Book Review: Crystal B. Lake, Artifacts: How We Think and Write about Art Objects

Crystal B. Lake, Artifacts: How We Think and Write About Objects, Johns Hopkins University Press, 2020, 272 pp., 4 bw illus. ISBN: 9781421436500

Madeleine Pelling, York

Artifacts has been nominated for the Kenshur Prize 2021. You can view the shortlist here.

Fig. 1 Fragments of medieval, early modern and modern ceramics alongside an iron horseshoe. Photograph by author.

Like most living through the global pandemic, I have spent much of the last few months walking the same familiar routes near my house. Setting off from my front door each day with my dogs, I traverse first the streets and then the fields and woods surrounding the rural North Yorkshire town in which I currently live. Having moved here just after the first UK-wide lockdown, I knew little of this place, its people or its history but, in the weeks and months that followed, I soon came to know every cobbled snickelway (a Yorkshire word for alley or passageway) and winding footpath within several miles’ radius.

An integral, though unplanned, part of this daily rhythm has since emerged. Early on, an evening walk led me through a nearby farmstead and across one of its fields, filled with the undulating remnants of a medieval complex hidden just beneath the turf. Picking my way around the muddy path through its centre, churned up by livestock and setting in the sun in malleable waves, I looked down to see a shard of pottery emerging from the earth. Closer inspection revealed a thick, rough red piece, broken in long, uneven fractures down either side and cut through with a black streak; possibly the surviving fragment of an early modern roof tile belonging to an earlier iteration of the farm through which I had passed and now lost to the soil. Pocketing this broken and otherwise worthless object, I continued on my way. On the walks that have filled the subsequent days since then, I have made similar discoveries; small, broken, sometimes near-indistinguishable slivers of ceramic and glass variously buried under the feet of fellow walkers, turned up by a plough, or washed to the edge of the local river and stranded amidst the shale. A splinter of brown medieval pot, the faded elegance of a blue and white eighteenth-century plate, the bold stripes of a 1930s teacup. Each time I see one of these seemingly insignificant things, I carry it home, clean it up, and place it in a box on my desk to be contemplated later or collaged into a future mosaic.

In a moment in which our worlds have shrunk to the size of small households, well-worn but solitary pathways and, increasingly, digital spaces, these real, material objects have provided the means to construct a narrative of the place in which I live. In passing shuttered shops, the empty cinema, and desolate cafes, I have instead looked to these small, accidentally uncovered treasures to feel out and gather together evidence of the history and character of the town, imagining them as tangible links to those who have come before and, perhaps, substitutes for the tactile encounters we are all missing.

But the distance between the past and present, and how we fill that gap with theorizations of the material culture that – often through pure happenstance – has survived decay, is complex. How we think and write about these objects is the subject of Crystal Lake’s Artifacts.[1] Published in 2020, this book has, like the fragments gathered on my walks, sat on my desk for several months. In this time, it has become integral to my thinking, informing various projects, and providing a new vocabulary:

Artifacts are sufficiently distanced from their users both in time and space as the things buried in and by the past; they enter into the present pocked with signs of this distance. Their survival is an accident of time, their discovery often equally accidental. They do not have obvious use functions in the present. You are unlikely to try to buy milk with an ancient coin, use a medieval manuscript for completing your math homework, bring a rusty sword to a gunfight, or repurpose anything you find in a king’s grave. (p. 196)

Lake’s definition of ‘artifacts’ is a major intervention. Her definition of the term builds on Bruno Latour’s proposal that nonhuman objects have agency to explore how close study of the broken and fragmented stuff of the past might engender a range of narratives and expose the complex intersections between ‘objects, events, systems, and ideas.’[2] Setting her study in the eighteenth century, a moment in which historiographical and literary formulation took a particularly material turn, Lake complicates the notion that objects held within them otherwise unknown and unknowable information. Instead, she reveals how ‘rarely did they do what they were supposed to do: act as the agents of facts.’[3] Artifacts, she insists, were ‘vibrant’ (a term borrowed from Jane Bennett[4]) and the study of them, rather than produce definitive truth, occasioned ‘ongoing disputes over how to interpret what it was, exactly, that they revealed about the past and the nature of government.’[5]

The book proposes that ‘throughout the long eighteenth century artifacts preserved old conflicts over England’s political history.’[6] They were ‘taken up repeatedly by fictions as well as histories’ and perceived as ‘invitations to indulge in thought experiments about the past.’[7] But how such experiments were formulated depended on how antiquaries and writers went about reading – or listening to – old and fragmented stuff. In the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, Lake suggests, artifacts’ ‘vexed materiality, their fragmented qualities’ rendered them supposedly unreliable, not easily categorised and, as a result, eventually erased from the (art) historical record.[8] But, crucially, the difficulties in pinning down just what artifacts were saying proved them ‘adept as mediators of form and stylistic techniques in the period’s texts’ and indeed, the book’s focus on the close relationship between material culture and literary production is especially fruitful.[9]

In her opening chapter, Lake positions the antiquary of the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries as a central figure in the mediation and interpretation of artifacts. She reveals how historical objects were ‘at the nexus of […] competing scientific, philosophical, and political ideas’ and the study of them therefore necessarily polemical.[10] The practitioners of this tradition were routinely targets of satire as well as serious criticism; Horace Walpole described the Society of Antiquaries as a bunch of ‘boobies’ and ‘midwives of superannuated miscarriages’ while the actor and playwright Samuel Foote lampooned them in Taste (1752).[11] But, Lake proposes, while antiquaries were laughed at for their relishing of dusty and broken fragments, moth-eaten manuscripts, and the mouldering remains of long-dead kings, their industrious endeavours in seeking out, recording, and disseminating the remnants of England’s treasures would have longer and more powerful theoretical implications.

The first case study in Artifacts turns to the broad assemblage of ten thousand items gathered by James Salter, servant to Sir Hans Sloane, and afterwards displayed at his famous coffeehouse, Don Saltero’s. The collection contained within it many of the kinds of objects (coins, manuscripts, weapons and grave goods) that Lake scrutinises in the following chapters. Unlike the British Museum, first established in 1753 with the bequeathed collections of Sloane himself and which, by the mid-late eighteenth century, discouraged visitors from close inspection of objects, Don Saltero’s offered a markedly more tactile encounter with the past. In such space, and accompanied by a printed catalogue, ‘artifacts on display reminded the coffeehouse’s customers of relics – and of the sovereigns who exploited them in order to assert their own claims to divine right.’[12] Looking to contemporary visitor accounts, Lake reveals how objects were seen to carry with them the traumatic histories of previous centuries:

Descriptions of Saltero’s […] offer a representative example that complicates the characterization of the Enlightenment that prevails in the new materialisms; the artifacts […] were not readily purified in part because they preserved the vestiges of pre-Enlightenment materialisms.[13]

Questions of artifacts’ politics and their increasingly sophisticated relationship to texts looking to understand and explain them continue into the second half of the book to follow four major studies, all revolving around a type of object. Each new chapter is introduced with a single image (the book is otherwise, and perhaps surprisingly, unillustrated), taken from the Society of Antiquaries’ landmark Vetusta Monumenta, a text currently being digitised with additional scholarly commentary in a project headed, in part, by Lake. Although not fully representative of the impressive scope of the book, Lakes’ focus on the Society provides a thread throughout and underscores her interest in uncovering the eighteenth-century networks that sought to scrutinise historical objects and which put into action formal tools and institutional mechanisms for documenting, thinking and writing about them.

Chapters three and four turn to coins and manuscripts respectively and examine the perceived opportunities and limitations in engaging such objects. Perhaps most pressingly in a period in which they were widely circulated (and falsified) as currency as well as collected as historical items, coins represented slippery and uneasy histories. As tokens of the ‘royal touch’ they ‘served as evidence of the king’s divinely ordained ability to cure diseases and, by extension, a king’s inherently benevolent relationship to his subjects.’[14] But, they could also reveal themselves as ‘counterfeit propaganda [or] exemplify the perils of idolatry and the vanity of tyrannical despots.’[15] Manuscripts were similarly unreliable, though far less sturdy in their material qualities and, Lake shows us, intriguingly compared to ‘butterflies’ and even ‘irradiated armadillos’ in a period characterised as much by the development of natural history as antiquarian study. Manuscripts were volatile, vulnerable to forgery and destruction by fire or simple old age. They were also tools for self-fashioning, gathered together in large archives and libraries by eminent men and, Lake demonstrates, growing quieter and quieter in terms of what it was they actually said, or didn’t say, about the past.

Chapter five opens with a familiar tableau from Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto, in which a giant helmet falls from the sky, before turning to the extant historical weaponry circulated in eighteenth century London. Weapons, Lake posits, ‘littered England’s cultural landscape’ and ‘could appear to be vital or mechanical pieces of matter [but] also supply historical matters of fact for a range of ideological claims.’[16] In particular, propagandistic displays of swords, pikes, helmets, and armour at the Tower of London, installed in previous centuries, came under new scrutiny in the eighteenth century by antiquaries and writers alike. Such items could be studied in broader contexts to draw out comparative art and design histories. They also gave themselves over to myriad forms of textual translation, from tourist guidebooks to Jonathan Swift’s Tale of a Tub and Tobias Smollett’s Sir Launcelot Greaves. Both Swift and Smollett, for example, ‘depicted weapons as a means of critiquing the ways in which violence had begot violence while both also imagined how their own texts might function as weapons.’[17]

Artifacts’ final case study looks to grave goods buried with the kings of England and later excavated in the eighteenth century; among them Edward I, exhumed in 1774, Edward IV in 1789, King John in 1797, and Charles I in 1813. Setting these discoveries against a backdrop of revolution, in which ‘vitalist ideas once again promised to disseminate power more equally among a state’s citizens by investing all matter with agency,’ Lake reveals growing anxiety that the ‘liveliness of matter that lurked in the graves of England’s sovereigns’ might bring reincarnation and, with that, a resurfacing of old struggles.[18] And indeed, while scientific experiments on the corporeal remains set out to prove this matter was, in fact, definitively dead, the physical bringing up of royal bodies gave rise to a number of cultural and literary afterlives; from the involvement of the Prince Regent and Sir Henry Halford, doctor to George III, in the exhumation of Charles I to antiquarian clashes in John Wolcot’s A Rowland for an Oliver (1790) and vampiric satire in Byron’s Windsor Poetics.

The political stakes of what artifacts said, then, ‘were almost unimaginably high’ and ‘had the power to make the case for or against regicide and revolution, for or against what constituted treason or democracy.’[19] But, Lake insists, if asked whether artifacts have politics, eighteenth-century antiquaries would emphatically answer ‘no.’ The problem of artifacts in this period, as the book has it, was that ‘although [they] had the power to act as political agents, they enjoyed such power precisely because they were not thought to be inventive or invested in the matters of fact they revealed.’[20] Instead, they were open to different, often conflicting interpretations and, as a result, were eventually discarded and dismissed as the scrappy, incomplete detritus of history. In considering this, Lake proposes that while history ‘does establish artifacts as objects that have the ability to act,’ they also ‘lead us to look to the texts that they afford in order to assess their influence.’[21] In these productions, objects’ incompleteness could combine with ‘imaginative guesswork’ in the gaps between material fact and fiction. Compellingly, the book concludes that ‘artifacts taught us how to dig for more – how to read with suspicion by keeping an eye out for a text’s origins or real-life referents as well as for its ideological investments[.]’[22]

Artifacts is a theoretically rich text and essential reading for anyone working on material and literary cultures, both within and beyond eighteenth-century studies. Furthermore, Lake’s work opens up new space for future scholars to think beyond the relationship between object and text to consider more deeply antiquarianism’s visual languages and the translation of objects into historically and politically encoded images.  


[1] Crystal B. Lake, Artifacts: How We Think and Write About Objects (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2020).

[2] Lake, Artifacts, p. 11; Bruno Latour, Reassembling the Social: An Introduction to Actor-Network-Theory (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005).

[3] Ibid.

[4] Jane Bennett, Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things (Durham: Duke University Press, 2010).

[5] Lake, Artifacts, p. 13.

[6] Ibid, p.165.

[7] Ibid, p. 196.

[8] Ibid, p. 165.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid, p. 22-4.

[11] Ibid, p. 25.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Ibid, p. 48.

[14] Ibid, p. 32.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Ibid, pp. 137, 162.

[17] Ibid, p. 138.

[18] Ibid, p. 166.

[19] Ibid, p. 198.

[20] Ibid.

[21] Ibid, p. 199.

[22] Ibid, p. 206.

Author’s Bio
Dr Madeleine Pelling is an art historian specialising in eighteenth-century visual and material cultures. She is currently preparing her monograph, The Duchess’ Museum: Collecting, Craft and Conversation, 1730-1786, for publication and is co-editor of A Cultural History of Historiography: The Age of Enlightenment and Revolutions (under contract with Bloomsbury).

Original Words and Image: © Madeleine Pelling, 2021.

Psyches, Butterflies, Dragonflies: The Winged Papercuts of Adele Schopenhauer

Catriona MacLeod, Chicago, IL, July 2020.

Sister of the philosopher Arthur and daughter of the accomplished Weimar novelist and salonnière Johanna, the sculptor and novelist manquée Adele Schopenhauer (1797-1847) is best known today for her virtuoso skills in papercutting. Thomas Mann gave her a memorable cameo appearance in his 1939 novel Lotte in Weimar. Set in 1816, the novel recounts how Goethe’s aging former beloved Charlotte Kestner pays a visit to Weimar, the town presided over by its resident – and tyrannical – genius: Goethe. The gossipy Adele presents to Charlotte what she calls ‘a mere trifle’: a by now, according to Mann’s narrative, outmoded papercut ‘carefully stuck on to black cardboard’ in which Adele depicts herself alongside her close female friends in a Romantic society of muses.[1] (This female Musenverein, incidentally, is greatly disparaged by Goethe). Schopenhauer’s real-life paper cuts illustrating literary works, often from popular or ‘folk’ genres such as ballad and fairy-tale, include, for example Goethe’s West-Eastern Diwan and ‘Sorcerer’s Apprentice’ and ‘Wedding Song’, as well as August Hagen’s epic Olfried and Lisena.[2] Other orientalizing works draw on August Wilhelm Schlegel’s work on India. In the case of the ‘Four Seasons’, she brings together in a single, composite image literary allusions from Goethe (‘The Fisherman’), Schiller (‘The Maiden from a Foreign Land’), and Shakespeare (A Midsummer Night’s Dream and The Winter’s Tale).

