Earmarked for Collision – A History of Collage Animation

10.11.2023

Earmarked for Collision is the most extensive retrospective of Collage animation presented to date. The multi-part program features the pioneers (Robert Breer, Harry Smith, Stan Vanderbeek, Sandor Reisenbuchler, Terry Gilliam, Larry Jordan), the modern masters (Lewis Klahr, Osbert Parker, Janie Geiser, Martha Colburn, Winston Hacking) along with an assortment of ‘one hit wonders’ by George Griffin, Theodore Ushev and others.

We’re particularly pleased that Lewis Klahr will also be attending as part of the screenings. Klahr is without doubt the most prolific and profound collage animator (or “re-animator” as he prefers to be called) working.

Utilizing an assortment of found imagery (magazine ads, home movies, contact sheets, porn, comic books) and sounds, Klahr’s characters drift through disconnected times and spaces craving a connection and ultimately a sense of self that, like a dream, always seems to be just out of reach even when it’s right there in front of them.

Since his debut in the 1980s, Klahr has created a consistently mesmerizing body of work that has made him one of the more influential and prolific collage animators (he sees himself as a ‘re-animator’). His collaged worlds are tinged with contemplations (among other things) about identity (Altair), childhood (The Pharoah’s Belt), sexuality (Pony Glass, Downs are Feminine), memory (False Aging, Daylight Moon, Engram Sepals), Greek mythology (Lethe, Helen of T, 66) and capitalism (Circumstantial Pleasures). These concerns are often cloaked behind the inviting guise of mid-20th-century American pop culture, notably film noir, melodrama, crime films, popular music, and comic books.

More about the retrospective, as written by its programmer Chris Robinson below.

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Collage is a collision of disparate materials, animated Frankensteins. It is taking all these ‘dead’ bits, pieces, or fragments and breathing new life, purpose, and meaning into them.

Collage is parasitic. It sponges, plunders, steals, and re-works.

Collage brings different realities together in the hopes of sparking a connection. It can build contradictions, erase identities and form new ones. It rejects original intentions.

A collage is a kaleidoscope or, rather, a collideoscope that dethrones time and space, which screws with your memory and perception by collapsing multiple views into one. You feel a snippet of recognition, but you need more to feel sure or comfortable.

Collage disrupts you, me, and us.

Like jazz, collage takes a melody from here, a melody from there, and tosses and turns it into a new song.

It’s an art made by everyone, not one.

Oh, you want something more profound? Henri Bergson said (he wasn’t speaking about collage, but it certainly applies): “Many diverse images, borrowed from very different orders of things, may, by the convergence of their action, direct consciousness to the precise point where there is a certain intuition to be seized.”

There’s something playful, violent, provocative, mysterious, and accessible about collage. Anyone can do it, and for the most part, most of us have done it, whether in the early years of school or at home with scrapbooks and photo albums. Collage also straddles many intersections, particularly between so-called high and low art, between professional and amateur. There’s something deliciously destructive about collage. You get to rip, tear or cut shit up and piece it together into whatever you want.

Isn’t that beautiful and liberating?

Picasso did it, and so did my grandma.

The roots of Earmarked for Collision go back to 2018, when I put together a small retrospective of collage animation in Ottawa. I was surprised by the lack of attention given to the technique. Collage animators are often lumped in with experimental cinema, the art gallery scene, tossed in with other experimental animators or placed in a cut-out context that doesn’t fit (e.g. cut-out animation). A substantial body of collage animation work deserves wider recognition and a more cohesive focus.

Collage is ubiquitous these days. With the rise of digital technology and software tools like good ol’ photoshop, mixing and matching imagery has become a standard. Every day, we’ve got memes, deep fakes, and altered images. Since the 1990s, Machinima has enabled users to hijack and alter video game environments to create their works. Even mainstream Hollywood resurrects actors/characters using borrowed materials (e.g. Rogue One, The Mandalorian). Before that, vintage footage of Fred Astaire was altered and re-used for a vacuum commercial. Collage expands well beyond the walls of visual art. In literature, collage or cut-up techniques were popularized by William S. Burroughs and Brion Gysin but were rooted in the Dada movement of the 1920s. Sampling and mash-ups (a collision of two songs) have been a decades-old mainstay. Collage elements are so dominant now that we don’t know the real from the phony (hello AI!).

That’s a long way from the anti-authoritarian roots of collage art. Let’s agree that collage art initially sought to liberate art and the artist or was used to critique government and society. It now feels like it’s gone in the opposite direction, used to confuse, lie, manipulate and alter to reinforce the establishment.

Beyond that, the collage technique has also pushed the boundaries of animation by incorporating other artistic forms (e.g., photography, live action, experimental cinema, literature, found sound) while exploring various social, cultural and political issues.