Forward To Far
Collage, as concept and as actual construct, is arguably the most important cultural idea of the 20th and now the 21st century. Since Braque and Picasso's first moves off of the flat surface towards the 3-dimensional in 1911 - 12, a quiet but influential revolution has been spreading throughout all areas of creativity. Alongside Duchamp and his "Ready-mades" and proto-conceptual objects, the illogical absurdism of Dadaism and the illusionist impossibilities of Surrealism, it is Kurt Schwitters, with his startlingly poetic collages, phonetic poems and innovative Merzbau sculptures (pre-empting today’s multimedia "installations" by over 80 years), who has done most to ignite this cultural fuse. One of the great masters of collage, Schwitters, utilising society's discarded ephemera - bus tickets, newspaper scraps, wrappers, cloth, wood, defined the creative process not as a separate sphere, but as intimately linked with everyday life as a process of organic transformation.
His explorations with collage have offered more potential for possible futures than any other model. Pop Art's joyful appropriation of the banal and everyday converted to the iconic; design's continual magpie plundering and re-cycling of styles, nods to Dadaist, Futurist and Constructivist models, have all been fuelled by collage's licence to utilise everything and anything. Schwitters’ legacy has evolved with artists such as Klein, Manzoni, Christo, Beuys, Kiefer, Tapies, Kounellis, Boltanski, de Maria, Rebecca Horn, the land artists Smithson, Long, Goldsworthy and Turrell, through to our recent crop of stars, Hirst, Wallinger, Parker and Whiteread et al.
In literature his influence is mirrored in the bewildering "stream of consciousness" experiments of James Joyce, the exotic implausibilities of Raymond Roussel, Alfred Jarry, Borges and Flann O'Brien to the cut-up dislocations of William Burroughs and Brion Gysin and more recently in the bizarre worlds of Ben Marcus and the urban geomancer Iain Sinclair. In film it has been used both as a tool of psychological slippage; from the early experimental abstraction of Jack Smith to the cool randomness of David Lynch, and as the basis for the increasingly sophisticated techniques of animation and Hollywood's ceaseless surge of special effects.
Similarly the worlds of advertising, TV, video, radio, newspaper and magazine design and content have all tapped into the possibilities of juxtaposition, fast cut editing, associative suggestion and the disparate offered by collage.
Now, fuelled by the rapid pace of technological change, the computer has become the ultimate collage tool. Its use for making music brings us previously unimagined sound worlds. The complexities of the Internet have enabled us to create new hybrids in games and interactive experiments. All of these developments are impossible to contemplate without collage as a paradigm.
Today we are experiencing a culture in which collage, as stealthily as perfume, seeps into and pervades our daily routines every second of our lives. For this we must acknowledge the visionary works and ideas of Schwitters. And yet, whilst he is highly respected and justly regarded internationally as a visionary pioneer of modern art, in the UK, sixty-two years after his death in Ambleside, he is still one of the most disregarded artists of the 20th century.
Forward To Far is a two-person exhibition of recent collages and assemblage paintings by Russell Mills and Ian Walton, which seeks to reaffirm the importance of Schwitters’ legacy and its relevance to our contemporary cultural landscape. Since their art school days both have been hugely influenced by Schwitters’ works and his radical imperatives such as the groundbreaking "Gesamtkunstwerk": the idea of the complete integration of different forms, which informs their highly emotive synaesthetic multimedia installations. The exhibition, in the spirit of Schwitters, celebrates the act of art as an ordering of thought, material, process and memory.
The work of both Mills and Walton is highly allusive and suggestive of the immense human effect upon the environment and also to the influence that geographical location has on human activities. Embracing the actual and the analytical, the works explore habitation, evolution, culture and production and the links that bind or destroy them.
Contextually anchored, their works are concerned with the primacy of process, which accepts the possibility of immediacy and of visceral truth. The ceaseless cyclical flux of the natural world is reflected in their approach to and use of diverse, metaphorically charged materials, which, having been subjected to alchemic-like processes of slow and unknowable transformation, suggest new associations. Traces produced by the processes of evaporation, sedimentation, crystallisation and chemical reaction, celebrate the weave of order and chaos, as diverse matter is either broken down into entropic confusion or necessarily arranges itself into a cohesive order. Random swoops upon the momentary are activated, observed and harnessed to produce richly organic and tactile works capturing the essence of place, in substance, chemistry and content. Their works appear as being found rather than made, thereby blurring the boundaries between nature and culture.
Mills' works are generally concerned with the minute – the unseen causal events and explosive interactions of energies from within; the quiet - the silence in a storm; and the indistinct or immeasurable - the space between an object and its shadow. Mysterious in origin and suggestive in effect, the works offer a mode of discourse that begins in the axiomatic certainty that nothing is certain. Whilst semblances of the known, the autobiographical, may be revealed, the forms of the unknown prevail and reverberate. Dislocations of pictorial scale set up intimations of distance and proximity as experienced in the indeterminacy of dreams.
The gratuitousness of nature and the lessons it offers is also evoked in Walton's works, which views the moving landscape and its beauty with equal respect for its hostile edge. History's traces and the bleaching, eroding and decaying effects of the wind, sun and rain, along with the movements and actions of living beings, are all accepted and echoed in his pitted, weathered and stained surfaces. Wildernesses of space, peppered with exhausted ashen matter or seeded with wheeling sparks of new life, his work vibrates menace from its shadowy palette whilst also offering a speculative contemplation of change and mutability.
By hints and suggestions, objects, autobiographical and suggestive of specific places, people and events, sink, rise or float, each chosen not only for its inherent aesthetic beauty but also for its symbolic meaning and associative potential. Each is charged with a profound resonance, connecting us with both human presence and absence, ensuring a continuance of memory.