              Schopenhauer is one of several Romantic era paper cut artists who are reassessed in my book in progress, Romantic Scraps: Cutouts, Collages, and Inkblots. No mere trifles, her works reveal much about the gendering of craft, the powerful fragility of craft objects, erotic attachments to albums, attitudes towards creativity, the role of salons, and questions of literary canonicity as they intersect with craft. As Melanie Micir’s and Aarthi Vadde’s recent work on women’s collage activities on the margins of modernism has argued, the critical potential and placement of ‘weakly theoretical’ amateur works created, contained, and transmitted in precarious, semi-public spaces such as scrapbooks also deserve attention.[3]

              Unpublished in her lifetime, Schopenhauer’s work in paper vanished into an intimate constellation of private albums, self-conscious repositories of emotion.[4] Having met the talented collector and salonnière Sibylle Mertens-Schaaffhausen in 1828, Schopenhauer spent the next two decades until her death in a passionate relationship with the married mother of six–a friendship that has been narrated as queer by Angela Steidele in her 2010 book Geschichte einer Liebe.[5] In the pages of the albums, delicate paper cuts frolic in fantastic pleasure gardens and play out Eros and Psyche narratives. The albums of Adele Schopenhauer were gifts to her beloved friends Ottilie von Goethe and Mertens-Schaaffhausen (she had likewise given paper cuts as gifts to the poet Annette von Droste-Hülshoff, who was also involved in the women’s relationship, as a rival for Sibylle’s affections). The publication of Schopenhauer’s Scherenschnitte (to use the German term for paper cuts) began only in 1909, with Kurt Wolff’s Insel edition of her diaries, containing seventeen paper cuts, followed in 1913, by Hans Timotheus Kroeber’s publication of a facsimile edition of an album for the subscription members of the Weimarische Literarische Gesellschaft.[6]

              Winged insects and Psyche figures fly through these pages. Female figures are carried on, merge with, dragonflies and butterflies, refusing human scale. They conform, in one sense, to the contemporary view of Scherenschnitte as a small, fugitive art. In an essay on the art of cutting out from 1814, Karl Varnhagen von Ense had called them ‘an elfin game’, ‘tiny flying divinities that cannot attain the heaven of art but flutter nicely enough a few feet above the earth.’[7] Their lightness does not help them achieve soaring Romantic transcendence. On the contrary, butterfly-like, the paper cuts can only flutter a couple of feet above the ground maintaining an insecure equilibrium. But I would suggest that they have more critical, and even violent, potency. Formally, the wings self-reflexively repeat the shape and symmetry of the scissors (the ‘Schere’ in Scherenschnitt) that fashioned them. Ernst Jünger reminds us of the doubleness that characterizes this tool. For even when scissors are at rest, and as it were, a ‘dreaming’ object or a wave that has not yet surged, they contain and imply future violence and pain.[8] Psyche, as the allegorical stand-in for her creator, intensifies the connection between the shadow and the essence of the person, her soul, and is coupled with Eros, himself possessed of an alternative piercing weapon, the arrow, whose role in this Scherenschnitt is to shoot Psyche down to earth.


[1] Thomas Mann, Lotte in Weimar: The Beloved Returns, trans. H. T. Lowe-Porter (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1990), 127.

[2] For a reading of this ballad as a send-up of Goethe’s position in the Schopenhauer salon, see Catriona MacLeod, ‘Cutting up the Salon: Adele Schopenhauer’s “Zwergenhochzeit” and Goethe’s “Hochzeitlied”’, Deutsche Vierteljahrsschrift für Literaturwissenschaft und Geistesgeschichte 89.1 (2015): 70-87.

[3] Melanie Micir and Aarthi Vadde, ‘Obliterature: Toward an Amateur Criticism’, Modernism/modernity 25.3 (2018): 517-49.

[4] For their British and American counterparts, see Freya Gowrley, ‘Reflective and Reflexive Forms: Intimacy and Medium Specificity in British and American Sentimental Albums, 1800-1860’, Journal 18: A Journal of Eighteenth-Century Art and Culture, Fall 2018,

[5] Angela Steidele, Geschichte einer Liebe: Adele Schopenhauer und Sibylle Mertens (Frankfurt am Main: Insel, 2010). The book was supported by the Klassik Stiftung Weimar and is the result of deep archival research in Weimar, Frankfurt, and private collections, occupying a space between scholarship and popular biography.

[6] Adele Schopenhauer, Tagebücher, 2 vols, ed. Kurt Wolff (Leipzig: Insel, 1909); Hans Timotheus Kroeber, Silhouettenbuch der Adele Schopenhauer (Weimar: G. Kiepenheuer, 1913).

[7] Karl Varnhagen von Ense, ‘Vom Ausschneiden’, in Werke, 5 vols, ed. Konrad Feilchenfeldt, (Frankfurt am Main: Deutscher Klassiker Verlag, 1990), 4: 384-90; here, 384.

[8] Ernst Jünger, Die Schere (Stuttgart: Klett/Cotta, 1990), 71-76.

Words: © Catriona McLeod, 2020. Images: Adele Schopenhauer, reproduced in: Hans Timotheus Kroeber, Silhouettenbuch der Adele Schopenhauer (Weimar: G. Kiepenheuer, 1913), n.p. Author’s collection.

Author’s Bio

Catriona MacLeod is Frank Curtis Springer and Gertrude Melcher Springer Professor in the Department of Germanic Studies at the University of Chicago, where she is also affiliated with Art History. Her research focuses primarily on word and image studies, material culture, and feminine creativity in the context of German Classicism and Romanticism. In addition to a new book project in progress, Romantic Scraps: Cutouts, Collages, and Inkblots, she has published Embodying Ambiguity: Androgyny and Aesthetics from Winckelmann to Keller and Fugitive Objects: Literature and Sculpture in the German Nineteenth Century. Since 2011, she has been senior editor of the journal Word & Image.

Putting the pieces together: collage as a mode in the treatment of trauma

Anila Babla, London, May 2020.

What are the links between collage and trauma?

Trauma, from Greek, literally means ‘wound’ and highlights a parallel between collage, the cutting and bringing together of different elements, and a traumatic injury that needs stitching together to heal. Trauma, commonly associated with the fragmentation of memory requires the restoration of connections, both in terms of internally feeling and externally relating. My time spent with traumatised children and adults, observing the use of collage in art therapy has led me to explore its psychological implications as a way of working in art therapy further. I would like to present some of my research on the use of collage in art therapy and theorised links between trauma/fragmentation and collage/integration.

In this post, I will look first at some definitions of trauma and some of its repercussions. Moving on, I’ll consider a condensed look at the background to collage as an expressive technique and some of the themes that have emerged over time. I’ll share a quick overview of the stages of collage as I see it in art therapy. Then, by contrasting some of the attributes of trauma and of collage, we will begin to wonder how collage might be useful in a therapeutic context. I’ll finish with a short case study and some ways to incorporate collage into your practice if you want to use it in a therapeutic way.

I’d like to start by discussing the definitions of trauma within the health profession. While the Greek origins of the word reference physical injuries, contemporary dictionary definitions speak equally to trauma’s psychological wounds. The DSM-5 (a manual for assessment and diagnosis of mental disorders) defines trauma as, ‘actual or threatened death, serious injury, or sexual violence’ (American Psychiatric Association, 2013). Stressful events not involving immediate threat or physical injury – divorce, job loss, the death of a family member are not considered trauma under this definition. Such upsetting events which we may describe as ‘traumatic’ in everyday language do not meet the PTSD diagnosis as ‘life-threatening’ or ‘a threat to bodily integrity’ and may be diagnosed as an adjustment disorder under the International Classification of Diseases.  An adjustment disorder is a short-term condition brought on by difficulty adjusting to a life transition such as loss or major life change.

Furthermore, I’d like to suggest the classic psychodynamic perspective of early developmental trauma should also be included in any definition. That is, the trauma sustained by the baby due to inconsistent caregiving – what Wilfred Bion would term containment, or in attachment theory the idea of a safe base.

What are the effects of trauma?

The following list is not exhaustive, however you may have observed some of the following in others or you may well have your own personal experience: Hyperalertness (being always alert to the threat of danger); aggressivity and  irritability; hyperventilation and panic attacks; an inability to concentrate and general restlessness. Other problems include, issues remembering – trauma is known to fragment the memory storage process; as well as somatic disorders – under or overappetite, troubles sleeping, flashbacks or nightmares. Sometimes trauma results in a flatness, a feeling of indifference or conversely overstimulation or excitement.

For those who haven’t experienced trauma, I found this quote from Bessel van der Kolk useful in capturing the visceral experience of trauma:

Traumatized people chronically feel unsafe inside their bodies: The past is alive in the form of gnawing interior discomfort. Their bodies are constantly bombarded by visceral warning signs, and, in an attempt to control these processes, they often become expert at ignoring their gut feelings and in numbing awareness of what is played out inside. They learn to hide from their selves. (Van der Kolk, 2015, 96)

These are all natural responses that make sense as a gut response to trauma in the moment but when experienced persistently people learn to ignore them, often at further cost, since they silence the internal systems that raise the alarm to danger. In order to return to themselves, they must process the trauma, locate it in the past and return to normal levels of functioning so they can once more trust their instincts.   

So what is needed to work through trauma?

This list is not extensive, but processing trauma involves some of the following things:

  • Regulation and expression of emotions: the ability to process feelings and keep them in balance
  • Self-empowerment: the feeling you have agency once again
  • Restoration of connections: integrating internal experience, as well as reconnecting with the external world
  • Going from rigidity to flexibility: we saw earlier that a natural response to trauma is the desire to control; part of working through trauma is recovering a sense of freedom, potential for growth and openness.
  • Integration of experience – in some way, to make sense of and/or give meaning to the traumatic occurrence.
  • Security and safety, which are fundamentally compromised due to trauma, need restored. There is a deep need to create a safe space.

But what of collage and trauma?

I won’t attempt to condense hundreds of years of art history into one post. But rather, I want to look at some themes behind the impulse to collage.

Collage has a long and complicated history. Art historians have tended to agree on its date of inception as 1912. Yet research shows that the method of collaging can be found much further back in history and has served as a method for making in various contexts throughout the world. The materiality of collage, for example its use of newsprint and photography, means the artworks took on external meaning; referencing political events and popular culture and often criticising them by juxtaposing them with incongruous materials. This included much symbolism and a restructuring of semiotic coding, for example when a violin took on the illusion of the female form in a Cubist creation. Collages became a form of reaction against the status quo, as is the case within the Berlin Dada movement’s critical responses to the war and high society.

Artists borrowed the language of advertising by sticking publicity and packaging directly onto their artworks, embodying the fast-paced image-driven consumer world. Surrealist collage relied on unguided unconscious processes to create dreamlike cut-and-paste scenes. Even today, contemporary artists continue to explore the medium of collage in different ways. For example, Lorna Simpson uses collage to comment on aspects of identity and difference, especially race and class.

A close up of a sign

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Let’s now take a quick look at the key steps in the process of collage. First there is the browsing stage – usually a spontaneous process of seeing what grabs your eye. Then there is the cutting: some clients may use scissors to snip and others may tear. It’s interesting to watch how some clients cut delicately and others slash or rip pages in almost violent fashion. Art therapist Caroline Case has noted how cutting up is an act with inherent creative and destructive potential (Case, 2006). Scissors also have symbolic connotations both positive and negative. On the one hand they define and decorate, and on the other, they sever which may represent an enactment – severing mental or physical links. In either case, they may be representative of inner forces and lead to growth.

The next step is arranging and sticking. There is a freedom to move pieces around before finally committing and sticking down with adhesive. It is not a linear process. And lastly, narrating: putting words to the image, giving voice to the experience. Trish Robbins has paralleled the process of collecting, sorting, recovering and gluing down with John Bowlby’s attachment theory of mourning and its four stages of grief (Robbins, 1998, 40). The first stage is shock or numbness, which may include physical symptoms and the inability to accept circumstances. The second is yearning and searching, which includes trying to fill a void, looking for reminders of the loss. The third stage is despair and disorganisation, marked by chaos and despair even though the situation has been accepted and it’s understood things can’t go back to how they were. The fourth stage is reorganisation and recovery, where one begins to re-establish order and realise that life can still be positive even after the loss. For Bowlby the grief isn’t rid of, or resolved, but rather shifts, recedes as trust is restored.

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And what of the therapeutic qualities of collage?

It’s structured: there is safety in knowing what to expect from the collage process, which offers systematic choices. The inherent structure may also according to Debra Linesch prevent overstimulation or regression (Linesch, 2014). This is important if painful memories have been reactivated.

It’s simple: collage is relatively easy to prepare for, requiring inexpensive or free materials. It is also fairly easy to do. For clients who doubt their innate creative abilities, it doesn’t feel too threatening.

It helps establish identity: clients gravitate toward imagery which speaks to their personal circumstances and cultural milieu, what Catherine Hyland Moon calls ‘uncovering unconscious content’ (Moon, 2010, 18).

It concerns the integration of isolated fragments: collage is an art of bringing images together, establishing connections.

It’s embodied: Ogden et al (Ogden, Minton & Pain 2006) identified the need for therapies that allow for non-verbal, implicit, body-based processes over verbal ones. It could be said of art therapy in general, collage is particularly dynamic. It allows a healthy way of processing and enacting.

It uses everyday debris: collage employs materials that may otherwise be discarded – perhaps the moral of the story is that something beautiful may emerge from a traumatic experience.

It’s symbolic of organising thoughts & feelings: Collage may help to create a level of order from chaos.

It’s playful: facilitating agency and self-expression in a natural way.

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Hopefully, by now your minds are beginning to synthesise the nature of trauma and the nature of collage. But if not, I have tried to align the effects of trauma with potential therapeutic benefits of collage as follows:

  1. Trauma creates a need to contain event/implications — Collage provides structure & containment.
  2. Trauma dampens spontaneity / play– Collage is inherently spontaneous.
  3. Trauma fragments memory recall — Collage is concerned with integration, the counterfoil to fragmentation if you will.
  4. Recovery from trauma is not linear. A natural response is rigidity and control — Nor is collage linear – one can experiment and rearrange – which allows for flexibility.
  5. Trauma may be too powerful to be acknowledged consciously — Collage helps explore unconscious impetus, use the surreal & fantastical to protect from the real.
  6. Trauma can be destructive if not attended to — Collage permits healthy sublimation of destructive impulses channelling them into acceptable behaviour.
  7. Trauma needs to be powerfully expressed — Collage is an artform with roots in protest.
  8. Trauma creates powerful mental scenarios — Collage as enactment.
  9. Trauma can disempower and create helplessness– Collage gives artistic agency in a simple way.
  10. Trauma severs connections — Collage helps recreate connections to external world.
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There are various ways that art therapists are using collage with different populations. Helen Landgarten (1993) developed a method which she called MPC, Magazine Photo Collage, a more structured activity which involves having ready-made cut-outs that the client can use appropriate to the client population. Could race, identity, age, socio-political factors, marginalised groups, certain words, be singled out?

