What started as a means of getting outside of myself—to avoid thinking about a school curriculum that at the time I couldn’t handle—and became the aborted story of a relationship “told through titling and abstraction,” finally became a way of approaching the world, of engaging with it by dismantling it. Fig. 1-99 has been nothing short of a three year long thinking exercise that changed the way I approached not only collage, but all the creative endeavours that I’ve laboured toward. The original point was to tell a story, but it became much more about using a visual language to describe the world.
When I started, I wanted to talk about something fictional, and to talk about it without words; to approach with quietness the intricacies of a failing romantic pursuit. The titles were ridiculous: “Fig. 5, Study in Blue subtitled “Don’t Look Back” and “Fig. 38, Study in Violet & Blue subtitled “If I Didn’t Really Want to Do It,” among others. It soon became obvious that this approach did not serve the project at all, and in fact pinned too much meaning on images that should have existed without a personal bias or interpretation. At the beginning, and until the end, I didn’t know why I was making these things; but as the work approached conclusion I accepted my own unknowing, embracing the inherent qualities of the images rather than trying to efface them with story. The subtle shift from beginning to end was a purposeful one: rather than straight, flat colour, the addition of imperfection, damage, and typography became essential to the success of the work.
But what was the work about, if not a relationship? What never occurred to me was that I was attempting, through continued abstraction, to dismantle the objectivity of an image, and the addition—and necessity—of the broken typography, that often seemed to almost say something, is what finally made me understand that. Because I was sick of the perceived ease of collage, and the laziness that that perception often engendered, and I wanted to do something against it, against easily read images and against my own willingness to make those images. And my answer to that, or at least the final answer that I came to, was to get rid of all quick signifiers and replace them with words divorced from their context, given new meaning in the whole of the series, meaning tied less to language and more to repetition.
A good example of this is the continued use of the word “the”. A simple word gains a quality that it might never have if it’s repeated enough times. This is an extreme example; the word “the” exists in the English language the same way that salt exists in the ocean: everywhere. But to remove it, and focus on it, and make it the entire focus, gives even an innocuous word a meaning it might never have. It goes both ways. To have established a systematic showing of a single word allows actual phrases with actual meaning, such as the isolated “You better believe it!” from Fig. 62 or the “all the selectivity” construct from Fig. 97, to attain a meaning they might not have had otherwise. To put those glimpses of objective language into context with pure abstraction reinforces the qualities of both. Similarly, the use of objectively understandable cues, like the recurring motif of years or months, creates a relationship in the viewer’s mind between the image and it’s meaning, a relationship not predicated on the tone of the image but rather on the viewer’s perception of that tone.
But outside of the substrates and the words and the damage, the thing about this work that speaks the most, albeit the most quietly, is in the forms themselves. Every collage in this series has been made using the counterforms from a picture of a person. Or rather, from their portrait. Portraits shot on coloured backgrounds and used for magazine covers become abstract formal experiments intending to hint slightly at what’s missing in the image: the loss of the person, carefully taken out of context, as that context folds in on itself. In some of them it’s more obvious, and that’s what I find most interesting: that as many times as the counterforms are all straight lines and edges, there’s sometimes be a trace of hair, the outline of a hand, the curve of a back. The importance of people living in the work made obvious through their absence.
Language’s inability to fully explain—and the attempt to codify the unspoken—has been at then heart of a lot of my work, but none so much as this project, which up until now has been one of struggling to find meaning through doing, and slowly accepting the loss of understanding. The meaning that I found was a meaning that was based in repetition and slight variance of form, and I found that taken as a whole the work spoke to a dismantling of the way I spoke and thought about the work itself, from confidence to unknowing and finally, now, back again. What I understand is this: that this body of work is as much about an inability to speak as it is about a desire to communicate, that it’s about a loss of the self in the face of the wider world, and the remnants that are left behind to speak for us when we’re gone.
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