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MONTAGE+THE ARTISTS’ BOOK: a paper by Victoria Cooper

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Victoria and the ARTISTS’ BOOK YEARBOOK 2018-9

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 I’ve recently had a major paper on my research into the montage and artists’ books published in the ARTISTS’ BOOK YEARBOOK 2017-8 edited by Sarah Bodman from the Centre for Fine Print Research (CFPR) at the University of the West of England. The paper covers ongoing research which was undertaken as part of my Siganto Foundation Research Fellowship at the State Library of Queensland.

 

 

Here are the first 2 paragraphs from the paper

 

LIMINAL MOMENTS AT THE EDGES: READING MONTAGE NARRATIVES IN ARTISTS BOOKS        

 

Each time I am drawn into the montage image as a reader, I experience a liminal moment – I am at a threshold where I will enter into an unknown space. Although I may recognise familiar characteristics in each fragment I am disorientated by their juxtaposition in these hybrid images. My focus for the Siganto Research Fellowship in the Australian Library of Art (ALA) collection, at the State Library of Queensland (SLQ) is to review and study this liminal reading of the montage through the edges and joins of the fragments. In this research I am guided by the writing of Pierre Bourdieu, Roland Barthes and Sergei Eisenstein to orient myself in the reading and articulate my findings from the perspective of the reader. Also underpinning this research is the extensive history of combining, gluing, montaging, and collaging of image work in many mediums including film, photography and book making.

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During my fellowship, I have reviewed over 100 artists’ books and many artists’ statements held in the ALA. The scope of this research was limited to particular works of Australian artists including Peter Lyssiotis, Gracia Haby and Louise Jennison. However selected works by British artist Helen Douglas and other international artists from the ALA collection were also considered in my research to include an international perspective. As I am a montage maker and thinker, I have decided to include some artists’ books that–although by the artist’s definition are collage– I ‘read’ as montage. My focus is on the visual ‘reading’ of the combined fragments through their edges and the spaces between. There are also considerations for the combination with mixed media including sound, photography and drawing.

This investigation does not set out to define a lexicon for montage or collage for the makeri and as such, in the writing, I will refer to the image works I am researching as montage/collage.

[i] See my blog post for the Australian Library of Art, State Library of Queensland, http://blogs.slq.qld.gov.au/ala/2016/05/27/reading-montages-perceptions-dilemmas-edges-and-resolution/

 

Key books that I discuss in the paper are from the following artists:

Peter Lyssiotis, Feather and Prey, (1997), Masterthief Enterprises, Melbourne

Peter Lyssiotis, Products of Wealth, (1997), Masterthief Enterprises, Melbourne

Lorelei Clark, Brisbane: River City, (2010), Lagoongrass Press, Brisbane

Jack Oudyn, The very first book of fish, (199?), Micro Press, Ormiston, Queensland

Gracia Haby and Louise Jennison, And we stood alone in the silent night, (2008), Melbourne

Gracia Haby and Louise Jennison, Salvaged Relatives, Melbourne

Lyn Ashby, 20 minutes, , (2011), ThisTooPress, Victoria

Helen Douglas & Zoe Irvine, Illiers Combray. (2004), Weproductions, Scotland

Dianne Fogwell, Gene Pool, (2000), Edition & Artist Book Studio, Canberra School of Art, Canberra

 

You can download a copy of my paper HERE

PLEASE NOTE: This download version contains colour photographs of the books discussed – the Yearbook is published in monochrome.

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Thank you to all the artists who gave permission for their works to be photographed and presented in the publication.

Enjoy — and I would appreciate any comments you may have about the paper…

 

You can buy your own hard copy of the Yearbook from UWE HERE

UWE Publications website

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VICKY DISCUSSES ‘READING MONTAGES’ on the SLQ Blog

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Siganto Research Fellow Victoria Cooper

Siganto Research Fellow Victoria Cooper

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Vicky has recently posted a her latest paper about her research on the State Library of Qld’s Blog. This latest post comments on the montage and is illustrated by some interesting books from the SLQ’s Artists’ Book Collection.