Some art therapists may choose to facilitate sessions along themes, such as representations of family, self, significant memories or nightmares/fears. For example, the way a young client has depicted their family tree — the images they chose for each relative in itself was telling. For me, and for many within the tradition of British art therapy, the collage process is largely organic, and directed by the client.  

In my own practice

I worked with a young girl of 14 who had been evacuated from her block of flats due to fire, she was around 10 years old at the time. For her, perhaps not seeing the danger but being so aware of it was additionally traumatising, leaving her unable to sleep and eat. She used collage exclusively from the outset. I wondered whether it was a coincidence, or whether the qualities of collage as a mode of expression were relevant to an experience like hers. Through the structured nature of collage she was able to find imagery to (gradually) unpack experiences not (seemingly) consciously available to her. She would create collages, tear them up, reassemble them, which seemed to help her encounter, contain and somewhat integrate disconnected memories and experiences.

So where do we go from here?

I think that in my experience, much of the literature on collage in art psychotherapy on  is around the practicalities of organising the activity, not necessarily its benefits as a tool in psychodynamic art therapy. We need more data, more research; both qualitative and quantitative. Perhaps we need to develop resources on how to use collage in a facilitated way. And lastly we need to be wary of contraindications for safe and effective practice.

However, collage is not a catch-all treatment for trauma. Anecdotal evidence from one of my colleagues suggests that for patients in a severe psychotic state, for whom there is increased disintegration in the psyche, collage may not be suitable. In her experience, patients who are experiencing a loosening of associations in their thought processes may find collage triggers further fragmentation. However, the same colleague has successfully used collage with clients with chronic disorders of fragmentation, such as schizoaffective disorders.  

Throughout my research, it has struck me that collage has suffered a crisis of identity. It is generally seen as a benign exercise for schoolchildren. I would venture that it has lost the potency of its first radical expressions… However, it is my hope that we can recover this potential and harness its therapeutic values, particularly in a trauma setting.


American Psychiatric Association, 2013. Diagnostic And Statistical Manual Of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5®). Washington, D.C.: American Psychiatric Publishing.

Case, C., 2006. Observations of children cutting up, cutting out and sticking down1. International Journal of Art Therapy, 11(1), pp.42-52.

Moon, C., 2010. Materials & Media In Art Therapy. Hoboken: Taylor & Francis.

Landgarten, H. B., 1993. Magazine Photo Collage: A Multicultural Assessment And Treatment Technique. 1st ed. Routledge.

Linesch, D., 2014. Adolescent Art Therapy. New York: Routledge.

Ogden, P., Minton, K., & Pain, C., 2006. Trauma and the body: A sensorimotor approach to psychotherapy. New York, NY: Norton.

Robbins, T. 1998. Collage: The language of love and loss. Pratt Institute Creative Arts Therapy Review, 19, 40–47.

Van der Kolk, B., 2015. The Body Keeps The Score. [London]: Penguin Books.

Further reading/listening

BMJ Talk Medicine

Bisson, Jonathan I, Sarah Cosgrove, Catrin Lewis, and Neil P Roberts. 2015. “Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder”. BMJ, h6161. doi:10.1136/bmj.h6161.

Uddin, M., A. E. Aiello, D. E. Wildman, K. C. Koenen, G. Pawelec, R. de los Santos, E. Goldmann, and S. Galea. 2010. “Epigenetic And Immune Function Profiles Associated With Posttraumatic Stress Disorder”. Proceedings Of The National Academy Of Sciences 107 (20): 9470-9475. doi:10.1073/pnas.0910794107.

Pai, Anushka, Alina Suris, and Carol North. 2017. “Posttraumatic Stress Disorder In The DSM-5: Controversy, Change, And Conceptual Considerations”. Behavioral Sciences 7 (4): 7. doi:10.3390/bs7010007.

Pennebaker, James W., Janice K. Kiecolt-Glaser, and Ronald Glaser. 1988. “Disclosure Of Traumas And Immune Function: Health Implications For Psychotherapy.”. Journal Of Consulting And Clinical Psychology 56 (2): 239-245. doi:10.1037/0022-006x.56.2.239.

The National Collaborating Centre for Mental Health, 2005. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder: The Management Of PTSD In Adults And Children In Primary And Secondary Care. Gaskell Society.

Van der Kolk, B., 2015. The Body Keeps The Score. [London]: Penguin Books.

Author’s Bio

Anila Babla, MA Art Psychotherapy, is a an artist and recently qualified art psychotherapist from Goldsmiths College, London. She works as a part-time art therapist in schools and at a charity supporting people affected by brain injury, and has spent time in Florence working with adults with emotional disorders. Her interest in art therapy was first piqued in the refugee camps at Calais. Anila is interested in the physicality of collage and its potential to integrate disparate unconscious fragments.

BOOK REVIEW: Gothic Remixed: Monster Mash-Ups and Frankenfictions in 21st-Century Culture

Megen de Bruin-Molé, Gothic Remixed: Monster Mash-Ups and Frankenfictions in 21st-Century Culture, Bloomsbury Academic, 2019, 256 pp., 23 bw illus. ISBN: 9781350103078.

Cole Collins, Munich, 2020.

Cover image: Gothic Remixed, 2019.

What if collage is more than a formal choice? What if it is more than creating from the detritus of the world around us? What if, instead, we can consider collage as a system of seeing; a way of looking at the world and a mode for thinking through hybridity. Using collage as a theoretical framework and a mode of investigation is at the heart of Megen de Bruin-Molé’s exciting new book Gothic Remixed: Monster Mash-Ups and Frankenfictions in 21st-Century Culture.  Drawing on the work of the ‘monster mash-up’ in which authors have taken well-trodden (usually) Victorian texts and inserted an element of the monstrous, she argues for new ways of thinking through these texts and uncovers remarkable new ways of reading these texts in her in-depth analysis of the titles, including, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (2018), Anno Dracula (1992; 2011), The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (graphic novel series, 1999-2018), Penny Dreadful (TV series, 2014-16), The Extraordinary Adventures of the Athena Club (2017-19), Jane Slayre (2010) and Wuthering Bites (2010). Additionally, she pairs these readings with queer, feminist and post-colonial theories to think through hybridity (both within the text and the identity politics of the monster/monstrous) and also to expose how the trope of the monster has often been utilised (and even weaponised) to demonise the ‘other’—that is the queer, the woman, the person of colour, the disabled person.

Those familiar with the texts listed above, will no doubt also be familiar with the hype and publicity surrounding their release. Purists were outraged; others were intrigued; many were excited by the experimentations these texts offered and what they might do for the reputation of the Gothic novel and horror genre in the 21st century. Those in the third camp, will be delighted to read Molé’s wonderful examination of these works.

In the opening chapters, Molé (just noticing that accents aren’t consistent on her name throughout) lays a solid foundation for novice and expert readers alike, setting the stage clearly for her investigation of the topic of the ‘Gothic remixed’ through remix studies and mash-up theories. These well-established theoretical frameworks are utilised and pushed further in her work to reveal new contexts in which to discuss these hybrid worlds. By establishing a strong theoretical background, Molé convinces her readers of the worth of these genre-bending stories and reveals, for the first time, the depth of research completed by the authors of these texts. She acknowledges not only their influence within cult-following and their position as popular fiction, but as windows into understanding 20th and 21st Century shifts in literature and trends and also points toward their usefulness in thinking through new definitions and expressions of identity.

Chapter 1 introduces its reader to the term ‘Frankenfictions’. Molé carefully explains this term’s meaning and its function within literary criticism, making easily accessible a wealth of theory and criticism on the subject in a digestible and informative way. She presents a convincing and well-structured argument for understanding this hybrid form of fiction, without alienating the novice or lay reader. Her experience of reading between two worlds shows clearly in her careful handling of the terminology and the ways in which she provides context to help the reader understand this relatively new and arguably understudied genre. The very notion of the Frankenfiction can be linked to collage and is one of many reasons that this book is so interesting for the Collage Research Network and its members. The collection and redistribution of the words on the page; interspersing the original texts with new ideas and topics which are relevant to today’s audience is not unlike the ways in which collages, in the visual sense, have sought to reframe our understanding of existing materials, ideas, visual cultures and often socio-political ideas outside of the picture frame. Moreover, the intertwining of the seemingly high-brow literature of Mary Shelley, Jane Austen or the Brontë sisters with the seemingly low-brow or cultish notions of zombies and vampire slayers (consider treatments of Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Joss Whedon’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer by critics) disrupts the canon of literature and does what collage has often done – upsetting the rhythms of seeing and making art.

In the second chapter, ‘Adapting the Monster’, Molé deals with extremely interesting and pertinent themes for our time. She reads in these works an enactment of ideas found in political and social theory, reading expressions of feminism, postcolonialism, and nods to queer interventions in the classical canon. By again disrupting these traditional narratives, Molé provides a way of seeing these works not as pulp fiction, but rather as texts to be reckoned with and which have something meaningful to say. She does not, however, do this simply through arbitrary application of theory to the text; she examines what the authors of these texts have had to say about the characters and about the contexts within which they have been written. This concretisation of the ideas, connecting the authors’ thoughts to the analyses from without, provides an interesting perspective through which to read or see these titles. She considers the monster and the monstrous through theories and analyses of the ‘other’ and in doing so challenges conventions of the normalised, normative and abled body, as well as engaging with queer and colonial bodies, and utilises theories by Jack Halberstam and Judith Butler to read through these ideas to great effect, engaging beyond the ‘other’ as outsider, to ‘other’ as protagonist or catalyst for change. By mashing-up the fragments found in fiction and real life, she allows for a way of reading and/or challenging the socio-political world which surround the text.

In her third chapter, ‘Mashing Up the Joke’, she reads into ‘the novel-as-mashup’ and ‘cut-and-paste novels’ as further exploration of the Frankenfiction. Examining the difference between ‘revising’ and ‘recycling’ to further explore the ideas of hybridisation and its impact on readers and their views of the world around them. This is particularly interesting terminology in the context of visual and musical collage, and questions not only intent, but authorship and authenticity, as well as perception after the fragments have been re-arranges. Such questions inevitably lead to more questions. Molé approaches these questions through examining these Frankenfictions and Mash-Ups as parody and irony, invoking a discussion of sincerity in doing so. Similar discussions are raised in the ways people view some collage works and raise questions of truthfulness and veracity in the ways in which collage artists (re-)tell their stories through their art. The manipulation of materials to tell a version of the truth must always be scrutinised, and Molé’s careful tracing of the old and the added literatures, historical contexts and use of theory mean that she does this exceedingly well.

In her fourth chapter, ‘Remixing Historical Fictions’ she examines how history has been told through the Gothic remix and what effect this has on our way of understanding histories such as colonialism or our relationship to nationhood and national histories. Invoking historians and literary critics alike, she expertly guides the reader through the differences, crossovers and interventions in historical narratives in genres such as historical fiction, Gothic fiction and then considers what happens when these are somehow mixed to provide a Gothic historical fiction, which is bound up in a politics of its time. Other such narratives as alternative historical fictions are also taken into consideration, and she even includes visual artworks by Dan Hiller, Travis Louie, Colin Batty, and Kevin J Weir in her analysis this time. The binding of fiction, history, historical narratives, historical fictions, Gothic remixings, and visual cultures in this chapter show Molé’s connections to the broader cultural questions asked by the works she examines throughout her book. It is worth reiterating that Molé’s book is not only for those interested in literary criticism, Gothic literature or even the Monster novel in its many variants, but rather provides a fascinating account and methodology for thinking through the pervasiveness of imagery in history and culture, and its usefulness in seeing the world(s) around us.

Molé’s fifth chapter, ‘Appropriating the Author’, sounds from the outset like it will deal with big ideas – and it does not disappoint. The term ‘appropriation’ in a cultural sense has been met with much negativity, but in some ways, appropriating the original author is a vital way in understanding the complicated issues which surround authorship in this genre of fiction. Discussions of copyright, identity, authorial intent, authorised editions of works versus unauthorised, plagiarism, intellectual property, originality, are all discussed in this chapter. These themes are taken in different contexts and explore the ways in which authorship has been lauded and denigrated in different time periods, beginning with the notion of the Romantic genius through the Barthesian ideology of the ‘death of the author’ (which naturally gives way to the ‘birth of the reader’ and maybe even the ‘birth of the copyist’). In this chapter, appropriation is less envisioned as hijacking of authorship or ideas, but rather allowing for a way of re-opening or expanding upon these voices. She even compares, at one point, the narrative style of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies to a Dadaist experimentation. The famed Dadaist collages and Tristan Tzara’s ‘How to write a Dadaist poem’ (in which he cuts out words from the newspaper and then from a bag pulls each word out, reading them in the random order and calling it poetry. The Dadaists changed the face of collage art, expanding it beyond its use in the 18th and 19th centuries and its Cubist beginnings as a modernist practice. Molé ends this chapter asking if such a thing as feminist Frankenfictions can exist… (You’ll have to read it to find out, dear reader.)

In the end, Molé’s book is a treasure trove of fascinating perspectives and analysis and is accessible to all levels of the interested reader. Beyond its specificity within literary studies, it provides a brilliant methodology for thinking through collage. Firstly, outside of visual cultures, and secondly, as a means to explore the ways in which authors work. Collage in its variant forms and applications across genres and media is not simply cutting and pasting as it has so often been characterised; but rather a lens through which to explore the world around us: a leveller for those who and genres which do not fit squarely into singular definitions. I wholeheartedly recommend Molé’s book.

Village Albums: A Collage of Quaker Life

Alison Horgan (Sheffield) and Anna Vaughan Kett (Brighton), November 2019.

Collage offers the maker the possibility of achieving depth through the layering and juxtaposition of textures, images, forms and fragments. This research network has broadened scholarly engagement with the genre and considered how collage can be a medium which embraces craft and the domestic sphere, expresses identity and takes pleasure in the frictions between shared boundaries. We would like to consider how the trope of collage can used as a way of reading a set of volumes produced by a single family and circulated within a specific community in the nineteenth century. Up to eight volumes of the Village Album were produced by the Clark family each year and they contain the work of immediate family, friends and extended family. They are the material embodiment of collaborative creativity and are a record of one family’s social, political and aesthetic interests over several generations. They use collage to bring together participants’ contributions, at once articulating individual characteristics and collective concerns. Collage in this context – which combines many written genres, paintings, photography, illustrations and border embellishments – allows for different talents to be demonstrated and many voices to be heard.

