This paper offers a timely assessment of one of Burman’s earliest collages, the diptych Convenience, Not Love (1986–7), which, amongst other referents, utilises the image of Margaret Thatcher and a British passport to present a scathing indictment of British immigration policy in the post-1945 era. In doing so, Burman championed the resilience of the South Asian migrants, and South Asian women in particular, in the face of persistent institutional racism in Britain. Taking issue with the Orientialist stereotype of South Asian women as ‘meek and passive victims’, in Convenience, Not Love Burman harnessed the operations of collage in order to cut and break, open up and expand, the range of visual referents available. In her choice and juxtaposition of counter images, Burman constructed a matrilineal history of resilient and powerful women, which includes the Rani of Jhansi who in 1857 led the Indian rebellion against the British in India; participants in the industrial action at the Grunwick Film Processing Laboratory, London, 1976–7; and members of her own family.
Throughout her career, Burman has had a clear ambition to draw attention to the complexity and multi-faceted nature of female British-Asian identities. This paper will conclude with a rereading of her Pop photo-montage self-portraits which utilise multiple and repeated images, presented in a hyper-vibrant colour palette. It is the contention here that unabashed and uncompromising works such as 28 Positions in 34 Years (1990), evolved from Burman’s highly nuanced engagement with the vicissitudes of South Asian womanhood, as evinced in Convenience, Not Love.
Allison Thompson, 'Come Together: Collage Aesthetics in the Work of Sonia Boyce'
One of the most important recurring themes in the career of artist Sonia Boyce, which now spans almost four decades, is her fascination with bringing seemingly disparate elements together to see what new meanings might be generated. Tarzan to Rambo: English Born ‘Native’ Considers Her Relationship to the Constructed/Self Image and her Roots in Reconstruction (1987) in the Tate Collection marks an important transition in her early work from her intimate pastel drawings of domestic interiors to a more confrontational and radicalised commentary that relies on the collaged assemblage of diverse images and materials, resulting in troubling relationships and juxtapositions aimed at interrogating the ways in which images and identities are constructed. Boyce’s work of the following decade began to focus increasingly on performance but, I will argue, her early interest in collage has informed much of this work which can be regarded as a kind of ‘social collage’. This is evident not only through placing performers or participants in contexts which are strange or unusual for them, and in which they are often asked to collaborate, but also the ways in which the materials or documents of the performances are subsequently assembled as installations. A good example of this is Six Acts (2018), a six screen installation in which the monitors are mounted on a background of intricately designed wallpaper which assembled multiple images in repeating patterns. The result is a collaged work of images and experiences, history and contemporaneity.
Six Acts was commissioned as part of Boyce’s 2018 retrospective at the Manchester Art Gallery. The artist invited five performance artists to respond to various works in the historical galleries with an audience of gallery goers. At the end, a late nineteenth century painting by John Waterhouse, Hylas and the Nymphs, was temporarily removed and in its place a notice was posted explaining that a temporary space had been left ‘to prompt conversations about how we display and interpret artworks in Manchester’s public collection’. Members of the public were then invited to react by adding comments on post-it notes which were ‘collaged’ onto the surrounding wall. Museum practice and audience response became an integral part of the work, interrogating where and how meaning is generated and challenging viewers to see works in non-binary, more complex and open ways. But no one anticipated the firestorm of responses that ensued. The multifaceted performance as well as the subsequent compiling and layering of imagery in the final installation reflect a collage aesthetic which is often informed by Boyce’s fascination with the work of the Dada artists. Like them she recognises that the way that collage, whether two dimensional, expanded into three dimensional installations or collaborative and spontaneous performance, has been used to challenge established and institutionalised power structures. It deliberately disrupts familiar narratives thereby opening up new readings and alternative ways forward. These social collages can also be linked to both feminist and diasporic aesthetics, resulting in what Stuart Hall has called the ‘condensation’ of a series of overlapping, interlocking but non-corresponding ‘histories’.
Chandra Frank, 'Fragmentations and Glimmers: Archival Experimentations with Collage'
Archives produce and hold fragmentation, which can generate experimental, new and complex relationships between materials, stories and people. With a particular focus on how artists have used collage, this presentation will explore how collage might trouble the idea of a legitimate archive.
