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Cutting edge: contemporary collage

Thomas Hirschhorn

Contemporary collage - Thomas Hirschhorn (Collection MOMA)

For Swiss artist Thomas Hirschhorn (b. 1957) the act of art making is inextricably linked to a social and moral imperative, his practice characterised by concerted, often grimly forthright assaults on political injustice, the realties of war, violence and poverty, and structures of consumerist control such as advertising.

Although Hirschhorn is perhaps most often associated with sprawling, chaotic environments comprised of cheap, everyday materials, his early collage works - or Einzelarbeiten - provide a logical precursor to the later installative practice which he has frequently referred to as "collages in the third dimension".

Thomas Hirschhorn

Combining imagery sourced from magazines or the internet with tape, cardboard, paint, biro and marker pen, these powerful works rail against the many iniquities and social injustices the artist feels compelled to highlight.

Hirschhorn has stated that his objective when creating these collages was to produce "... a simple, easy and evident work. I wanted to do a basic, rough, primitive work. I wanted to do crude collages."

The art of collage - Thomas Hirschhorn

Intentionally abject and unpolished, the immediacy and urgency of these works is augmented by acts of scribbling, defacement and hand-written textual commentary.

Two-dimensional collage remains an important medium for Hirschhorn, and recent works adopt an uncharacteristic simplicity to make some of his most contentious, hard-hitting statements (below).

Juxtaposing material cropped from fashion glossies with 'mirror' images of the mutilated victims of Middle Eastern conflict, these harrowing, yet courageous, documents express the horrors of war against a backdrop of incessant incitement to consumption.

The art of collage - Thomas Hirschhorn

In Hirschhorn's own words, "...I want to create the condition for an Understanding of the World Ė the World I am living in.... Doing Collages means creating a New World with elements of the Existing World.

Doing Collages is expressing the Agreement with the Existing World without approving it. This is Resistance."


Contemporary collage - Thomas Hirschhorn

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Dash Snow

Contemporary collage - Dash Snow

Polemicism regarding Dash Snow's contribution to 21st century art was rife during his tragically short career, and no doubt will remain so for some time to come.

Dash Snow - collage in contemporary art

Hailed by many as a truly authentic voice - a radical, if wayward, creative spirit - others found his work insubstantial, its deficiencies masked by the hype surrounding the artist's heavily-scrutinised persona.

It certainly seems true that Snow himself was initially reluctant to view himself as a serious artist,only persuaded to show his production of polaroids, collages and installation fter repeated entreaties from friends such as Dan Colen and Ryan McGinley.

Our opinion leans towards recognising the importance of Snow's brief output, and although never uniformly impressed by his practice, certainly feel that his collages merit inclusion here.

Contemporary collage artists - Dash Snow

Energetic, irreverent and often surprisingly witty, they recapture something of the sloganeering, kick-ass essence of Dadaist collage while also revealing a multi-faceted personality seemingly torn between reflection and reaction.

Indeed, many of Snow's more delicate compositions belie his tearaway reputation (despite a consistent, rather de rigeur grubbiness) by hinting at a deep vulnerability.

The column of precariously balanced cut-out figures rising across adjoined sheets of yellowing paper, for example (left), is forever poised on the edge of almost certain collapse.

In other works, Snow's anti-establishment stance comes more obviously to the fore.

His well-known practice of splattering tabloid pages with semen (often embellished with a sprinkling of glitter) inevitably proved controversial, particularly since images of authority figures were frequent recipients of this indisputably powerful mark of contempt.

The art of collage - Dash Snow

Nevertheless, this novel interpretation of the front-page splash was complicated by similar treatment of middle eastern terrorists (left) - an act presumably as appealing to swathes of middle America as the rest of the artist's work was anathema.

Dash Snow was never, by most accounts, entirely seduced by the allure of the art scene, and although said to have rejected the support of his fabulously wealthy family, was probably never financially dependent on commercial success.

The sense that he simply didn't care enough about the intrinsic value of the work he produced can certainly be levelled as a criticism, but also allowed him to work with an unshackled, frequently rather brilliant freedom.

Contemporary collage - Dash Snow


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