The Clarks were prominent Quakers who were an integral part of the larger network of Quakers involved in industry and manufacturing . Cyrus Clark started his shoe making business in 1825 and was joined by his brother James in 1828 the town of Street in Somerset. The company’s headquarters still occupy the same premises that were built on the High Street from 1829 into the twentieth century. Aside from this industry, the family, like most Quaker families, were heavily involved with and committed to social and political reform, most notably the anti-slavery, temperance and women’s suffrage movements. The Village Albums tell of the talents and preoccupations of the family and are particularly interesting because they are a space in which the characters of women, such as Eleanor Clark, and children become visible, even  audible. They are also remarkable because their form allows for some formal experimentation, most notably John Aubrey Clark’s use of photography.  

The Village Albums were produced by the Clark family from 1857 and still continue, though on a much smaller scale, today. They are now part of the extensive archive of the Clark family and business, the Alfred Gillett Trust, in Somerset. The first reason that we considered the volumes to be a kind of collage was the context of their production. The bound books which remain for us to view and peruse today are in fact only one aspect of the collaborative approach central to this family project. The starting point for each volume was a kind of soiree, held at one of the Clark family houses, at which each person present – family, visitors and friends – was encouraged to share a piece of their work. Meetings were held at full moon so that participants could find their way home along the country lanes more easily. The event usually started with the women’s sewing circle in the afternoon, followed by tea at 5 o’clock and the arrival of other family and friends taking part in the Village Album. The name Village Album refers to both the event and the final bound volume – Helen Clark describes visitors arriving or staying at the family home, Millfield House, for the Village Album in her diaries in the 1890s, and comments on some occasions about the quality of their contributions.[i] This suggests an intimacy between the dynamism of a social and intellectual gathering and the material object produced as a record of it. The evenings were a kind of performative collage, a show in which anyone present was encouraged, even required, to share their work. A portfolio was available in the hall on these evenings where written literary contributions could be left, and the reading aloud and discussion started at 7 o’clock. In a single evening, a variety of activities – craft, conversation, reading, discussion and debate – flow into one another and intermingle. These different modes of expression are, in some ways, captured or fixed later in the book format. The rules state that yearly subscriptions in 1857 were 6d and that members were expected to make ‘contributions of original pieces of at least 50 words, or drawings, once in two months.’[ii] On a practical level, these rules also dictate that contributors should ‘all be written on the same kind of paper that they may be bound together at the end of the year’ and that this paper should be provided by the Secretary.[iii] Such rules make it clear that the Village Album was not a creative free-for-all but rather that it was a series of regulated and controlled processes. Despite this, it seems clear to us that the metaphor of collage – the layering and overlaying of various materials – is absolutely applicable to the Village Albums: the events and books are ordered and reasoned but celebrate idiosyncracy and individuality.

These rules might be seen as the glue which binds disparate elements together, giving the composition an underlying structure and, to some degree, coherence. This metaphor is also, obviously, realised in the subsequent transformation of oral items into large bound volumes. These subsequently became ‘the property of the Members, the largest contributors to have the first claim.’[iv] Rule V elaborates on this system: volumes are to be ‘divided among the Members by ballot or lot, those contributing two or more articles in each two months to draw two lots to others’ one.’ Thus, the greater your contribution, the greater your chances of securing the volume first. Here again the book, itself a composite of several people’s work and craftsmanship, becomes the property not of an individual but of the group, and is circulated within that group over time. Because so many volumes were produced, they were in constant circulation, passed from one household to another, a kind of private library of works. Perhaps because of this emphasis on use, only 2 volumes have been lost over 150 years. There is a straightforward reason for the placing of Village Album volumes at the centre of a self-selected network of readers. Quaker families were often progressive, outward facing and well-read; in her diaries, 16-year-old Alice Clark records finishing J. S Mill’s Political Economy and reading Wordsworth’s poetry, but makes no mention of fiction. For many Quaker families, works of fiction were not acceptable reading matter because they were at odds with the foundational values of truth and integrity. Literary societies, such as the Village Albums, addressed the appetite for intellectual discussion without promoting unsuitable fiction texts. They produced collections which safely explored and reflected the group’s aesthetic and political sensibilities.

Each volume contains variety, and between volumes there is variety because the participants were rarely the same at each meeting. The Album covered a huge range of topics, reflecting the passions and proficiencies of the contributors: there are entries on local subjects, history, Arthurian legends, politics and news. There are articles on geology and botany, holidays, family gatherings and local beauty spots. More seriously, Eleanor Stephens Clark wrote about cotton and slave plantation life, her husband James wrote about Sojourner Truth and the abolition movement in America and their daughter Fanny wrote several rallying pieces on anti-vivisection. Each contributor was free to express their ideas however they chose, so that a single volume might contain handwritten articles, illustrations snipped from printed works, pen and ink drawings, cartoons, photographs, essays and poems. The styles and genres of writing might be entertaining, lyrical, comic or scientific. While all items are approved as suitable reading material, there is no promise of predictability or homogeneity. That pieces are collaged together, allows for a publication in which sentimental and polemical works lie side by side; this is perhaps one of the defining characteristics of collage as a genre – it enables the viewer or reader to see shadows and reflections, tracing points of similarity across apparently different elements. The contrasts, in some places awkward or clashing, in other places enlightening, create a patchwork in which, as the philosopher Shaftesbury had observed a hundred and thirty years before the first Album was produced, ‘cuttings and Shreds of Learning, with various Fragments and Points of Wit, are drawn together and tacked in any fantastick form.’[v] No distinction is made in the Village Albums between handwritten and printed texts or between text and non-text. Items are not framed by introductions or prefaces; they co-exist with no discernible boundaries.

Another aspect of the Village Albums which provides a useful connection to the idea of collage is the figure of the artist or author. Regular contributors sometimes gave themselves noms de plume, a playful way of hiding their identity or reinventing themselves within the context of the Albums. So we meet works by ‘The Contented Fox’, ‘Adam the Gardener’ or ‘The Reviewer.’ Although in some ways frivolous, this also aligns the volumes with the familiar features of periodical culture and adds an air of apparent mystery to the publication. Although in the early days Eleanor Stephens Clark – ‘Eva’ a reference to Evangeline St Clair in Uncle Tom’s Cabin acted as editor, with her nephew John Aubrey Clark the scribe and bookbinder, it is impossible to pin any volume to a single authorial or editorial voice. Here, then is a difference between these works and those collages created by a single artist using a range of sources and materials. Central to the Village Albums are ideas of collaboration, community and shared values and interests. No one person is responsible for its contents or form, and these vary considerably from one volume to another, depending on circumstances. Despite the seemingly rigorous rules, there is a delightful unpredictability about each instalment of the Village Albums.

We would like to finish by considering two contributors to the early Village Albums and the materials which they produced. Eleanor Stephens Clark, James’ wife and the mother of fourteen surviving children, was a passionate writer and a keen member of the prolific Street sewing circle, producing clothing sold at charity sales and bazaars. She was born in Dorset and one of her poems sings the praises of Bridport; in the Album this poem is illustrated by her son, John, a neat representation of familial collaboration. In another example, her creative worlds intersect and she writes a poem to the sewing machine, which is in fact a lament for the lost days of sewing, imagining and writing:

I used to sit with work in hand,

And paper on the table,

So, if a bright thought charmed to come,

To write it quick was able.

Here, manual and intellectual work co-exist and there is space for imagination and spontaneity. In contrast, verse four explains that mechanisation means there is no opportunity for such incidental moments of inspiration:

But every thing is changed, you see,

For now when one is seaming,

The new machine takes all one’s thoughts,

Adieu to idle dreaming.[vi]

Although this poem is prefaced by a verse which suggests it is written in haste in preparation for the Village Album meeting, it offers an insight into this Quaker woman’s relationship with technology, creativity and the means by which she negotiates work, leisure and pleasure.

Another remarkable piece by Eleanor Stephens Clark is her essay on cotton. In this, she imagines the alternatives to cotton produced by slave labour in the American south, revealing not only her own knowledge of the situation, gleaned from articles in the Quaker, abolitionist and free produce press, but also her passionate belief in the abolition of slavery, and the avoidance of its replication in places such as Liberia. This essay is affecting and painful; it radiates empathy with the enslaved, horror at its cruelty and it emphasises the sinfulness of the slave trade. It shows that this wife of a leading industrialist was well versed in current affairs, and that on the eve of the American Civil War she predicted the disaster that would put half Britain’s spinners out of business. The Cotton Famine that followed proved to be a realisation of her worst fears. It is made all the more remarkable that it is published not in a collection of polemic or political writing but in a volume intended to be read in leisure time, framed by light-hearted sketches, whimsical illustrations and children’s poetry.

John Aubrey Clark was Eleanor and James’ nephew. He was a talented draughtsman, illustrator and photographer whose work is prominent in the Albums. He illustrated legendary tales, for example about King Arthur and Avalon, stories from Shakespeare and the natural world. He was also a keen amateur photographer, and many of his photographs in the Albums provide a useful record of local customs, homes and landscapes in this period. Interestingly, Quakers embraced the medium of photography as they linked it with scientific enquiry rather than artistic expression. It therefore posed fewer problems in terms of its relationship with truth. Aubrey experimented with setting up scenes using rustic props such as stiles and gates. ‘Walnut Gathering’ and ‘By a Stile in the Woods’ display Aubrey’s interest in composition and scale which go beyond merely recording a particular moment.

The Village Albums offer an extraordinary lens through which we can view some aspects of the lives of a comfortable, prosperous Quaker family, involved in many of the key struggles of the mid- and late nineteenth century. They were conceived as a way of generating, preserving and circulating material which would be suitable for a known group of people within a prescribed network. They were meant to be read, shared and enjoyed. By considering them as objects created through collage, we have tried to show that they are also artefacts which reconcile both difference and unity, individual talents and collective concerns. Each turn of the page becomes an encounter with a new voice, flourish or tone. Each essay or poem alludes to a speech, performance or debate and recalls many voices now silent. The Village Albums are many-layered spaces which represent a certain way of being in and of the world and celebrate the impossibility of a singular view. 


[i] Diary of Helen Priestman Bright Clark, November 16th 1896, The Alfred Gillett Trust MIL/70/1

[ii] Village Album List of Members and Digest of Rules and Selected Minutes, printed list, 1892.

[iii] Ibid.

[iv] Ibid.

[v] Anthony Ashley Cooper, Earl of Shaftesbury Characteristicks of men, manners, opinions, times. In three volumes (1711; London: Printed by John Darby, 1727) p. 5

[vi] Eleanor Stephens Clark ‘The Sewing Machine’ in Village Album XV

Authors’ Biographies

Alison Horgan gained her PhD from the University of Sheffield earlier this year. It examined form and fragmentation in Thomas Percy’s Reliques of Ancient English Poetry. Prior to this, she was a secondary school English and Latin teacher. She read English at Cambridge and holds Masters in African Languages and Literature (SOAS) and Enlightenment Romanticism and Nation (Glasgow).She has recently completed a 6 month AHRC funded Innovation Placement at the Alfred Gillett Trust in Somerset, during which she researched the visitors books of the Clark family while they were living at Millfield House between 1889 and 1932. The project established links between the Trust and local primary schools and explored the rich history of social and political reform in this Quaker family. Alison is now working as a freelancer in the education, museums and heritage sector. 

Anna Vaughan Kett is Senior Lecturer in the History of Art and Design in the School of Humanities at the University of Brighton. She works across a range of interests within material and visual culture studies. Her research interests centre on political expressions through dress, primarily the work of Quaker women anti-slavery activists in Britain and America in the nineteenth century. Current projects include further investigation into ‘free’ cotton cloth produced in Manchester and Carlisle, the packages of aid sent by Quakers to freed slaves in Kansas and the humanitarian work of the Quaker shoemaking Clark family of Street, and their extended kinship networks in Britain and America. She has published and spoken widely on these topics.

Words: © Alison Horgan and Anna Vaughan Kett, 2019. Images: © All images provided courtesy of the Alfred Gillett Trust, 2019.

Catalogue Review: Cut and Paste: 400 Years of Collage, Scottish National Galleries of Modern Art, Edinburgh.

Caroline Knighton, London, October 2019.

Exhibition Catalogue: Cut and Paste: 400 Years of Collage, Scottish National Galleries of Modern Art, Edinburgh, National Galleries of Scotland, 2019, 184 pp. (with 240 colour illustrations).
ISBN: 9781911054313. Paperback: £ 25.00.

Those curious enough to venture into the Icthuostion Museum in London would have been well-rewarded.[i] Among the host of extraordinary objects on display they would have found Gothic grottos rendered in fish bones, baskets of flowers woven from the interlocking teeth of sole fish, branches of currants fashioned from fish eyes, and a bird, cut from cork and covered with a dazzling plumage of fish scales balanced on a coralline branch.[ii] Playfully exploring a range of non-traditional art materials and provoking the sensation of the strange rupturing the smooth surface of the familiar, these elaborate constructions comfortably carry a vocabulary more common to the Surrealist object or the Dada assemblage than the Georgian taste for delicate restraint and harmonious classicism. And yet, ‘Mrs. Dard’s’ shell-work, described by Freya Gowrley in her catalogue essay ‘Collage Before Modernism’ was not produced in the context of an early twentieth-century avant-gardism, but at the turn of the nineteenth century, the ‘strangeness’ of her objects in fact speaking more to the received logic of art-historical criticism than to contemporary practices.

As the impressive variety of objects and the breadth of scholarly research brought together in the detailed catalogue that accompanies the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art’s Cut and Paste: 400 Years of Collage exhibition illustrates, the familiar notion of collage as a quintessentially modern, or more precisely, modernist invention is itself intimately bound up with the historical project of defining ‘Fine Art’. While all three main essays offer fascinatingly different insights into the rich lineage of collage and its relationship to modernist aesthetics, they all corroborate on the point that in promoting collage as the emblematic mode of the historical avant-garde, commentators have been complicit in reinforcing certain hierarchies pertaining to the separation between high and low, art and craft, professional and amateur that have structured Western art historical traditions, and have consistently overlooked pre-modernist cutting and pasting and the adjacent practices of pinning or stitching as domestic craft or folk art.

