Ever since I was a youth of 17, in pursuing my research and in my quest to understand thought, human nature and myself, I have been using a simple, but potent tool — collage. My initiation in this art occurred in college. In the years that followed, I made extensive use of this technique, primarily as a communication tool. I’ve continued this practice to the present day.
Invented in the early 20th century, collage was the brainchild of the founders of the Dada movement. Principal among them was the German artist Max Ernst, renowned for his ingenious and disquieting images. He and his colleagues used the medium as art and provocation. They even vaunted the technique’s capacity to predict the future. But for my purposes, collage is not about assembling shapes and colors for esthetic effect. It is a powerful communication and feedback tool. What’s more, it’s user friendly: you just need a dash of patience and a good dose of humility.
Collage is a great means of revelation and discovery.
Collage materials are simple and inexpensive: any size cardboard will do, magazines, newspapers, or other publications destined for the recycling bin, scissors and glue. Flip through the pages and cut out anything that catches your fancy. Let intuition be your guide. Don’t try to tell a story or deliver a message. Just pick words and images based on how you feel. Be playful. It’s not about precision or logic; that’s not the object of the exercise. This isn’t a test. It’s easy: just let yourself go; clip whatever touches you, whatever speaks to you. Arrange the words and images on the cardboard as you go along. Assemble your collage gradually, intuitively. Keep an open mind; proceed as you see fit, that’s the ticket.
Collage is a powerful creative act; it frees up your mind. Keep cutting out and placing whatever you come up with on the cardboard until it is completely covered or until you feel you’ve done enough. But remember: collage takes at least three images! Once you decide everything’s in place, start pasting. Glue your images, shapes, and words on the cardboard. I love this final stage because it is a wonderful wellspring of ideas.
Collage captures and identifies emotions, feelings and inner thoughts. Throughout the activity, they are revealed and then projected into words and images. We delve deep into our inner core to find them and externalize them. It’s spontaneous! More often than not, these emotions have not been decoded. They have yet to be processed in our brain’s control centre. The seeds of emotions are everywhere; they circulate from our unconscious to the collective unconscious and vice-versa. The emotions inhabiting us are part of a gradual process of emergence and materialization. There is a layering of diffuse feelings, emotions and thoughts, neither decoded nor externalized, waiting to materialize in the world.
The build-up of emotions, feelings, and thoughts can be compared to the gradual accumulation of ice in winter. As we know, dynamite breaks up a river ice jam, allowing the waters to run freely. Collage is mental dynamite, liberating inhibited feelings, emotions, and inner thoughts, transposing and translating them into reality. That is exactly what is involved. Schools teach us nothing about the mechanisms of thought. Some education! We’re not shown how to recognize, identify and manage our mental processes. Even less do we learn how to promote the free flow of feelings, emotions and thoughts. We’re drilled and grilled, conditioned to swallow material and regurgitate it at the right time and place. If we aspire to more than that, we’re left to our own devices.
Once our collage is finished, once our diffuse feelings, emotions and thoughts have been seized and assembled, our mind must adapt accordingly. And that’s when the surprise comes in! It’s like being on “Candid Camera,” or “Spy TV.” Something emerges from within us and takes on a life of its own. And we have no choice but to acknowledge it. It’s like the ice jam break-up or, if you prefer, the equivalent of release, surrendering, and letting go. Something inside us has been set free. It has been revealed. It no longer needs to cling on, to hide, or to hole up in its prehistoric cave.
And on top of that, there’s the basic gestalt principle that “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” This idea applies to collage in which the finished product is much more than the mere sum of the words and images. The finished collage has an original and highly amazing effect on the mind. It can be startling.
Sometimes, it’s as if I’m viewing a much more intriguing newscast than the run-of-the-mill fare we normally see. It’s like watching a new specialty channel: MIND NEWS! that keeps us up to date on the latest developments in the human mind. And the channel has an incredible number of foreign correspondents, posted in the collective unconscious. Its programming features a startlingly original history series and the world’s most authentic reality show. What is striking about this specialty channel is that we are at once the viewer, the host, the news itself, the producer and the station director. As a bonus: the channel is commercial free.
Collage intensifies my investigation into all sorts of ideas. During the process, some ideas appear vital. Other times, collages remind me that some issues are not important, that I don’t need to concern myself with them and that I can go on to other things. Collage helps me separate the wheat from the chaff. It saves me a great deal of time.
Astonishingly, collage gives us the distinct impression we’re programming a compelling future. It helps us see and materialize in the here and now elements of our inner life that have not yet found concrete expression. We are projected into our own future. It’s as if we are trailblazing our future landscape. It’s as if we’re strolling along a country path, tossing our feelings and emotions ahead of us and then catching up with them. On the way, they seem familiar to us. They are no longer in our way. Better still, we can feel our progress dramatically accelerating (feedforward). It is exhilarating to find out how much more there is to discover.
There are common threads from one collage to another. The process is like a transparent layering of key ideas that are taken up again and contextualized anew. As time went by, I discovered common threads from one collage to the next:
• History: ancestors, previous eras, a return to the past, artifacts.
• Place: house, town, office, spaces, Earth, planet, atom, cell, solar system.
• Situation: meeting, announcement, opportunity, context, particular moment, circumstances.
• Viewpoint: witness, actor, observer, precursor, victim, roles – as in a play, situation seen
from different angles.
• Development: I’m described, guided, comforted, helped, I’m told certain things, I’m
prepared, I’m revealed to myself, feelings, memories and emotions are revealed to me.
• Health: relief from headaches, stress and anxiety.
