by elin o’hara slavick
I’ve been making my collages my whole life. They are my constant companion, source of pleasure and the art I make for art’s sake. Many are made while traveling – in Canada, France, Japan, Turkey, Germany, Brazil, the Netherlands and the U.S. – and many more are made at home and in the studio. Collages are hysterical surprises, fragmented landscapes, delirious layers of appropriation and ambiguity, shocks of juxtaposition, subconscious reactions and automatic narratives in the surrealist spirit.
Collage is a means to collide times, to simultaneously forget and remember, to process and refuse, resist and celebrate, to whimsically collect and discard scraps of everything, to combine the unconscious space of dreams and fantasy with the foreigner’s zone and a stranger’s perspective, to spin a magical narrative out of organic elements, tape, childhood drawings, playing cards, discarded books, postcards, art historical reproductions, magazines, xerox transfers, anatomical illustrations, vintage and new photographs, archives, maps and an old bible. It is a form of choreography.
Many of my collages focus on the female body and celebrate, critique, or otherwise make visual the complexity of feminism, pleasure, eroticism, psychological states, marginalized positions, sexuality, political identifications, and historical positions. Many of these conditions overlap and clash in hysterical juxtapositions.
In the spirit of German artist Hannah Hoch, who made collages at the dawn of the era of mechanical reproduction, I am working against the virtual tide of exclusive and temporary digital experience. I utilize and undo tangible representations of the past and present to offer images of a dystopian / utopian imaginary. The collages subvert dominant ideologies and mainstream representations of desire, struggle and being. Collages are critiques of representation itself. Recent collages have addressed child detentions along the Mexico border, transgender rights, feminist liberation, climate change and terrorism – all through the use, juxtaposition and transformation of images of the human body. A terrorist becomes a nursing mother. Trees suddenly have eyes and mouths.
Passionately interested in Black Mountain College and the Bauhaus since high school, it is no accident that my collage process acknowledges – or pays tribute to – Josef Albers, who taught at both extraordinary places. Albers would ask students to take three colors and turn them into four and to make art out of newspapers only using their hands, essentially, to make something out of nothing or to transform a simple unary thing into a complicated multitude. For Albers, every material was equal to every other material: oil painting is no more important than a dance performance; collage is just as important as drawing. Collage plays by no rules and obeys no hierarchy – ideas at the radical heart of the Black Mountain College experience.
– elin o’Hara slavick, 2019
elin o’Hara slavick is a Professor of Studio, Theory and Visual Practice at UNC, Chapel Hill. Slavick has exhibited her work internationally, and her work is held in many collections, including the Queens Museum, The National Library of France, The Library of Congress and the Art Institute of Chicago. Slavick is the author of two monographs – Bomb After Bomb: A Violent Cartography with a foreword by Howard Zinn, and After Hiroshima, with an essay by James Elkins and a chapbook of surrealist poetry, Cameramouth. She has held artist residencies in Canada, France and Japan. Her work has been featured in the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Images Magazine, FOAM, San Francisco Chronicle, Asia-Pacific Journal, Photo-Eye, and Actuphoto: Actualite Photographique, among other publications. Her work explores issues of labor, war, history, feminism, the body, and the Anthropocene. A curator, critic, poet, educator, artist, activist, and organizer, slavick hopes to see the radical and peaceful transformation of the world before she dies.