The historical avant-garde’s trade in shock and rupture was certainly well served by the medium, and it is no surprise that the broad frame of collage aesthetics with its subdivisions of papiers collé, photomontage, assemblage, and décollage, has grounded and guided so much modern(ist) experiment, as Yuval Etger’s contribution to this collection deftly outlines. Of course, the parameters of this narrative are familiar: from Cubism’s radical rejection of traditional representational modes, collage techniques are quickly picked up by an international group of artists and find their way into Russian Constructivism and Futuro-Cubism, significantly developed by the Dada photomontage, taken in new directions with Surrealism and rippling out into Pop Art and beyond. Unsurprisingly, modernism is well represented in the exhibition, although refreshingly the more familiar collage work of Picasso, Schwitters and Matisse is balanced with that of lesser known pieces, including a striking example of one of John Piper’s en plein air cut out landscapes. Modernist women also seem to be well represented, with particularly fine examples of British Surrealist Eileen Agar’s work and a dazzling costume design of Natalia Goncharova included in the catalogue [Fig. 1].[iii]

Natalia Goncharova, Costume Design for One of the Three Kings in ‘La Liturgie’, 1915. Watercolour, pencil and collage on paper, 62.2 x 47.6cm. National Galleries of Scotland, Edinburgh.

Nevertheless, as the directors of the National Galleries of Scotland? summarise in their foreword, the cutting up and pasting of railway tickets, newspapers and other quotidian elements of modern, urban life is electrified with the ‘shock of the new’ only when it is considered within the classical art-historical canon continued in the painterly experiments of Impressionism and Post-Impressionism. Extending this limited field to include the vast range of materials and techniques presented by the exhibition including herbarium specimens, tinsel prints and paper transformation silhouettes not only expands our critical vocabulary, introducing ‘paper mosaicks’, ‘scrap work’ and découpage into the frame, but also encourages a re-thinking of notably domestic and historically gendered practices such as quilting, dress-making and textile-work; scrapbook albums and valentines cards; and the fascinating eighteenth century craze for covering furniture in cut out prints in an imitation of lacquer work. [Fig. 2]

Mary Watson, Scrapbook, 1821. Cut-up newspaper print, printed illustrations and handwritten text, 21 x 15 cm. Manchester Metropolitan University.

Moving well beyond the narrow historical confines of collage’s ‘invention’ in Paris by Braque and Picasso in 1912 then, the catalogue’s supporting essays clearly illustrate the proliferation of these practices in the years before Picasso stuck an illusionistic, oil cloth reproduction of chair caning onto the rope-framed canvas of Still Life with Chair Caning (1912).  While the earliest pieces presented by the exhibition are of anatomical fugitive prints from the 1500s, which used hinged paper flaps to reveal the inner organs and systems of the human body, curator Patrick Elliott’s opening broad historical survey takes us even further back into collage’s history, to Imperial China and the invention of paper in AD 105.

While noting that collage techniques can be traced to the tenth century Japanese practice of sticking paper onto silk, Elliott’s discussion of the expansion of collage techniques in Europe is anchored in careful attention to the technological developments of the age; collage, it seems, follows where paper leads. Accordingly, it is in Germany, the centre for early printing and paper manufacture in the 1400s, that he locates early European examples of collage on paper, illustrating this historical survey with a woodcut of Saint Dorothea whose dress and the branches of the tree she sits beneath are described as covered with ‘tiny quartz crystals and bits of tinsel, sprinkled over sections of the woodcut print which had been prepared with glue’.[iv]

While Elliott outlines a steady expansion of collage techniques and practices over the centuries – the ‘paper mosaicks’ produced by embroiderer Mary Delany in the 1770s towards the end of her life being particularly of note – it is with the advent of the industrialisation of paper production in the early 1800s and the emergence of more readily available and affordable materials, the commercialisation of scrapbooks, photographic technologies and user-friendly glues through the nineteenth century that collage really moves into the mainstream as a popular craft activity.  

Gowrley similarly picks up on the popularisation of craft, highlighting the importance of ‘accomplishments’ promoted by conduct books throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and the emergence of specific shops providing a range of arts and crafts supplies. In rooting her inquiry in the eighteenth century, Gowrley focuses more squarely on the shift from early examples of collage as a means of engaging with and contributing to systems of knowledge production (fugitive prints, the ‘grangerised’ text and herbaria) to its identification with the domestic, and more intimate sphere of craft-making and exchange (Valentine’s cards, sentimental albums and scrapbooks). In doing so, her essay makes a subtle but incisive case for thinking about the emotional and affective qualities of collage, and the imbrication of collage with personal narratives that is particularly compelling.

There is a playful irony in building an exhibition grounded in the rejection of the Cubist ‘invention of collage’ narrative around the National Galleries of Scotland’s acquisition of Picasso’s 1912 Bottle and Glass on a Table, but it is one that the catalogue enthusiastically engages with [Fig. 3]. Throughout we are invited to draw generative links between these early examples and their more contemporary equivalents (the Berry sisters’ miniature and mobile stage designs from 1801 find their twentieth-century correspondent in Terry Gilliam’s animations; while the popular Victorian craze for paper dolls, itself interesting prefigured by Mica miniatures, are reiterated in Cindy Sherman’s Doll Clothes from 1975), in a way that moves beyond collage as a historical subject and asks us to engage with it as an interpretative mode. Explicitly shifting his attention away from the pasting element of college practices, Etgar’s closing essay perhaps puts this most succinctly when he suggests that reading collage is ‘as an activity that shifts our attention to the margins or edges of pictorial fragments […] to the meeting point where one image encounters another’.[v]

Pablo Picasso, Bottle and Glass on a Table, 1912. Printed paper and charcoal on paper, 61.6 x 47 cm, National Galleries of Scotland, Edinburgh.

Like Mrs Dard’s 1802 exhibition at the Icthuostion museum, Cut and Paste presents us with a ‘catalogue of curiosities’, its provocative juxtapositions and rich illustrations of material fragments of collage avant la letter not only adding texture and depth to discussions of collage’s pre-modernist history, but also of forging new sets of relations for thinking about modernism’s relationship to materiality, affect and embodied practice and craft.


[i] As Freya Gowrley describes, evidence of the Icthuostion Museum, located between Suffolk Street and Cockspur Street in St James’s, London, survives in an anonymous catalogue from 1802 detailing the organic assemblages and shell-work of Mrs Dards. Promising to be ‘Highly gratifying to every Lover of Natural History’, the ‘catalogue of curiosities’ contained in the museum was spread out across several rooms and was open to the public through the year. See Anon, ‘A Catalogue of Curiosities contained in the Icthuostion Museum’ (London: Bye and Law, 1802); Gowrley, ‘Collage Before Modernism’, Cut and Paste: 400 Years of Collage (Edinburgh: National Galleries of Scotland, 2019), 28.  

[ii] Anon, ‘A Catalogue of Curiosities’, 6-12.

[iii] More than a much-needed feminist revisionism, the curatorial decision to include a substantial amount of collage work by women in the exhibition is buttressed by the historical alignment of gender and marginalised craft practices that the essays draw out. Gowrley draws particular attention to this with her citation of an advertisement for the 1781 Royal Academy of Art’s annual exhibition which announced a change in its submissions policy whereby ‘No Copies whatever, Drawings from Pictures, Needlework, Artificial Flowers, cut Paper, Shell Work, Models in coloured Wax, or any imitations of Painting will be received’ (29). As Gowrley details, such a move not only deliberately excluded women from submitting to the Royal Academy, but reflects the terms upon which future distinctions between fine art and craft would be formalised.

[iv] Patrick Elliott, ‘Collage over the Centuries’, Cut and Paste: 400 Years of Collage, 11.

[v] Yuval Etgar, ‘On Edge: Exploring Collage Tactics and Terminology’, 36.


Caroline Knighton is an independent researcher whose work focuses primarily on intersections of gender and waste in literary modernism and the historical avant-garde. Her book, Modernist Wastes: Recovery, Reuse and the Autobiographic in Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven and Djuna Barnes (Bloomsbury, 2020) is preoccupied with textual mess, self-representational strategies and a compelling set of collecting, costuming and collage practices. The project explores the ways in which waste functions at once as a gendered strategy of containment in modernist discourse, and a radically disruptive mode of re-making in the work of these women. Caroline has taught on a range of topics related to modernism, the body and the historical avant-garde, and has published work on Djuna Barnes, Mina Loy and the Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Lorighoven, amongst others. Before the completion of her PhD at Birkbeck in 2014, she was the co-convenor of the Djuna Barnes Research Seminar in London, and co-organiser of the First International Djuna Barnes Conference, held in 2012.

Words: © Caroline Knighton, 2019.

EXHIBITION REVIEW: ‘I’ll just get them a big bag of scraps’: Cut and Paste: 400 Years of Collage, Scottish National Galleries of Modern Art, Edinburgh.

Penelope Wickson, Calne, October 2019.

‘I’ll just get them a big bag of scraps’: this fragment of conversation, energetically exchanged between two educators as they reacted with excitement to Sarah Eliza Pyes’ 1897 Crazy Patchwork  –  a mosaic quilt composed of silk, velvet, cotton and silk that had taken a thousand hours to complete -encapsulated the spirit of this groundbreaking exhibition. Curated by Patrick Eliot, Cut and Paste – 400 Years of Collage is the first of its kind to chart the history of collage – a form of art that is exceptionally hard to define due to its vast scope, complex relationship with academic tradition, and ability to evade any confinement through terminology due to the very nature of its production. Indeed, the creation of collage extends far beyond its etymology, which derives from the French verb coller – meaning ‘to glue’, as the six sections, spanning the two floors of the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art demonstrated.[1] Whilst including giants of collage’s history such as Picasso, Matisse and Schwitters, the exhibition went far beyond the papier collé with which the European avant-garde was associated and which established the technique’s paradigmatic place in the established historiography of Modernism. Indeed, due to its rigorous consideration of both the discourse and technique of collage in its myriad forms, the exhibition offered a significant challenge to both formalist and socio-historical definitions of Modernism as a movement and a historical phenomenon.

L to R: Anonymous, Baby, c.1890. Collage, 53.00 x 39.00 cm. Photography: England & Co, London, © England & Co, London; Annegret Soltau (b.1946), GRIMA – Selbst mit Katze (der Schrei) / GRIMA – Self with cat (the scream), 1986. C-print, 120.00 x 90.00 cm,
© DACS 2018. Courtesy of Richard Saltoun Gallery; Eileen Agar (b.1899), Fish Circus, 1939. Collage, pen and ink and watercolour on paper, 18.50 x 25.00 cm, Bequeathed by Gabrielle Keiller 1995
Collection: National Galleries of Scotland. © The Estate of Eileen Agar. All Rights Reserved 2017/ Bridgeman Images.

This extremely comprehensive chronological survey presents a challenge to art historical narratives relating to temporality, gender and authorship not least because of the astounding range and diversity of artists and objects represented in the large space of the gallery. Covering both floors and making intriguing use of walls, niches and alcoves as a means of organising themes and periods, the displays defied a strict hierarchical logic that is frequently dependent on the perceived superiority of fine art over creative work associated with craft, domesticity, women, and the otherwise ‘unqualified’. Indeed, due to the astonishing diversity contained within them, the gallery’s rooms could be understood in terms of what Deleuze and Guattari have termed ‘patchwork space’: ‘an amorphous collected of juxtaposed pieces that can be joined together in an infinite number of ways’.[2] A definition of this kind, predicated upon dialogue between disparate forms, is highly applicable to the way in which the objects spoke to each other within the display. It is also an appropriate way in which to understand the arrangement of the interior space which was variable in terms of the size of the rooms and their relationships with the connecting stairs and hallways.

For such an innovative exhibition of this kind, that sought to tackle a little known and frequently neglected area in art history, a chronological approach was extremely helpful for the visitor likely to be captivated by both its overwhelming sophistication and elements of surprise. Divided in to six sections, the objects were organised according to date and art historical movement. The first section considered all kinds of collage that had been produced  between 1550 and 1900, prior to the advent of Modernism, whilst the second section focussed on Cubism and Dada. The third section explored Constructivism, Dada, Surrealism and Early Pop Art, whilst the fourth – a thematic section – presented collage and its involvement in the protest of the 1960s and 1970s. The penultimate section highlighted the relationship of collage to the art of the post-war years with particular emphasis on Pop Art and Abstraction, and finally, an examination of contemporary collage brought the exhibition to a close. Significantly, the final section, ‘Collage Now’ was located on the ground floor, adjacent to the earliest examples and facilitated a circular and undulating approach to the mapping of collage through and across time. What became particularly apparent, due to the use of alcoves, passageways and niches as means of display, was the perpetual conversation between the works from all periods and such continuity functioned as a powerful disruption of the hegemonic distinction within art history between art and craft as well as the disjunction between Modernism and other periods.

L to R: Andre Breton (b.1896), Le Déclin de la société bourgeoisie, ca. 1935 – 1940. Collage on paper, 13.50 x 8.70 cm, Bequeathed by Gabrielle Keiller 1995 Collection: National Galleries of Scotland. © ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2018; Johann Remmelin (1583-1632), Catoptrum Microcosmicum, 1613. Engraving with etching, 36 x 26 cm. Wellcome Collection, London.

The staircase played a particularly powerful role in challenging a teleological view of the history of collage by creating a synchronic connection between the upper and lower floors. ‘Patchwork space’, according to Deleuze and Guattari has no centre and the horizontal, vertical and zig-zagging movement between rooms and floors resisted a diachronic sense of upward motion towards a finale. Yet, as well as highlighting continuity across time and space, there were jarring disruptions which de-centred a comfortable view of the relationship between the history of collage and the history of art further. Ingres’ pencil and reworked engraving of The Gatteaux Family and Pietro da Cortona’s sectional Head of a Youth Wearing a Laural Wreath called in to question not only the lowly status of collage as craft, but also challenged received understanding of the cerebral superiority of the academic tradition which these two artists embody due to their preoccupation with drawing and antiquity.

Arguably, the first section ‘1550-1900’ was the most innovative in comparison to the other rooms, as  it dealt with the widest time span, but contained objects that would be least familiar to all but the most informed viewer. The breadth and complexity was at times bewildering with the range of techniques, and the intricacy of the works which warranting detailed attention in their own right. Boundaries between both discipline and technique were continually destabilised as demonstrated by Macready and Dickens’ folding scrap work screen which featured engravings of Shakespearean actors and celebrities, many of which were taken from the literary magazine, The Keepsake, which was in circulation between 1820 and 1840.