We can create a collage about a specific theme or person. The principle is the same: with the theme or person in mind, select words and images based on how you feel. Occasionally, you can include photos of yourself, other personal photos, your writing, key ideas, and phrases that capture your imagination; in short, anything you want. You can also do collages and send them to someone important in your life. This is the sexy side of collage. Here are some suggestions: family, in-laws, friends, an old flame, a school teacher, colleagues at work, your boss, a supplier, the mayor, your member of the legislature, your favorite stars of TV, sports and the arts, etc.
When I first entered the exhilarating world of collages, I offered them to friends and family. I was engaged in a period of introspection and needed to clarify my relationships or, at least, to reassure myself about the quality of my relationships. So I gave collages to the people around me and derived great benefit from doing so. I felt I had found a positive, original and effective way of putting my relationships in order. In using this technique, I realized that every family has not only a genetic heritage, but an affective heritage as well. This heritage is passed on from generation to generation and it surfaces from time to time. We find ourselves wrestling with a particular facet of our history that is almost unavoidable. Present in family heritage, these facets carry emotional charges (negative or positive) that tend to impact family members. In the series of collages for family and friends, I literally collected these emotional charges, translated them and externalized them. And they vanished. As easy as that! Something emerges from within us and takes on a life of its own. And we’re compelled to come to terms with it. It’s just like the ice jam break-up. I’m left with the same feeling I have when I wake up in the morning and recall a dream.
A fascinating and poignant illustration of collage’s impact concerns my father. Unfortunately, he passed away since then, but I know he wouldn’t have objected to my telling this story. I created three or four 9-inch x 12-inch cardboard collages with him in mind of course. Without any preconceived ideas. I wasn’t trying to tell him a specific story. But my intent was clear: I wanted to tell him I had to “go further in life” and to do that, I had to relinquish certain values he’d taught me. I didn’t want to jettison the entire heritage he’d given me, just shed some aspects. I knew that to fulfill my dreams, I had to get rid of some baggage that risked becoming a burden. So I finished the collages. But I was at a loss as to how to interpret them. Whatever they recounted wasn’t familiar to me.
I visited my father at work and handed him an envelope containing the collages. “I’ve got a gift for you,” I said. He opened the envelope and took a couple of minutes to look at the collages. I could see the emotion welling up in his eyes. Clearly, the images spoke to him; they had special meaning for him. I couldn’t see what it was. But I knew the collages resonated with him. “Who told you that? Who told you about all that?” he asked. I confessed I didn’t know what my collages conveyed. I had done them intuitively, without trying to relate anything specific.
I told him I intended to seek new horizons and I had to let go of certain things he had given me. I was simply giving them back to him. His reaction bowled me over. He took it all in stride. Glancing at the collages again, he said he understood. He accepted my “gift.” The meeting was brief and cordial, but charged with emotion.
I soon realized what happens when I offer people a collage. They search for meaning in the collage, project themselves into it and relate it to their inner life and personal history. It’s an automatic reaction. Their interpretation is necessarily subjective. I’m convinced the people themselves, as I perceive them, are actually doing the collages. Often, people are astonished by what they see; they get completely involved. They discover meaning, which they alone can fully comprehend. I find it very rewarding.
Giving people a collage helps me see myself in relation to them. I also discover the kind of relationship I could have with them. Sometimes, the insight a collage brings can end a relationship. In other situations, a collage highlights what the two people have in common, enriching their relationship. Collage helps people regain their centre, encouraging them to focus on their personal concerns and take care of their own affairs.
In our society, the process involves a form of projection. As everyone knows, individuals tend to project themselves on one another. By projection I mean attributing to others intentions or suppositions that bear an emotional and affective charge. How we project ourselves depends on our education, problems, desires, and ambitions. We also receive and sustain projections from others. Some people hardly project at all, but can be extremely receptive to other people’s projections. With others, it’s just the opposite; they constantly project themselves everywhere and on everyone. It’s like a game with them.
Projection is a veritable scourge; a virus plaguing human relationships since time immemorial, poisoning them. It originated with our ancestors, the first reptiles. Based on the dominant-dominated relationship, projection slyly insinuates itself into every aspect of personality, mainly driven by fear and hatred. Maybe evolution should have evolved a bit further. So, when we create a collage for people, we tap into their projections, translate them into current cultural references and return them. That’s why recipients of collages identify with them. In that case collages produce an awesome boomerang effect.
A friend and psychologist Dr. René Bernèche has remarked that my collages remind him of mandalas, which are basically geometric representations of the cosmos in Hindu and Buddhist Tantrism. In The Dance of Life, Edward T. Hall wrote that the symbol is one of the most ancient forms of classification ever used: a mandala is generally in the shape of a circle or square, and it functions much like a matrix in algebra. Mandalas are particularly useful when the relationships concerned are paradoxical, in that they are both complementary and contradictory at once; or when we are considering pairs or sets of dissimilar facts, the relationship of which we grasp intuitively without having associated, linked or combined them in a single system.
Reading Hall’s work was particularly enlightening. It helped me understand one of the fundamental aspects of collage. He discusses the manifestations of human expression, and points to the uniquely human capacity to externalize at many levels. He underlines our ability to go outside ourselves, to create. According to Hall, culture stems from this faculty; it is the fruit of human expression. He also points out that culture equals mind; it is the mind of a human being that is projected. I saw the link with collages: the words and pictures used are essentially cultural elements. In doing a collage, I’m selecting pieces of culture, of mind, and then rearranging them on cardboard. Mind is certainly present in collages. Therefore, they are extraordinary communication and feedback tools for self- discovery and self-realization.
"Creativity is that wonderful ability to grasp mutually distinct realities and draw a spark from their juxtaposition."
THE ART OF FEEDBACK AND FEEDFORWARD
Collage is mental dynamite, liberating inhibited feelings, emotions, and inner thoughts, transposing and translating them into reality.