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Read on or visit the post here: http://blogs.slq.qld.gov.au/ala/2016/05/27/reading-montages-perceptions-dilemmas-edges-and-resolution/

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Reading Montages: perceptions, dilemmas, edges and resolution.

Nomenclature Dilemma: Collage or Montage

In this third blog post I will share the dilemmas of encountering the blurred boundaries associated with the lexicon of these art forms, for example: What is the difference between collage and montage? Does it matter? Are there different “readings” of collage vs montage images that have been reproduced by mechanical or digital means for both wall art, or as encountered in my research, book forms? I will present an Occam’s Razor resolution arising from the considerations that inform my research to provide a path through the complexity of these issues.

Responding to terminology dilemma:

As I progress through the research I am continually confronted with terminology issues and questions regarding the nature of montage and its intersection with collage. The dilemma is with me as a kind of Sisyphean cycle where, after climbing the mountain of wondrous diversity in the Australian Library of Art artists’ book collection; I am drawn back down by the weighty issues of inconsistent terminology.

Many artists, who cut, arrange and glue disparate and/or mixed media elements refer to their work as collage or for computer made images, digital collage.  This should be the end of the debate as the etymology of collage is the French word ‘to glue’. But there are others who cut and piece together disparate elements and ‘glue’ and then fuse them within the image and refer to their process as montage (or digital montage for computer images). Also interesting to note is that the origin of the word montage is a French word meaning ‘to mount’.  Is there a need to differentiate between these similar practices? Does terminology affect the ‘reading’ of these works? In my art practice I refer to myself as a montage maker, thinker and reader and as such I bring my own perspective to reading visual narratives.

Gracia Haby and Louise Jennison, who prefer to be known as paper artists, make collage works. Their unique state artists’ books and democratic multiples in the form of zines and editions of artists’ books have a place within this discussion.
Haby and Jennison responded to my email question regarding the nature of the digital work in their book, ‘And we stood alone in the silent night’, where they state that: ‘Digital collages are made in chorus with unique state pieces. They are all a means of making, with the ‘how’ of lesser interest to us than the ‘why’ or ‘message’.

In their statement above they suggest that the means of the making is secondary to the final work. Even when the collage has been digitally scanned and then printed it remains, for them, a collage.

‘And we stood alone in the silent night’

‘And we stood alone in the silent night’

The book, ‘And we stood alone in the silent night’, presents the reader with an enchanted narrative through the composition of images and poetic texts across the pages. Underpinning the reading is the smooth and seamless joins of the elements creating a surreal landscape with a theatre of colourful inhabitants. The compositional elements draw the reader into a kind of Alice in Wonderland experience of reading: where the fused elements are arranged in a mise en page; and the turning page emulates the scenes of a paper movie (i) . The small size text comes through the reading as a poetic aside to underscore the scene.

‘And we stood alone in the silent night’

‘And we stood alone in the silent night’

Haby and Jennison’s careful cutting and pasting of added elements over or alongside the original image distinguish their broader collage work.  Again, in these works the silent edges between these interventions and the original image provide uninterrupted reading. Importantly as this transition or interval between the elements goes unnoticed the added element ultimately colonize the interior space and time of the original image.

So far in my research, I have not found many artists that tear and roughly cut their elements intentionally leaving these edges in the final montage for the reader to interpret. One example however is Lorelei Clark’s work, ‘Brisbane: River City‘.

Although the elements are fused by digital

reproduction, their roughly torn or cut edges seem to separate the elements so that the reading is disturbed much like a jump-cut (ii)  edit in a film.

'Brisbane: River City'

‘Brisbane: River City’

The elements combined in this way demand separate attention and focus on individual parts of the narrative or issue presented. As the source material may have been glossy magazines or pictorial publications, these edges could represent a critique or even an attack on social issues that affect the human condition. In many ways the reading is unsettling, rather like the political montages of Peter Lyssiotis, they shout back at the reader.