The flight of stairs worked well as a natural dividing line between the Early Modern, Georgian and Victorian periods, taking the viewer upstairs towards the Modernism of Dada and Cubism. Although the collages produced during the first two decades of the twentieth century in Paris and Berlin are synonymous with the transgressive modernity of the avant-garde, this section, presented key challenges to established accounts of the role of collage within Modernism. Particular prominence was given to women: for example Natalia Goncharova’s 1915 costume design for one of the three kings in La Liturgie demonstrated her ability to synthesise the spatially disorientating effects of Cubist collage with the decorative surface embellishment and rich, warm colours of traditional Russian icons and woodblock prints. Although the supremacy of Paris within the emergence of Modernist collage was preserved with Picasso, Braques and Gris being celebrated as those who ‘led the way’, the inclusion of Carlo Carra’s Futurist Atmospheric Swirls – a Bursting Shell (1914) drew attention to Italy’s contribution to the prominence of collage within the avant-garde. However, the perennial notion of Italy’s secondary role in relation to France that dominates accounts of this period was amplified by the assertion that ‘the Italian Futurists took the idea of collage from the Parisian Cubists’. On the other hand, the exhibition’s greater focus on cultural exchange facilitated by Modernism was highlighted by its featuring of a visit made to Picasso’s studio in January 1914 by Vanessa Bell, Roger Fry and Molly McCarthay which led to developments in the making of collage by the British avant-garde.

L to R: George Smart (1774-1846), Old Bright the Postman, c. 1830. Paper and fabric collage with watercolour on paper, 30 x 24.5 cm. Image courtesy of The Amelia, Tunbridge Wells; Kurt Schwitters (b.1887), Die Kathedrale, 1920. Book with 8 lithographs including one for the cover. In publisher’s wrappers including white paper band, 22.50 x 14.50 cm. Collection: National Galleries of Scotland. Photography: John McKenzie, © DACS 2018; Mary Delany (1700-1788), Cotyledon Umbilicus, Navel Wort, 1779. Collage of coloured papers, bodycolour and watercolour on black ink background, 33.3 x 23cm. British Museum, London: bequeathed by Augusta Hall, Baroness Llannover, 1897. ©The Trustees of the British Museum.

Room 3: ‘Constructivism, Dada, Surrealism and Early Pop Art’ celebrated the well-established place of collage in the literature and history of the inter-war years and those that followed WWII. Significant to the undermining of the orthodox canon associated with this period was the inclusion of the work of lesser known artists along with a focus on processes as opposed to finished pieces as they were revealed through artists’ books and reproductions of collages such as Max Ernst’s La Femme 100 Tetes. The shifting and overlapping of temporalities created by the role of the reproduction of older images within Modernist and Surrealist collage was emphasised by this section which hinged on the dialogue between Victorian and subsequent periods. In 1953, for example, Marcel Duchamp sent Georges Hugnet a greetings card comprised of paper scraps dating from the Victorian era – an act that shows how strict chronological divisions between Modern art and its predecessors are often arbitrarily drawn.

The next room, ‘Collage and Protest in the 1960s and 1970s’ demonstrated the political force of collage and its power to disturb and disorientate. Rolf Brand’s untitled Sistine Madonna (c1970) took the form of a composite biomorphic body composed of the fleshy arms of cherubim from Raphael’s Sistine Madonna. This uncanny formation – at once familiar and strange – demonstrated the unique potential of collage to recycle the past in a self-reflexive manner in order to create new meanings. Whilst exposing the constructed, artificial and unstable nature of significance as it changes according to time and location, irony was used to comment on the saccharine commercialisation of Raphael’s original as it is broken up, re-packaged and divorced from both its original home in Piacenza, Italy and its second home in Dresden, to appear on postcards and other sentimental memorabilia.

The penultimate room: ‘Post-war, Abstraction and Pop Art’ developed the persistent theme running throughout the exhibition – that of the ability of collage to disrupt and confuse normative time. It was consistently clear that the Renaissance remained a central reference point for artists seeking to dismantle the periods’ perennial grip over popular understanding of the history of art. Eduardo Paolozzi and R. B. Kitaj’s 1962 Work In Progress used reproductions of Renaissance imagery to symbolically dismantle the period’s status through iconoclastic humour. The juxtaposition of these lesser known works with Matisse’s Jazz – Book of Twenty Unbound Pochoir Plates reiterated the position of collage within the history of art as both hallowed and marginal.

L to R: Mary Delany (1700-1788), Erica Coccinea (?) (Octandria Monogynia), 1776. Collage of coloured papers, bodycolour and watercolour with dried petal and leaf on black ink background, 26.4 x 20.4cm. British Museum, London: bequeathed by Augusta Hall, Baroness Llannover, 1897. ©The Trustees of the British Museum; Max Ernst (b.1891), Untitled (Unpublished collage for ‘Une Semaine de Bonté’), 1934. Collage, 15.30 x 12.10 cm, Purchased with assistance from the Patrons of the National Galleries of Scotland, 2002, Collection: National Galleries of Scotland. © ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2018.

The exhibition’s consistent commentary regarding the artificiality and arbitrary nature of artistic canons and hierarchies was made apparent by the inclusion of examples that tested the definition of collage as an art form to its most extreme limits. A bedroom door covered with stickers and a Fuzzy Felt board were placed in alcoves no different to the display of Sir Peter Blake’s Museum of the Colour White 2 which was placed in a similar location. The use of non-hierarchical curation in this way called in to question the relevance of the named celebrity artist to the formulation of collage’s art historical and social significance. All three exhibits with their buildup of planes, layers, and overlapping of shapes revealed the compulsive urge to collect, stick, and amass in a repetitive act suggestive of the pleasurable, libidinous aspects of making collage irrespective of the art market or gallery audience.

The democratic potential of collage to operate as an inclusive art form available to those outside or on the margins of the academy and the artistic establishment was explored in the final room – Room 6: ‘Collage Now’. This room revealed, once again, the complex breadth of the medium in account of its relationship with industry and technology, the very specific digital effects created by computer generated cutting, pasting and copying expanding and undermining the meaning of the term collage once more. Jean Francois Ranzier’s National Gallery London (C-Type print) used digital reprographics to create a photomontage of down-scaled works in the National Gallery to comment on the repetitious act of viewing familiar paintings over and over again whilst commenting on the over-exposure of the gallery’s most popular images through reproduction and sale as postcards and prints.

Indeed, the great strength of the entire exhibition was the continual focus on the processes involved in creating the many diverse objects and images on display – with the self-reflexive, revelatory aspect of collage setting it apart from other forms of art due to the fragility of its co-joined and assembled parts. By the same token, the exhibition made it clear that making objects from cheap disposable materials, copies and prints, or from pieces of rubbish could result in the dissemination of powerful political messages. Deborah Roberts’ Head Nods and Handshakes (2019) – a composite figure made from photographic reproductions of male and female body parts, which together expose the simultaneous vulnerability and strength of the colonial subject within the painful passage of African American history. The exhibition also highlighted the close relationship that collage has enjoyed with counterculture, the latter also dependent on borrowing, cutting, and reassembling in order to provoke dissent as the torn newspaper letters of the Sex Pistols’ Punk first album cover Never Mind the Bollocks Here’s the Sex Pistols demonstrated.

By the same token, the wealth of material culture brought together in Cut and Paste: 400 Years of Collage showcased processes associated with women’s activities, the working classes and the amateur. Transformative in the creation of new objects, such as Sir Peter Blake’s The Toy Shop,  practices belonging to folk, art such as carpentry and wood work were seen to be capable of precipitating great change whilst drawing heavily on the past as a reference point.  Equally, the exhibition will be crucial to the furthering of scholarly research in to areas extending beyond its immediate scope due to a strong emphasis on items created during moments of intimacy, illness and trauma. Certainly, the study of material cultures, emotions, gender, film and literature as well as the histories of black and ethnic minorities will be facilitated by the way in which the exhibits demonstrated that collage can be created in the home and beyond the art school due to its relatively low production cost and small scale.

Thus the exhibition’s closing claim that ‘collage is a supremely modern medium, mirroring the abundance of images found in the modern world’, seemed contradictory given the importance of the past to the creation of Modernist and Post-Modern collage. Indeed, the close correspondence between the collage of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries and that of much earlier periods is central to the argument posited by Freya Gowrley in her essay ‘Collage Before Modernism’.[3] The use of the two floors joined by a staircase was therefore highly effective in emphasising both a connection and division between the two principal phases of collage. Equally, the use of corridor walls, alcoves and niches created liminal spaces which underlined the ambivalent role of collage as a border space within the hierarchies of art history.

The relatively small but grand space of the Scottish National Gallery brought gravitas and dignity to objects and practices easily derided as ephemera or at worst rubbish. Yet the diminutive scale of the gallery was also extremely effective in amplifying the sensory intensity of viewing collage given that the affective layering of materials or dismantling of images was often linked to life events of major significance such as birth, death, illness and love. Thus the exhibition showed how collage, in all its multiple and varied forms, could represent an alternative art history, resting on values different from those on which the discipline has often been grounded: values that owe so much to the Modernist paradigm in which art and its histories are distanced from the matters of everyday life.

If the exhibition’s arrangement can be understood in terms of Deleuze and Guattari’s concept of the ‘patchwork space’, then the concepts and thought processes generated by the exhibits can be considered as a precipitator of ‘collage thinking’. Similar to Jessica Hemmings’ model of ‘textile thinking’ which is predicated upon ‘soft logics, modes of thought that twist and turn and stretch and fold’, ‘collage thinking’ resists hierarchies and binaries and, instead, its vision hinges upon flexibility and slippage backwards, forwards, within and between concepts – breaking them down and reconstituting them in to something new.[4] Unlike fabric, however, many of the exhibits were characterised by sharpness. Indeed, such clarity often belied the complex ambiguities of the objects’ messages whilst cutting to the heart of tangled issues with a stark immediacy due to the degree of technical precision involved in their creation. If collage cannot be easily defined due to the multiplicity of its formal qualities and dependence on the reorientation of material lives gone by, then it opposes the rigid, hierarchical art history from which it has frequently been excluded. Chaotic in terms of its diversity and promiscuous in terms of the selection of its materials and frequent focus on excess, the ability of collage to unashamedly reveal its construction renders it powerfully subversive. Thus the ‘collage thinking’ produced by Cut and Paste: 400 Years of Collage is precisely what made the exhibition not only radical in its novelty, but also in its provocation.

Raoul Hausmann (b.1886), Der Kunstkritiker (The Art Critic), 1919-20. Lithograph and printed paper on paper, 318 x 254 mm. Collection: Tate. © ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2018 .


[1] A comprehensive discussion of the definition of the terminology associated with collage can be found in the accompanying exhibition catalogue: Patrick Elliot, Cut and Paste: 400 Years of Collage, National Galleries of Scotland, 2019. The catalogue contains essays by Freya Gowrley and Yuval Etgar.

[2] Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari. ‘1440: The Smooth and the Striated.’ The Textile Reader, edited by Jessica Hemmings, Bloomsbury Academic, 2012, pp.179-182.

[3] Freya Gowrley. ‘Collage Before Modernism’, in Patrick Elliott, Cut and Paste. 400 Years Of Collage. (Edinburgh: National Galleries of Scotland, 2019), pp. 25-35.

[4] Jessica Hemmings discusses the concept of ‘textile thinking’ in her introduction to the essay by Pennina Barnett. ‘Folds, Fragments, Surfaces: Towards a Poetics of Cloth’. The Textile Reader, edited by Jessica Hemmings, Bloomsbury Academic, 2012, pp182-191.

Author’s Biography

Dr Penelope Wickson is Head of History of Art at St Mary’s School, Calne. She gained her undergraduate degree in History of Art and Italian (gaining First Class honours in History of Art and Firsts in the Italian Literature papers) from the University of Birmingham in 1998 and was awarded the departmental Hayward Scholarship which enabled her to complete her MPhil on the subject of the Orientalism of John Frederick Lewis. She completed her AHRC funded PhD at the University of Birmingham on the Macchiaioli’s images of female domestic textile production during the Italian Risorgimento. She has held a School Teacher Fellowship at the University of Cambridge and currently researches materiality, gender and the representation of fashion and textiles in 19th and 20th century Italian art.

She has been teaching Art History for 20 years and is currently Head of History of Art at St Mary’s School, Calne. She has been Chair of the Schools Committee of the Association For Art History is a Senior Examiner for AQA History of Art as well as Scrutineer for the new Pearson A Level. Her reviews of The Glamour of Italian Fashion 1945-2014(V&A Museum) and the Musée d’Orsay’s Dolce Vita? Du Liberty Au Design Italien 1900-1940 have been published in Italian Studies. Her article Wearing His Heart on His Sleeve: Odoardo Borrani’s The Seamstresses of the Red Shirts and the Cult of Garibaldi has been published in the Making Masculinity special issue of Nineteenth-Century Gender Studies. She wrote the accompanying catalogue essays for the recent exhibitions of the work of Houston based contemporary artist Thedra Cullar-Ledford: ‘Accoutrements’ (Vaughan Mason Fine Art, Houston, 8 September – 13 October 2013) and ‘Endollenations’ (Ivy Brown Gallery, NYC, February 2019).

 She has presented papers on the subject of the representation of dress and textiles in British and Italian painting at numerous conferences including those hosted by the AAH, the Courtauld Institute of Art and the University of Cambridge. She gained an MA in English Literature (Shakespeare Pathway) from the University of Bristol in 2014.

Words: © Penelope Wickson, 2019.

Lee Krasner

Carola Huttmann,Kirkwall, July 2019.

Written to tie in with the first major European exhibition of the artist’s work for fifty years, LEE KRASNER  ~  LIVING COLOUR, at the Barbican Centre Art Gallery in London, from 30 May to 1 September 2019, this article, in keeping with the ethos of the Collage Research Network, focuses specifically on Krasner’s collages and the background to how she came to create them.

Lee Krasner (1908 – 1984) was not the first artist who, stricken by poverty, felt obliged to recycle canvases and other materials. In Krasner’s case it was also because she refused to allow her art to be pigeon-holed or limited in any aesthetic way. Had she been any less self-assured as an artist than she was, not to mention as a woman of Jewish background, she would most likely have been completely invisible on the art scene of mid-twentieth century America.  As the wife of the famous, some would say, notorious, Abstract expressionist, Jackson Pollock (1912 – 1956), her struggle to be recognised as a talented artist in her own right was made even harder, overshadowed as she was, by such an iconic figure. In critical circles Krasner seemed destined forever to be known as Mrs. Jackson Pollock.

For Krasner, Pollock was akin to an addiction. He inspired her artistically and personally as much as he frustrated her. His drinking and the irrational behaviour it brought on would come to affect her own health and mental well-being. In spite of these difficulties Krasner felt protective of her husband throughout their marriage, always ensuring he had the space he needed to paint, both in physical and emotional terms. For her, it meant often keeping her own artistic endeavours small-scale, so that she could work in the bedroom of their house in Springs, Long Island, while Pollock had his studio in a large barn outside. (Fig. 1) Her Little Images, a series of small canvases on which she worked between 1946 and 1949, originated out of this need. Following his death in a car crash, in 1956, Krasner devoted herself to preserving Pollock’s legacy by securing contracts with art galleries in the United States as well as in Europe. She was determined that his work should continue to be seen and his reputation to grow even beyond the heights it had already achieved during his lifetime.