About the speakers
Catherine Grant is Senior Lecturer in the Art and Visual Cultures Departments at Goldsmiths, University of London. She is currently researching the legacies of feminist histories in contemporary art. The project includes the essays Fans of Feminism: Re-writing Histories of Second-wave Feminism (2011) and A Letter Sent, Waiting to be Received: Queer Correspondence, Feminism and Black British Art (2019). She is the co-editor of Fandom as Methodology with Kate Random Love (2019), as well as the collections Girls! Girls! Girls! (2011) and Creative Writing and Art History (2012). She co-edited the questionnaire 'Decolonising Art History’ with Dorothy Price, for Art History, February 2020.
Amy Tobin is a Lecturer in the Department of History of Art, University of Cambridge and Curator, Contemporary Programmes at Kettle's Yard. She has published her research in Tate Papers, MIRAJ, Women: A Cultural Review and Feminist Review, along with books chapters in numerous edited books. She is the co-editor of London Art Worlds: Mobile, Contingent and Ephemeral Networks 1960–1980 (Penn State University Press, 2018) with Jo Applin and Catherine Spencer and The Art of Feminism (Chronicle and Tate, 2018) with Lucy Gosling, Helena Reckitt and Hilary Robinson. For more information on publications see: https://www.hoart.cam.ac.uk/people/dr-amy-tobin. In 2019, Tobin organised exhibitions of Louise Bourgeois, Julie Mehretu and Rose Garrard, followed by a retrospective of Linder Sterling in 2020, she is currently working on exhibitions of the work of Sutapa Biswas (autumn 2021), Howardena Pindell (summer 2022) and Li Yuan-chia and the LYC Art Centre with Hammad Nasar and Sarah Victoria Turner (winter 2022–3) all at Kettle's Yard. In 2019–20 Tobin was the Terra-PMC Fellow, in 2021–2 she has a Leverhulme Research Fellowship to work on a new project on art and feminist sisterhood.
Alice Correia is an independent art historian. Her research examines late twentieth-century British art, with a specific focus on artists of African, Caribbean and South Asian heritage. She has worked at Tate Britain, Government Art Collection and the Universities of Sussex and Salford. She has held fellowships at the Paul Mellon Centre for the Study of British Art and the UAL Decolonising Arts Institute. She is a co-chair of the British Art Network’s Black British Art Research Group and she is the editor of What is Black Art? Writings on African, Asian and Caribbean art in Britain, 1981–1989, Penguin Classics, 2022. With Derek Horton, she curated A Tall Order! Rochdale Art Gallery in the 1980s at Touchstones Rochdale, 2023.
Elizabeth Robles is a researcher and lecturer in contemporary art in the History of Art Department at the University of Bristol. She is particularly interested in the formation of ideas around ‘black art’ across the twentieth century and is currently a British Academy postdoctoral fellow working on a project entitled Making Waves: Black Artists & ‘Black Art’ in Britain from 1962–1982. Most recently she co-edited the exhibition publication The Place is Here: The Work of Black Artists in 1980s Britain (Sternberg, 2019) alongside curator Nick Aikens. She also co-leads the British Art Network Black British Artists Research Group.
Chandra Frank is a feminist researcher who works on the intersections of archives, waterways, gender, sexuality and race. Her curatorial practice explores the politics of care, experimental forms of narration, and the colonial grammar embedded within display and exhibition arrangements. Chandra holds a PhD from the Department of Media, Communications, and Cultural Studies with an emphasis on queer and feminist studies, from Goldsmiths, University of London. She has published in peer-reviewed journals and exhibition catalogues, including Feminist Review, the Small Axe VLOSA catalogue, The Place is Here publication and the collection Tongues. She recently co-edited a special issue on archives for Feminist Review. Chandra’s dissertation and book project looks at the everyday experiences of the transnational feminist and queer Black, Migrant and Refugee Movement in the Netherlands during the 1980s and the role of the archive therein. Currently, Chandra is a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Charles Phelps Taft Research Center at the University of Cincinnati.
Allison Thompson is an art historian and curator living in Barbados. She teaches in the Division of Fine Arts at the Barbados Community College and is co-director with Ewan Atkinson of PUNCH Creative Arena, an initiative for creative action. Thompson has worked with a number of cultural organizations including the Barbados National Art Gallery Board, the Black Diaspora Visual Arts Project, ICOM Barbados, and is the president of AICA Southern Caribbean. She co-authored Art in Barbados: What Kind of Mirror Image and co-edited Curating in the Caribbean.
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