Part three: Visual communications – Project 2 – Combining visual elements – Exercise 2 – Re-contextualising images

John Heartfield  

What first impressed me in Helmut Herzfeld‘s work was the boldness of his collages and the strong anti-war, and at times pro-communism, messages he was sending through them, knowing well he could put his life in danger. My interest shifted towards his childhood; I thought he surely must have had an unusual upbringing to be so courageous. In disbelief I read about his parents abandonment of him in the likes of Hansel and Gretel, only this actually happened. He grew up in foster families and Catholic homes. In WW1 he anglicized his name to ‘John Heartfield’ after being fed up with the anti-English hostility that existed in Berlin. A rather daring move; just imagine if the opposite had happened if he was English living in the UK and changed his name to a German one. Later he became a Dadaist and with his brother and friends published Die Pleite (Bankrupt) magazine, which put him right as a Nazi target. Once Hitler became a dictator, Heartfield was one of the first that was chased after. But what really pushed Heartfield into a search for the truth was the Bertolt BrechtKurt Weill collaboration of Epic Theater, where Heartfield was working as a stage set artist. There, he saw the audience joining into thinking introspectively about the political scene of the time, something he was also attempting through his own political collages.


Peter Kennard

For the last five decades Peter Kennard has been using photomontage to express his concerns over modern warfare and its repercussions to society. He started by joining the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament movement in the late ’70s although his anti-war images are strong enough to remain relevant in today’s world. In fact, little has changed in our part of reacting to military campaigns and if anything we’re probably now desensitized to similar imagery. Kennard left painting and chose photomontage because he wanted to bring a level of reality to his work by putting together photographs that had become familiar visual cultural references and reconstructing them just enough to initiate again an element of shock in us. A diehard Londoner, he prefers to view the world through British eyes and in relation to UK politics. At times his artwork and his activist stance take place simultaneously, hence why he often creates artwork as the events unroll, leading to images that contain a ‘first response’ feeling. A feeling of angst for our future. It should be noted that Peter Kennard makes good use of online social media platforms to distribute his work and reach everyone.

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Vitrine containing Kennard’s work table (photo from http://www.peterkennard.com )


Hannah Höch

Yet another Dadaist on the list. Although Hannah Höch had to deal with the male-dominant world of the Arts, she is considered one of the first artists of photomontage and one of the most important personas of the Dada movement. In the midst of political turmoil, Höch used collages of images that came from publications available to everyone – magazines, newspapers, and others – while she carefully placed hidden gems of gender equality issues and prominent fellow Dadaist artists. In her personal life she would be linked with Raoul Hausmann -which, mistakenly, will be perceived as her true love- and later on with Mathilda Brugman to marrying businessman Kurt Matthies. Höch’s most important years are considered the ones while participating in the short lived Dada movement, even though she lived to create art for several decades. Her work for me,is more detailed and careful, more elegant and witty than the others I’ve seen so far in this exercise. 

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Hannah Höch, Cut with the Kitchen Knife Dada Through the Last Weimar Beer-Belly Cultural Epoch of Germany, 1919-20. On the upper right the Anti-Dadaists are grouped with Wilhelm II at the center while the Dada artists of the time -including John Heartfield and Hannah Höch herself- are gathered down on the right. 


Martha Rosler

While researching for an unrelated previous exercise, I found myself watching an old film art project where this woman is mimicking a cooking show -in a mechanical, boring way- while using the alphabet to name each kitchen tool she uses. The result for me was a funny yet sad at the same time portrait of a young -and at the time- modern housewife. The apron bearing woman was Martha Rosler and the video was Semiotics of the Kitchen (c.1975). Feminism here has a different sense and impact than that Hannah Höch was documenting. Domestic life was giving inspiration to her especially at a time the stereotype of the good wife was collapsing and the values of family life challenged. This was not an attempt to gain a position between other artists in an art or political movement, this was the aftermath, the social degeneration or rebirth of the woman in her new liberating form. Yet the identity of this modern woman would always be linked with the, at the time, ongoing war and politically related issues.  

