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03/13/14 Artist Randy Grskovic on the Significance of Collage and the Problem with #NoFilter

For Randy Grskovic, things aren’t always so black and white when it comes to the monochrome photograph. In his latest series, “Variations on Black and White,” the Toronto-based artist examines how the traditional photo medium idealizes its subject, acting less as fact than false representation.

Grskovic’s work often uses collage to grasp a mass media that’s become unwieldy due to rapid dissemination online. In his exhibition, “The Age of Info(rmation),” old print media clippings are juxtaposed by hand to imitate digital style. In another series, “Reoccuring Themes,” print images are manically reproduced and layered, overwhelming a viewer’s senses. Behind these works is the idea that once-private and meaningful cultural consumption has been compromised because of the digital deluge. Through these series, we can take comfort in art as a veritable watchdog upon media.

Amid projects that span creating album art for bands and a video for The Art Gallery of Ontario (to premiere in April), Grskovic talked to NOUS about the unintentional dialogue that billboards create and why #NoFilter “is a lie.”

Did being a graduate of Advanced Media communication influence your tendency to collage?

I have been making collages since I was a kid. I didn’t always have money for paint but magazines are always around and often free. From my perspective, there is already so much information in the world, I don’t need to create more, I just need to refine and re-contextualize what already exists. For my collage practice, I am concerned with print media and it’s affect on popular culture. For most people, reading a periodical or a book is a private and intimate experience—a solitary space for the viewer.

What is interesting, as print media has developed over time, is that there are thousands of replications of the magazines and books. Many people are sharing what seems like a solitary experience, yet the exact same information and images are being consumed by countless others over varied contexts and geographic locations. In the 21st century, the scale of digitally replicated information has eclipsed anything that has ever been achieved by printing presses. What I have coined “Analogue Collages” are works that reference the style of digital collage. What I would like to question here is if the style of the image, seemingly digital, is of any greater value because it is handmade and why. I hope this exploration reveals not only how it affects the craft of collage but also our understanding of images and their affect on us, whether the product is tangible or not.

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Do you feel collage becomes even more significant today, amid a generation that references GIFs and media to express itself?

I think it is the sheer amount of media and the availably of the archive that has fuelled the resurgence of collage in all forms. I find my sources all over the place. Depending on the period of style I will switch from different sources. If I want to use images of nuclear families, I’ll go to Popular Science and Mechanics from the 1950s. If I want to talk about technology, I seek out textbooks from the 1980s. Often, I use National Geographic because in popular culture it provides archetypal imagery. For many, “Nat Geo” allowed people to explore the world without leaving their La-Z-Boy. This, of course, was the world framed by the magazine publishers and not a wholly accurate depiction. Also, having the availability of these same images in the average school or household library created a mass memory of images, as we all had the opportunity to flip through at least a few issues. I sift through the magazines with this in mind. I collect images and categorize them. I have folders marked “Death”, “Space”, “Money”, “Guns”, “Architecture,” etc. and file them accordingly. Also, I use the Internet to recollect images. If I find an image that I like, I will note the issue and date find multiple copies online and have them shipped to my house so that I can create duplicate images. Part of this process helps to reinforce the idea concerning the hegemony of information. I get issues from all over North America and they all have the same content. Again, reading a magazine alone is actually a shared experience. It’s hard to say how long each piece takes because it is part of a long collection of the archive. It may only take a day to assemble it but it took years to collect the right imagery.

I think this is true but I don’t think you need a collage artist to make it happen. Every day people drive down the highways and see billboards in succession. You will have an advertisement for McDonald’s right after an ad for Ferrari, right after an ad for cancer outreach. This placement is not intentional; it doesn’t mean anything but it does create dialogue. These incidental collages of imagery and messages are in front of our faces every day, it’s not that collage artists create the juxtaposition, it’s that we refine it.

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Your work often seems to confront nostalgia or the distortion of memory. How do you feel about Instagram, where a 1977 filter allows users the immediacy of applying nostalgia to something captured in the present? 

Instagram, in its overt and apparent stylization of the present to create instant classics, is almost more “real” than actual photographs that claim to be accurate documents. Here you preposition the photograph with a filter, which diffuses—sorry for the pun—the reality. It’s honestly saying I’m lying. Does that make sense? I think the problem with Instagram is not the filters but the hashtag #nofilter. #NoFilter is a lie. The lens of your smart phone is a filter. You are a filter. This is what I want people to realize about photography: it’s not a document, it’s a visual interpretation that enters the visual vernacular. Photography is it’s own language.

Aside from the filter or instant nostalgia of Instagram, what I think is interesting is the rise of the amateur photographer. Everyone is a photographer because everyone has a camera. The problem is innovation of photographic compositions. There is so much copycat photography by the everyday user that a hegemony of composition emerges. Say a big photographer like Wolfgang Tilmans takes a picture of a foggy window with plants, but doesn’t post on Instagram. Then an art student who is studying photography in books or galleries starts to emulate their influences through their Instagram. Then their followers begin to mimic this “style” because it gains instant likes. However, these types of amateur copycat compositions are not art but they look like art. They can be so similar that you might ask, what is the difference? Is it that someone did it first? The authenticity of being the first to popularize a style? I don’t think so. I think art extends beyond style. However, if you are only spending one second looking at an image, you will never think about the art, only the composition. This is the problem. Photography, through Instagram and other social media networks has turned all art forms into a simple “Hot Or Not” decision. This is very shallow but perhaps this is the way language is developing—I can’t say this is right or wrong but it is apparent.

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