'The very first book of fish'

‘The very first book of fish’

Another example of the rough cut collage can be found in Jack Oudyn’s Book of Fish series of small books, where the original collage or paste-up can be seen in the ALA collection along with the small zine like productions. Rather than attached to the surface, the reproduction of these collages fuses the elements into the page and transforms the reading of the text and images. In these little books, the elements are submerged within the narrative and seem to float around like the flotsam and jetsam of everyday life.

Jack Oudyn 'The very first book of fish'.

Jack Oudyn ‘The very first book of fish’.

My resolve:

For the purpose of this research, I have decided to take account of how the artist defines their work as stated in the Library catalogue. As a researcher I am reliant on the information supplied by the artist, either in the form of an artist’s statement or catalogue information. This information allows a deep engagement with the work that ultimately enriches the reading experience for the researcher. Many may consider that too much information may reduce the potential for the book to be reimagined, but for readers like myself there are many ‘readings’ of an artists’ book.  As social scientist, Pierre Bourdieu suggests that an artwork is:

‘in fact made not twice, but hundreds of times, thousands of times by all those who have an interest in it, who find a material or symbolic profit in reading it, classifying it, decoding it, commenting on it, reproducing it, criticizing  it, combating it, knowing it, possessing it.’ (iii)

As mentioned earlier in this blog I refer to my work as montage, and align my methodology and inspiration with that of film and the pioneers of montage and page design from the early 20th century. In this research I have found similarities in the ‘reading’ of collages that have been either created or reproduced through mechanical or digital processes with the images created as montages. As I strive to engage with the many new ways of reading that each artist presents, any background information can take me into new spaces and places, each time I read the same book.

So rather than questioning the terminology, either a collage or montage, I am more informed by the way elements are grafted or combined; their arrangement on the page; the typography and page design. When the elements such as type, photographs, painting, drawing, found objects etc have been fused within the space of the page of the book by photomechanical, digital or another printmaking process, I will read these as a montage. As such, in the research I will consider the following:

•    whether I am seduced by nature of the smooth transition and the interval between elements is subliminal or if the torn edge focuses my attention;
•    whether the adjacency of the elements is disturbing or attacking my attempts to flow smoothly;
•    whether the transition has been digitally achieved or by hand if the information is available.

The nature of the edges of the combined visual elements within the composition is a profound aspect to reading these visual books. So rather than questioning the terminology, whether a collage or montage, I will continue in my ‘montage readings’ informed by the narratives contained within and between grafted edges.

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Victoria Cooper

 

PART 2 of this research series can be viewed here https://wotwedid.com/2016/03/19/victorias-slq-blog-post-montage-research/

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i. Lou Stoumen is the author of visual books including ‘Can’t Argue With Sunrise: A Paper Movie‘ (1975)
ii. Film makers Jean-Luke Godard and Sergei Eisenstein championed the use of discontinuity devices such as jump cuts in scenes to disrupt the flow of the cinematic narrative and create the illusion of moving through time and space. This was intended to engage the viewer proactively to think about the issues surrounding the scene.
iii. Bourdieu, Pierre. ‘The Rules of Art: Genesis and Structure of the Literary Field’. Translated by Susan Emanuel. Stanford University Press, 1996. Editions du Seuil 1992. Page 171.

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VICTORIA’S SLQ BLOG POST – Montage Research

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____ALA-Blog-Victoria

 

http://blogs.slq.qld.gov.au/ala/2016/03/03/fractured-worlds-i-considering-the-photomontage-work-of-peter-lyssiotis/

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Recently Victoria’s ongoing research on the topic of montage in artists’ books was published. This paper discussed Peter Lyssiotis’ work and the use of photomontage.