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Martha Rosler ‘Nature Girls (Jumping Janes)’ from the series ‘Body Beautiful, or Beauty Knows No Pain’, 1966-72′, 2010, Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, the Netherlands


Now here is the thing. When I first read the exercise I rushed to create my own collage before I did the research on the artists. So I picked the drone incident in Gatwick.

It helped documenting the panic as it was an ongoing event and nobody seemed to know when it would be over, neither did I. Safety and technology questions arise; why couldn’t modern Britain stop a small drone? Is it a new type of blood-free terrorism? Are eco-terrorists so persistent and ignored? The investigation is still open as I’m typing this, so the perpetrator has no face yet to visualize the kind of person behind it and his motivation that led to this.  The incident ridiculed UK authorities and caused a great deal of financial trouble, let alone the fear of future copycat incidents. Is this over or has it just started?

To describe the picture below, I’d say I tried to capture the ‘collapse of a society’ in a few words, by placing people falling from the sky, drones painted yellow to resemble wasps, the army looking over all this helplessly, money being lost at the same time. I tried to find the font The Sun would use and added a title in all of this, ‘Drone terror’ in capital letters seemed to fit.

drone terrortwo

But alas, I’m rarely sure about things. So after I finished the research on the artists I figured the above picture lacks some things. In the research a common pattern I could see was the need to portray issues that can easily be overlooked or forgotten. Heartfield wouldn’t need to remind us we’re being exposed to one-sided propaganda. Kennard for example could have stopped after the first few anti-war posters. Höch wouldn’t have needed to throw in the mixed feminist messages. Rosler wouldn’t have needed to create more films on suburban domestic mundane life. My collage seemed to lack that ‘truth’ of things.

So, off I went to make a new one.

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Kim Jong-un and Moon Jae-in are about to change history over the border point of the two countries, April 26th 2018, (NOT EDITED)

I chose the recent story of the train Seoul sent to North Korea to help out to fix the dilapidated railroads, in hopes of connecting both countries in the future and enter a new era. N.Korea’s recent change of hearts was a longtime brewing strategy of Kim Jong-un. His country severely affected by the 90’s famine and military expenses didn’t leave much room to go any further. So, I suspect Kim Jong-un tried the Chinese way of ‘open communism’ that accepts capitalism (isn’t that socialism?) and in this way -and this is the genius part- he managed to make South Korea accept the north’s sovereignty while offering an olive branch and still be seen as a demi-god to his people that ended famine and kept their country intact.

My collage depicts the two leaders with the underlying unresolved issues that they need to deal with. In the windows we see the reflections of the famine children, the nuclear weapons, but also prostitution and materialism. They both keep their defenses at bay and the future is as unclear and unstable as the lava floor that separates the two nations.

On the left there is suspicion, prosecution and poverty, on the right there is abundance, promises and degeneration.

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Trying to find that truth through news is a difficult task. Information is often hidden or distorted to serve agendas, what we see is not always what happens and for some things the truth can be uncomfortable. Artworks can help fill in the gaps or keep reminding us of how different things can be and since we’re visual people the messages often have a lasting affect on us through imagery.

The type of imagery, the way pictures are cut and put together, can amplify that ‘truth’. In my example, I chose to add crucial issues from both nations on the windows in the back. It’s subtle because I didn’t want to overcrowd the picture with too many things that would bury information.

Another thing worth noting, I strongly believe the type of medium plays a role when creating a collage. I’ve had the chance to create collages both in paper form and digitally. It’s much easier to feel overwhelmed with imagery done digitally. Much of the position of things has to change since viewing the collage is restricted due to laptop screen sizes, digital colors and a two-dimensional perspective.

Furthermore, the simple task of cutting up paper gives to the artist the time and joy of manifesting his thoughts into something tangible.

SOURCES

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