Lee Krasner has in her studio in the barn, Springs, 1962. Photo: HansNamuth. Lee Krasner Papers, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institute, Washington.

Initially inspired by Cubism through her studies with the German-born American painter and teacher, Hans Hofmann (1880 – 1966), Krasner turned away from the form in the 1940s towards Abstract Expressionism. Unwilling to be constrained by one particular style her tendency was to immerse herself deeply into specific themes she wanted to explore before moving on to others. It did not mean that she abandoned them for the rest of her life. Krasner would revisit themes whenever she felt she had something new to say. She was quite prepared to leave herself open to new artistic experiences, even if it meant going back to old subjects. Inspiration often came from nature and its cycles. She liked the way the four seasons brought her ideas organically, by osmosis, and saw their constant renewal as something she could reflect in her art. Krasner named Piet Mondrian (1872 – 1944)[1][3], Henri Matisse (1869 – 1954)[2][3] and Pablo Picasso (1881 – 1973)[3] as her main influences. Additionally, she acknowledged Pollock was of tremendous importance to her artistic development. “How can you live with someone without that happening?”, Krasner said in an interview with Doloris Holmes for the Archives of American Art, Art World in Turmoil, oral history project in 1972, going on to explain: “We’d never sit down and have a big art talk together. He’d come in and say, ‘Want to see what I’ve done?’ And I’d invite him into my studio.”[4]

Extremely self-critical, Krasner would tear up any of her paintings she was dissatisfied with. Instead of completely discarding the pieces, however, she recycled them into new works of art – her collages. In her book, 15 Women Who Made Art and Made History (2017), the writer and art historian, Bridget Quinn, writes that Lee Krasner’s collages are the artist’s most autobiographical works. She says, “What is not autobiography if it’s not selecting chunks of the past and artfully reorienting them in the present?”[5] Anne Middleton Wagner, in her study, Three Artists (Three Women): Modernism and the Art of Hesse, Krasner and O’Keeffe (1998), quotes Krasner as expressing the same thoughts herself about her paintings.[6] Interviewed in 1975 by the art critic, Cindy Nemser, Krasner said: “I think my painting is so autobiographical if anyone can take the trouble to read it.”[7]

Following Pollock’s death Krasner tore up many of his paintings which she found abandoned or half finished in his studio. By creating collages from his old materials she was keeping him alive as well as developing further an artistic method she had begun experimenting with two decades earlier. Now it was also something cathartic to do as Krasner worked through the grief of losing her husband.

Perhaps the first seeds for creating collages were planted when, as a young art student in 1937, Krasner had to watch Hans Hofmann tear up her sketches in front of her and reassemble them in a different way for better artistic effect. The first deviation from the highly structured forms of Cubism to the more intuitive artistic expression that would later lead to an entire series of collages deriving from old paintings – both hers and Pollock’s – was Krasner’s Mosaic Collage of 1939. Still using a ground of bold squares of colour in reds and browns, but without the Mondrian heavy black lines to frame them, Krasner freely added contrasting swathes of pale blues. Together with a fluid circle in striking yellow and small blocks of colour on patches of white, the painting evokes the impression of an aerial map. As with her collages of the mid-1950s and those she created towards the end of her life from drawings and paintings that had lain forgotten for thirty years, this early piece already has that sense of being ‘organically-derived'[8] which is evident later in Krasner’s nature-themed collages, such as Forest No.2 (1954); Bald Eagle (1955); Milkweed (1955); Desert Moon (1955); Autumnal Red (1980); Vernal Yellow (Spring Yellow) (1980).

Lee Krasner, Bald Eagle, 1955. Collection of Audrey Irmal.
©The Pollock-Krasner Foundation. Photo: Jonathan Urban.

Desert Moon is an arresting collage. A striking red background, depicting the visceral heat of the desert, is covered by bold, ragged strips of black paper. Between and over these Krasner brushed circles and patches of mauve which give a sense of the night’s cool air bringing relief from the heat of the day. Autumnal Red is a beautiful portrayal of swirling autumn leaves as one might experience during a walk in the park or along a country road. The sense of the breeze riffling the leaves into kaleidoscopic swirls of reds and orange is so vivid that Krasner, here, created for the viewer an almost palpable sense of movement. 

Lee Krasner, Desert Moon, 1955, Collages
Collage of oil on paper on canvas, and oil on canvas
Overall: 58 x 42 1/2 in. Frame: 65 × 51 × 2 in. (165.1 × 129.54 × 5.08 cm). Courtesy Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

Recognition of Krasner as an artist in her own right took a long time to materialise. Both in joint exhibitions with other artists and in solo showings critiques were generally reserved. On the occasions she placed works in shows in which her husband also exhibited his, Krasner would almost inevitably be referred to as Mrs. Jackson Pollock. It was not until 1955, when Krasner exhibited some of her collages at the Stable Gallery in New York, that her own  artistic talent was finally acknowledged. In his review, Stuart Preston, the art critic for the New York Times spoke of the ‘majestic and thoughtful construction’ of one of her pieces and said he felt Krasner was now ‘searching for formal and chromatic harmonies rather than a delivery of watertight solutions’ in her work.[9]

The first time British audiences had an opportunity to see Krasner’s work was in September 1965, when Bryan Robertson, art curator and Director of the Whitechapel Art Gallery in London from 1952 until 1969, staged the retrospective, Lee Krasner: Paintings, Drawings and Collages. Positive reviews flooded in and, as Eleanor Nairne says in the Foreword of the Catalogue to the Barbican Centre exhibition, the reception she received was a turning point for Krasner, especially by those who hadn’t realised that she was a woman, nor, indeed, that she was Jackson Pollock’s widow.[10]

Now, half a century later, a period during which attitudes to women have changed drastically and the world is looking for ways to make good the harm man has done to the planet, it is thanks to the Barbican Centre Art Gallery hosting a comprehensive retrospective of Krasner’s work, including many pieces never seen before, that there is an opportunity to look at her collages with fresh eyes. The way she created new work from old feels thoroughly modern. Were the artist with us today she would be lauded as a woman ahead of her time in the art of recycling. There can be no doubt at all that she would be judged on her own artistic merit.


[1] Gail Levin, Lee Krasner: A Biography. New York:  William Morrow & Company, 2011

[2] Gail Levin:  In Krasner’s Untitled (Still Life) of 1935Levin sees a similarity to Matisse in the way the artist places and angles the separate objects (p.121). In an interview with Time magazine in 1958 Krasner said she had been “bowled over” by the paintings of Matisse. (p.167)

Krasner was influenced by Mondrian’s thickly painted canvases, his use of primary colours and bold black lines. (pp. 117, 126, 127, 148, 167, 196)

[3] Eleanor Nairne, Lee Krasner: Living Colour. London: Thames and Hudson Ltd, 2019

In the exhibition catalogue to accompany the Lee Krasner retrospective at the Barbican Centre Art Gallery, London, an interview Gail Levin conducted in New York in December 1970 with Krasner is quoted verbatim in the section titled ‘Reflections’. Asked if she was interested in Matisse and Picasso prior to her studies with Hans Hofmann, Krasner replies: “They were both up-top artists for me – and Mondrian as well, really up-top”. (p.174)

[4] Oral history interview with Lee Krasner in 1972, conducted by Doloris Holmes for the Archives of American Art “Art World in Turmoil” oral history project.

(accessed 21 May 2019)

[5] Barbara Quinn, Broad Strokes: 15 Women Who Made Art and Made History (in That Order). San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 2017 (p.113)

[6] Anne Middleton Wagner, Three Artists (Three Women): Modernism and the Art of Hesse,

Krasner and O’Keeffe. Berkeley, CA : University of California Press, 1998 (p.105)

[7] Gail Levin, (p.11)

[8] Gail Levin, (p.401).

Eleanor Nairne:  In her contributing essay in the section titled ‘Nothing Outside Nature’ Katy Siegel puts the artist’s use of the term organic for her work into context. (p.22)

[9] Gail Levin, (p.274)

[10] Eleanor Nairne, (p.6)


Warmest thanks to Eleanor Nairne, Exhibition Curator at the Barbican Centre Art Gallery, and her media team, for generously supplying the digital images of Krasner’s collages and granting permission for their use on the CRN website.

Author Biography

It was half a lifetime before Carola Huttmann was able to pursue her long-held academic ambitions.  She graduated with an MLitt in Scottish Literature from the University of the Highlands and Islands in 2013 and now writes and researches independently. Her interests spread across the Creative Arts and Literature. As well as researching art-related projects to focus on Carola is currently working on a monograph about the Orkney poet and and writer, George Mackay Brown and his reluctant attitude towards Modernity.

Words: © Carola Huttmann, 2019.

The Art of Hannah Höch: Queering Collage via Jack Halberstam

Daniel Fountain, Loughborough, June 2019

On the 25th April 2019 I delivered a paper at the University of Oxford as part of the third instalment of the Queer Modernism(s) conference.[1] The paper was entitled ‘Hannah Höch and the Queer Art of Collage’ and it formed part of a panel called ‘Deep Cuts: Cut-up, Collage and Craft’. This was chaired by one of the co-organisers, Rio Matchett, and included two other speakers; Desmond Huthwaite (University of Cambridge) and Temmuz Süreyya Gürbüz (National University of Ireland, Galway). Huthwaite explored how Mina Loy’s affinity for intentional misspelling, repurposing and differentiation of textual style in writings such as Feminist Manifesto (1914) could be read as both collage-like and queer. Although not concerned with collage per se, Gürbüz discussed how punk aesthetics, film ‘cutting’ and counter-culture more broadly might impact the formation of radical politics in modernity. My own paper particularly focused on Hannah Höch (1889-1978) who was an influential collage artist and member of the Berlin Dada movement. It sought to (re)examine her photomontage technique as an inherently queer method that can successfully destabilise hierarchies associated with gender and sexuality. The paper also formed a collage of sorts; combining biography, theoretical discussion, visual analyses of Höch’s work, and a reflexive discussion of my own artistic practice that utilises similar techniques. Here, I will present a summary of my research and the discussions that took place in relation to this paper.

Fig 1. Hannah Höch, Schnitt mit dem Küchenmesser durch die letzte Weimarer Bierbauchkulturepoche Deutschlands. 1919. Collage. 114 x 90cm. Nationalgalerie, Staatliche Museen, Berlin. Artists Rights Society (ARS) and Art Resource

Höch became actively involved with the Berlin Dada group primarily through her relationship with Raoul Hausmann, one of the original pioneers of the group. Because Höch’s links to the group of Dadaists were almost exclusively through Hausmann, she always felt that she held a marginal position in the ‘boys club’.[2] Hans Richter would even come to describe her contribution to the movement purely as providing the ‘sandwiches, beer and coffee’.[3] More women did eventually become part of the collective, but Höch recalls: ‘Most of our male colleagues continued for a long while to look upon us as charming and gifted amateurs, denying us implicitly any real professional status’.[4] Though her work had been critically acclaimed and had appeared in Chicago at a May 1920 exhibition entitled Das Beste der jungen Kunst Deutschlands (The Best of Young German Art), fellow members such as George Grosz and John Heartfield did not want her to take part in Berlin’s First International Dada Fair.[5] Although her 1919 work Schnitt mit dem Küchenmesser Dada durch die letzte Weimarer Bierbauchkulturepoche Deutschlands (Cut with the Kitchen Knife through the Last Weimarer Beer-Belly Cultural Epoch in Germany; Fig.1) was eventually accepted into the exhibition, they gave her the condescending pet name ‘Hannchen’ (little Hanna) in the exhibition catalogue.[6] Adding insult to injury they altered the caption label and deliberately misspelled Küchenmesser (kitchen knife), transforming it instead to Kuchenmesser (the less menacing and domestic cake knife).[7] With her characteristic good humour and wit she reportedly cut out the misspelled label and added it directly to her collage.[8] After an incredibly turbulent relationship with Hausmann, Höch then ended their seven-year relationship in 1922. But it was through their relationship that Höch had developed important relationships with others, such as the artist Kurt Schwitters and his wife Helma. At their invitation, Höch went to the Netherlands in 1926 to the home of Lajor and Nell d’Ebneth at Kijkduin.[9] Whilst there, Höch met the Dutch writer and linguist Mathilda ‘Til’ Brugman. The women soon formed a romantic relationship and by the autumn Höch had moved to The Netherlands to live with her, where they stayed until 1929, until finally moving to Berlin. Höch and Brugman’s relationship was to last a further nine years.

Fig. 2 Hannah Höch, Und wenn du denkst der Mond geht unter. 1921. Collage. 21 x 13.4cm. Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn

Having given a very brief overview of the artist’s life and work, I now wish to discuss her method of art-making in relation to what I term the queer art of collage. I argue that whilst the term ‘queer’ draws its politics and affective force from the history of LGBT+ communities, it is not equivalent to these categories, nor is it necessarily an identity. Rather, when utilised as a transitive verb (to queer, a process of queering) it can, as David Getsy suggests, offer a strategic ‘undercuttingof the stability of identity and of the dispensation of power that shadows the assignment of categories and taxonomies’.[10] In this sense, queer can therefore act as a form of intellectual activism that challenges presumptions and schematic binaries, particularly in relation to gender and sexuality. Collage and appropriation, as Höch’s practice demonstrates, is ripe for this material work; taking fragments of culture and reinterpreting dominant cultural norms to produce queer associations. This ‘queerness’ then is not necessarily based on an artwork’s content (although this is sometimes the case) but the very method of collage making makes use of queer concepts; such as humour and camp, inversion and reversal, excess and extremes.

Fig. 3 Hannah Höch, Dompteuse. 1930. Collage. 35.5 x 26.0 cm. Kunsthaus Zürich.

