(De)construction

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April 20, 2012
Susie Guenther Loewen |

I’ve mentioned before that I enjoy collaging (collage-ing?), which I guess makes me an amateur collageur (collage-ist?). Anyway, I like to cut up colourful papers and glue them onto cardboard. I find it relaxing, but, in another sense, I see it as a subversive act. Yes, it’s true. Making collages is one of my little ways of fighting capitalism, with all the awful wastefulness and inequality and deceitful rhetoric that comes along with it. Allow me to briefly but passionately explain why.

1. It’s a way of reusing, which is one eco-step better than recycling.

In a context that encourages us to throw everything away after using it once (assuming, of course, that it’s actually useful in the first place), it’s quite remarkable to actually take an old magazine – or book, newspaper, flyer, brochure, or postcard – and turn it into art. (This is the subversively-frugal spirit of More with Less in me). Of course, many of these things would end up in the recycling bin anyway, but this adds a whole extra cycle to their usefulness, and prevents all that lovely ink from getting bleached away before its particular hue, pattern, or image has been properly savoured and appreciated. Most of the collages I make are birthday/anniversary/wedding/get-well cards for loved ones, who are, by now, used to getting my tiny quilts of vivid scraps of paper, usually glued onto clean boxboard from cereal or crackers, which brings me to my second point.

2. It’s virtually free.

Did you catch the whole thing about reusing boxboard from food? Combine that with thrifted or free-swap-room-sourced magazines and other raw materials (have I mentioned the free swap room in my building, which I think every apartment building should have?), and all you have to buy is a glue-stick once in a while! No fancy, overpriced art store supplies required – or sketchy, possibly-lead-containing, dollar-store ones, for that matter! I’m also not too squeamish to go through (clean) recycling bins to scavenge whatever is usable, or to keep my eyes peeled for free, well-designed postcards or brochures wherever I go. Or, if I’m feeling particularly sly, I’ll grab a few choice colours of paint chips at the hardware store (and, get this: I’m not even planning on buying any paint, or even painting anything – now that’s devious!).

Plus, I really do enjoy making the cards (it’s one of my few visually-creative outlets), trying to make them personal (incorporating favourite colours or themes, and writing whatever I want, not what some schmo at a card company thinks I should say (like the main character in the movie 500 Days of Summer!)), and giving them away – I mean, who doesn’t love getting a homemade card? I know I do. And of course, even if I spent a bit at the thrift store to buy a magazine to cut to shreds, my perma-student-budget isn’t going to get in the way of giving someone a token of my affection that’s a quirky, scavenged sort of beautiful.

3. It’s constructive sabotage.

So besides not supporting the folks over at the greeting-card corporations, I find the symbolics of cutting up ads incredibly satisfying as a small, symbolic, creative, counter-capitalist act. In our culture, ads have a great deal of power over us. They fill our minds with subliminal messages, limiting our imaginations and coopting our desires. They’re designed to tyrannically tell us what to wear, what to want to look like, what to try to act and live like, and, especially, what to think is beautiful – and all for the purpose of selling us something. So ripping out a page from a glossy magazine and cutting out the scantily-clad, too-thin (and probably airbrushed) model from the foreground to get at the lovely colour of the wall behind her, for example, is my way of talking back! Cutting the logos and slogans and well-photographed products out and recycling them, while hanging on to the geometric pattern in the background, is my way of purposefully ignoring whatever messages the company was attempting to send to me, my way of looking at these ads against the intended way of looking at them, my way of privileging what’s between the lines, in a sense.

Ruthlessly deconstructed, reduced to colours and patterns, the ads lose their grip on my mind. They become inspiring instead of oppressive, opening the inward eyes of the imagination instead of boxing them in, offering multiple, generous possibilities instead of exclusive luxury. So, with scissors and glue and what might seem like garbage, I can make my own thing of beauty. And even though I’ve been doing this for years, I still find it thrilling every time.

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