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‘Fractured Worlds’ (i) : Considering the photomontage work of Peter Lyssiotis

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Photomontage is the cause before it becomes the picture.  . . .
For me, ideas present themselves as a presence. Their full realization depends not so much on thinking them, but rather in making them…. (ii)

Spanning several decades of artists’ book production, Peter Lyssiotis’ work both openly probes contemporary political issues, while in many books, presents an enigmatic personal vision through his poetic visual narratives. Lyssiotis is a not only an artist and maker of books he is also a reader; he has an extensive knowledge of literature along with historical and contemporary thinking on art. Inspired by the political montage work of German artist John Heartfield, Lyssiotis brings to his photomontage compositions well researched and deeply considered thought processes. As he creates his montage work, Lyssiotis will often have metaphorical conversations with Heartfield. In a recent personal communication Lyssiotis poetically expressed this deep connection:

The shadow of John Heartfield always crosses the work I am making. Sometimes he’s so pleased he smiles and sometimes he gets so annoyed his shadow becomes pitch black. . . (iii)

In my research at the ALA, I look at Lyssiotis’ work not only for its content but also for the deeply considered and painstaking aesthetic work behind each montage production in image, page and book. In his statement in Products of wealth (cited in the epigraph) he discloses how the power of the work is developed through the making. It is this Material Thinking (iv) process that informs my ‘reading’ of the artists books I have chosen to engage with in this research. All artists’ books are invested with rich imagery drawn from the artist’s mind and hand, including computer or photo-mechanically generated and composed narratives.

As a reader of these books I now hold the object that represents the time spent problem solving, the years of knowledge in making and working with materials, the conceptual development of all elements that is the book–whether simple or complex, the aesthetic choices for image, page and text design, the many small or big decisions that are embodied in this work of art that is made to be held and considered by a reader.  My challenge now is to find a way to share these insights with you as a distant reader who is unable to take in the necessary sensory and haptic experience of reading these works of art. In this blog I share my ruminations and questions that inspire me to read and read again many times these books of wondering and wandering, which are deeply poetic and sometimes melancholic.

I chose, Feather and Prey, for the deeply considered and poetic use of the page; the balance and arrangement of image, text and white space. Alternatively, Products Of Wealth has politically motivated photomontage prints tipped-in or glued onto the page. These are two very different ways of composing a narrative with photomontage and text and ultimately presented two different experiences for reading the montage.

Feather and Prey is bound in black leather with details of red leather on the spine and embossed images on the front and back covers.

Covers of Feather and prey by Peter Lyssiotis.

These embossed images at the beginning and end importantly announce that the reading starts from the cover rather than from inside the book. Along with this distinctive book binding, the use of fine art papers and considered printing processes, suggests a reverence in the reading of each page.

The photo-elements in Lyssiotis’ montage narratives are no longer records of reality but now have emerged, through a process of poiesis, as visual codes with a new life and purpose:

In these images giant moths are nibbling away at the perfect mechanical reproduction that photography promises. They don’t rely on the traditional borders of a photograph to tell them when to start and where to finish. They don’t want to be a photograph; they would prefer to be maquettes for pieces of sculpture. (v)

These new hybrid images create a disturbance within the familiar routine of everyday practice and present an alternate way of perceiving and referring to the world. The visual semiotics of reality that photography represents is now channeling through montage–new spaces for imagining–a poetics of dreams.

But what characteristic does Lyssiotis identify in each element as he carefully separates them from their original contexts? Does this question really matter, as each fragment will be transformed having little relationship to its origin. These montaged elements are then fused together perhaps as a metaphorical act of transcendence and then placed or montaged within the page.

These fragments of images and text strategically appear across the white space in the book. In a short exegetic essay or artist’s statement on this book Lyssiotis discusses his intention for the white space in the book:

The white spaces here constitute something unassuming: a whiteness more like a whisper; something neutral.

In the whiteness there are things the photographic paper has not been allowed to reveal; these are not omissions, they are commissions … of sins, failed intentions, of habit. (vi)

I turn the pages and they ‘whisper’ of something hidden where only hints and clues are allowed through as the photomontage emerges through the white space. A cherub holds a curtain rope that reveals a narrow view of the sky behind.