Höch’s androgynous subjects in her photomontages such as Und wenn du denkst der Mond geht unter (1921)[And when you think the moon is setting] (Fig.2) and her 1930 work Dompteuse [Tamer] (Fig.3) challenge the Weimar concept of the Neue Frau (New Woman) and appear to address issues of gender in a period in which patriarchal and heteronormative society became increasingly anxious as women gained more freedom.[11] It is also worth noting that several individuals including Richard von Krafft-Ebing, Sigmund Freud, and Magnus Hirschfeld were publishing widely-debated work relating to gender and sexuality around this time.[12] Although Höch never spoke openly about her own sexuality or about literature on sexology, such discourses may have had a certain degree of influence on her work. However, scholars of Höch’s work often fall short of acknowledging the queerness of this gender ambiguity by viewing her work purely through a feminist lens. I argue that such a reading –  regardless of how well-supported – is ultimately incomplete. More productive interpretations might therefore arise from turning towards queer theory. For example, Jack Halberstam has persuasively argues that collage ‘precisely references the spaces in between and refuses to respect the boundaries that usually delineate self from other, art object from museum, and the copy from the original. In this respect, as well as in many others, collage (from the French coller, to paste or glue) seems feminist and queer’.[13] He continues by arguing that the likes of Höch have utilized such a method ‘to bind the threat of castration to the menace of feminist violence and both to the promise for transformation, not through a positive production of the image but through a negative destruction of it that nonetheless refuses to relinquish pleasure’.[14] This resonates closely with Höch’s work and her comments surrounding it. For example, in a 1971 exhibition catalogue she describes her fascination with the ‘process of remounting, cutting up, sticking down, activating – that is to say, alienating’ of images.[15] Höch would also exclaim, ‘[t]hese phantasms are not escapist, they are attacks, and no longer about creating moods. They set about a reality with a hitherto unseen rigour and compare it to the ideal. This art is a call and an exhortation in amongst the ruins of a lost world’.[16]

Fig. 4 Hannah Höch, Kleine Sonne. 1969. Collage. 41.4 × 61.5 cm. Whitechapel Gallery, London. Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Interestingly, many of Höch’s later works moved towards abstraction and she begins to move past a conception of androgyny as a mediation of the ‘opposing’ forces of masculine and feminine. Instead, androgyny here becomes a radical means of unsettling this very heteronormative binary opposition, by refusing to be classified within the binary at all. As Halberstam illustrates, ‘if one form of phallic queerness has been defined by the representation of the body as hybrid and assembled, then another takes as its object the disappearance of the body altogether’.[17] The figures (or lack thereof) in works such as Kleine Sonne [Little Sun] (1969) (Fig.4)and Der Schöne Po [The Beautiful Bottom], (1959) (Fig.5) exist across the boundaries between male and female and therefore function as a queer rejection of heteronormative expectations of gender.

Fig.5: Hannah Höch, Der Schöne Po. 1959.  Collage. 49.8 × 40.2 cm. Collection of Dr Peter J. Heindlmeyer, Berlin.

Höch’s work has been a source of inspiration for my own artistic practice, which commonly utilises collage and assemblage to destabilise hierarchies associated with gender and sexuality. As Höch once stated, ‘I want to erase the boundaries that we humans have falsely erected around everything that surrounds us’.[18] In early two-dimensional works, I began to experiment with themes of domesticity, gender and sexuality, utilising the collage technique to indeed ‘erase the boundaries’.[19] Following my undergraduate studies in Fine Art and English Literature, I then moved into much larger assemblages, such as in Eve and Adam (Fig.6). In this work I aimed to challenge and subvert the idea of woman as a subordinate ‘object’, whilst also questioning what contemporary society deems ‘masculine’ or ‘feminine’. The use of collage here allowed for such archaic gender binaries to be ripped apart, but the use of stitching attempts to reconstruct and repair them in a new, distinctly queer worldview (Fig.7). Whilst this deconstructive collage process might therefore be seen as one of aggression (to rip, to tear) – I find the act of reconfiguring (to stitch, to glue) both reparative and therapeutic.

Fig. 6 Daniel Fountain, Eve and Adam (Installation View). 2015. Mixed media. Dimensions variable

With a particular influence from Höch’s later collages and Halberstam’s theoretical discussion pertaining to the queer art of collage, my work took a radical turn and I slowly began to move away from the physical representation of sexual bodies, becoming more concerned with the role of the found object and how consider how material alone might be queered, or used queerly – such as in the case of trash objects or marginalised materials like scraps of fabric. Rather than limiting myself to a two-dimensional plane, sculptural assemblages such as Nest (Fig.8) attempt to reference queer identity through the very absence of the physical body. Here, scraps of materials, discarded clothing and ex-boyfriends’ shirts are deconstructed (in the same way any two-dimensional collage practice would) and are re-constructed to form a completely new entity – in this case, a nest-like structure in which visitors can come, sit and take refuge ‘in amongst the ruins of a lost world’.[20]

Fig. 7 Daniel Fountain, Eve and Adam (Detail). 2015. Mixed media. Dimensions variable.

Fig. 8 Daniel Fountain, Nest (Installation View). 2019. Mixed media. Dimensions variable.


[1] Further details about the conference can be found online at:

[2] Paula K. Kamenish, Mamas of Dada (Columbia, South Carolina: The University of South Carolina Press, 2015), p.129.

[3] Hans Richter, Dada: Art and Anti-Art. (London: Thames and Hudson, 1997), p.132

[4] Hannah Höch in Edouard Roditi, ‘Interview with Hannah Höch’, Arts Magazine 34, no. 3 (Dec. 1959), p. 29.

[5] Kamenish, Mamas of Dada, p.129.

[6] Kamenish, Mamas of Dada, p.129.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Kamenish, Mamas of Dada, p.140.

[10] David Getsy, Queer (London: Whitechapel Gallery, 2016), p.15.

[11] See for instance;

Marsha Meskimmon, Women Artists and The Limits of German Modernism (London and New York: I.B.Tauris Publishers, 1999)

Marsham Meskimmon and Shearer West, Visions of the ‘Neue Frau’: Women and the Visual Arts in Weimar Germany (London: Scolar Press, 1995)

[12] For example, von Krafft-Ebing’s original publication of Psychopathia Sexualis in 1886, Freud’s Drie Abhandlungen zur Sexualtheorie in 1905 and Hirschfield’s Die Homosexualität des Mannes und des Weibes in 1914.

[13][13] Jack Halberstam, The Queer Art of Failure (Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2011), p.136, emphasis my own.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Hannah Höch, ‘Zur Collage’, in: Hannah Höch. Collagen aus den Jahren 1916-1971 (exhib. Cat., Berlin, Academy of Arts, 1971), pp.18-19.

[16] Hannah Höch, ‘Fantastische Kunst’, in: Fantasten-Ausstellung (, Berlin, Galerie Rosen, 1946).

[17] Halberstam, The Queer Art of Failure, p.140.

[18] Excerpt from catalogue Kunstzaal De Bron exhibition, Den Haag, 1927, later translated from Dutch into German and reprinted in Cara Schweitzer, Schrankenlose Freiheit für Hannah Höch: Das Leben einer Künstlerin, 1889-1978. (Berlin: Osburg Verlag, 2011).

[19] Ibid.

[20] Hannah Höch, ‘Fantastische Kunst’, in: Fantasten-Ausstellung (, Berlin, Galerie Rosen, 1946).


Freud, Sigmund. Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality. Translated byJames Strachey. Eastford: Martino Fine Books, 2011.

Getsy, David. Queer. London: Whitechapel Gallery, 2016.

Halberstam, Jack. The Queer Art of Failure. Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2011.

Hirschfield, Magnus. Die Homosexualität des Mannes und des Weibes. Berlin: Louis Marcus Verlagsbuchhandlung, 1914.

Höch, Hannah. ‘Interview with Hannah Höch’. In Arts Magazine 34, no. 3, edited by Edouard Roditi, 1959.

Höch, Hannah. ‘Fantastische Kunst’, in: Fantasten-Ausstellung., Berlin, Galerie Rosen, 1946.

Höch, Hannah. ‘Zur Collage’, in: Hannah Höch. Collagen aus den Jahren 1916-1971. exh. Cat., Berlin, Academy of Arts, 1971.

Kamenish, Paula K. Mamas of Dada. Columbia, South Carolina: The University of South Carolina Press, 2015.

Richter, Hans. Dada: Art and Anti-Art. London: Thames and Hudson, 1997.

Schweitzer, Cara. Schrankenlose Freiheit für Hannah Höch: Das Leben einer Künstlerin, 1889-1978. Berlin: Osburg Verlag, 2011.

von Krafft-Ebing, Richard. Psychopathia Sexualis: The Classic Study of Deviant Sex. Translated by Joseph LoPiccolo. New York: Arcade Publishing, 2011.

Author’s Biography

Daniel Fountain is an artist and PhD Candidate at Loughborough University. His research takes a practice-led approach and examines the intersection between craft and queer identity. He has exhibited work in a variety of institutions and has published writing with a range of journals such as Engage and ArtsProfessional. Alongside his studies and academic research Daniel teaches in both Fine Art and Art History at Loughborough University and Nottingham Trent University. Further details and a portfolio of his work can be found at:

Cut and Paste: 400 Years of Collage Scottish National

Gallery of Modern Art 29 June – 27 October 2019

Patrick Elliott, Edinburgh, June 2019

The idea for the show occurred to me about four years ago. There were two specific impulses behind it. The first is that we had bought an amazing Picasso collage of 1912, one of his earliest. A wonderful Edinburgh couple, Henry and Sula Walton, had left a substantial amount of money to the Gallery and because Picasso was their great passion, we went for this collage at auction. He did about thirty of these newspaper collages, and almost all of them are now in museum collections. . If you are going to do a collage show, you need an early Picasso collage, so it was a good starting point.

Pablo Picasso, Bottle and Glass on a Table, 1912
Charcoal and collage on paper, 61.6 x 47cm
National Galleries of Scotland: Purchased (Henry and Sula Walton fund), 2015

Around the same time, I took a photograph of a picture I saw by chance on a visit to the Royal Society in Edinburgh. It’s a photograph showing 319 members of the society, all in suits, assembled  in an impossibly vertiginous group. It would have been impossible to get them all together in one room, so someone photo-montaged 319 separate portrait shots into this group photograph. I accidentally saved it as my screensaver so I saw it every day. 

Barclay Brothers (publishers), Fellows of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, 1902, Photogravure on paper, 45.2 x 72.5cm
Royal Society of Edinburgh

The Picasso and this anonymous photomontage are basically done with the same technique. It’s a matter of sticking one image onto another. Conceptually and aesthetically, they couldn’t be more different, but they also have something in common: they wrestle with reality and illusion and with depth and surface and they do so through scissors and paste.

I was particularly interested in the idea, which you read everywhere, and is drummed into students of art history, that collage was invented in 1912 by Picasso and Braque. There’s a vast literature on it and it’s very detailed, and it pivots around Braque buying some wallpaper in September. It’s an interesting story, but actually people had been making collage for centuries.

The collage below , for example, is from the 1890s, and it’s made up of various invoices and engravings stuck down as if on a pinboard. It even has that Cubist play on illusion with the nails casting fake shadows.

Anonymous, Italian, 1890s, Collage, 50 x 32 cm
Private collection

Collage was hugely popular in the Victorian era. You could buy collage kits called tinsel prints, fill scrapbooks, make scrap-screens and Valentine cards, and so on. But nobody called it ‘collage’. Instead it went under various ill-defined names: ‘scrap-work’, ‘découpage’, ‘silhouettes’, ‘mosaic’ work. It was regarded as an amateur pursuit, a hobby or a Sunday afternoon family pastime, not a professional art form.

The word ‘collage’ comes from the French verb coller, meaning ‘to stick’. If you look up the word in a nineteenth-century French dictionary, you’ll find that it concerned wallpaper pasting and billposting and, oddly, co-habitating unmarried couples. It only gets widely used as an art term in the 1930s. (That would be a great PhD subject, by the way: the etymology of the word ‘collage’.) The first ever show of collage took place in 1930.

There have been a few exhibitions of twentieth-century collage, but I was surprised to find that nobody had ever done a historical survey show of the subject – anywhere, ever. There isn’t a book about it either. It’s that classic thing of historians of modern art keeping to their modern patch; and the entrenched idea of painting and sculpture being ‘Art’, while glue, needlework and so on are ‘Craft’. Many of the best books on scrap-work, folk art, postage stamps and valentine cards were written by collectors, decades ago. 

There’s quite a lot of academic work on this area being done now. Last year there was an excellent conference on collage organised by Freya Gowrley and Cole Collins at Edinburgh Art College, and I don’t think Braque, Rauschenberg or Jasper Johns were mentioned once. You wouldn’t have had that twenty years ago.

Collage is a tricky thing to define, but if you are thinking of paper stuck on paper, it seems to start in Japan around the twelfth century. For logical reasons, it only starts in Europe once paper starts to be manufactured in some quantity, so really in the 1400s and 1500s. But it’s not collage as you might know it. It’s woodcuts of saints with bits of tinsel sprinkled over them, to make them more special; it’s flap prints, where paper is partially stuck down, and you lift the flap to see an image underneath.  Our show begins with anatomical flap prints of the 1570s.

Penny Slinger, I See What You Mean, 1973, Photomontage, 22.4 x 17.3cm
Penrose collection, Sussex

We’ve got a great collection of collages at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, particularly Dada, Surrealism and Pop, so we had, as it were, a starter pack. We’ve had fantastic help from museums, galleries and private collectors – we’ve borrowed work by lots of artists – some famous, some little-known, some anonymous: Mary Delany, Miró, Heartfield, Höch, Warhol, Robert Motherwell, Penny Slinger, Hannah Wilke, Terry Gilliam, Christian Marclay, some great early Russian works – lots of things of that calibre. We have Jamie Reid’s artwork for the Sex Pistols and Peter Blake’s artwork for Sargent Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club. There are over 250 works in the show by over 150 artists. I had a ‘wish list’ more than twice that size, but they drop in and out for all sorts of reasons. I imagine people will point out the artists who are missing, which is fine.

Father Tuck’s Complete Picture Maker, 1930
Card box with scraps, album, glue and brush, 44 x 32cm
Private collection

We’ve got some films, including Carolee Schneemann Body Collage, 1967, in which she covers herself in wallpaper paste and jumps about in shredded paper. It’s to do with the Vietnam War. She sent a nice message and sadly died a few days later. There’s a huge Victorian scrap screen, made in part by Charles Dickens. And the famous Cottingley Fairy photos, where two children pinned drawings of fairies onto themselves and to their surprise fooled the world into thinking the fairies were real. Some of the most interesting things are worth just a few pounds and you can buy them on E-Bay. We’ve got a fantastic ‘Do it yourself’ children’s scrap game of 1930. The show is nothing if not varied.

Author’s Biography

Patrick Elliott is Senior Curator at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh. His doctorate (1992) is on French figurative sculpture in the 1920s and 1930s. At the National Galleries of Scotland, he has organised numerous major exhibitions, including Alberto Giacometti, René Magritte, Picasso on Paper, Tracey Emin, Rachel Whiteread, Richard Long, Tony Cragg, M.C. Escher, True to Life: British Realist Painting Between the Wars in summer 2017, and (2019).