Feather and prey by Peter Lyssiotis

Does the white space hide knowledge from the reader as if in a white out or a fog? Or is Lyssiotis creating a collaborative space with the reader to bring to the reading their own narrative or composition–a psychological montage of memory and life’s experience?

Lyssiotis’ texts are evocative, poetic and political and appear sparingly in different places on each page. The texts and their aesthetic placement on the page–a mise en page (vii) –add to the layering of the reading as a montage. In Feather and Prey Lyssiotis signals that perhaps there could be shifting meanings arising in the reading of the words and their visual placement on the page. In the book he writes:

Words always arrange themselves to tell

The same story: that things will change

But words are heretics and later,

In the fire they will deny it all.

In Products of Wealth the montages  (viii) are not embedded in the page but rather pasted over the white space where the page becomes the carrier rather than part of the message.

Products of wealth by Peter Lyssiotis

These images become windows–looking into a montage hybrid world that may seem alien to us but paradoxically it is of us. Looking into the space of the image–rather than the page as in Feather and Prey–I am transported to a place where there is no space left to think… claustrophobic. The view shows the reader terrifying and perhaps even diabolic territories for consideration and reflection.

The edition consists of six separate books stored and presented in a bespoke box.

Products of wealth by Peter Lyssiotis

The books are bound using the simple pamphlet style, perhaps referencing the tradition of the political publication. The covers of the books are red and the box is covered in red and black cloth again suggesting the political nature of the reading. As I read, I notice that the 3D relief pattern of the letterpress texts (ix) seems to bite emphatically into the paper.  Lyssiotis’ choice of font styles along with the red and black font colours also adds to the political tone that is invested in the photomontages and the binding. In book 6, Lyssiotis writes about the montage:

In these montages, the planet isn’t about to explode; the explosion has already happened. What is left is a fractured world

Finally, I find it interesting to note that these books were produced in the same year, 1997, and yet each have quite different approaches to the montage of image, text and page. Can these differences point to a deeper comprehension of the value in and values of visual reading? In this kind of reading the psychology and memory of the reader can be engaged in the transference of something more than knowledge and information.

So is the montage a space for questions rather than answers?  Reading these artists’ books is in some way also a montage where the visual narrative and the artistic intention is adapted and interpreted by the memory and mind of the reader. Perhaps the nature of the montage hybrid including the page could be comprehended in terms of gestalt. As it is greater than the individual parts–the montage can be a holistic comment or reflection on the cultural and human questions of its historical location.

 

Victoria Cooper PhD

Feb 2016

 


(i) Peter Lyssiotis, 1997, The Products of Wealth, Book 6: Political Photomonteurs Can Give You The Courage To Eat Bricks, Masterthief Enterprises, Melbourne.
(ii) Ibid.
(iii) Handwritten note sent by email to the author, February 23 2016. In this note, Lyssiotis presents an evocative and intriguing discussion on the montage works in his books Feather and Prey and The Products of Wealth. Although seemingly a dialogue between himself and Heartfield, it is more a self-critique informed by the Heartfield polemics and the political montage. This note will be published in full with the permission of Peter Lyssiotis in a future article I am writing on his work.
(iv) As presented in: Paul Carter 2004, Material Thinking, Melbourne University Publishing Ltd, Melbourne. In many ways this book is a philosophical discussion on the work and methodology of the artist including: the interaction with their materials, the intellectual nature of the artists’ visual research and their resulting art.
(v) In the ALA original Materials Archive there are several boxes of Peter Lyssiotis papers. This quote is cited from unpublished writing discussing his book “Feather and Prey” Call Number: item #29358/3 box # 13331.
(vi) ibid.
(vii) This references the mise en scène in cinema theory.
(viii) The montages are black and white archival fibre-based silver gelatin photographic prints where Lyssiotis worked with Robert Colvin to print for this publication.
(ix) Texts were handset and printed by Nick Doslov, Renaissance Bookbinding

 

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