Interview Phaidon / Collages April 2023

What draws you to collage, what are the properties that excite or intrigue you?

As an artist, I want to create a new world in the existing world. To do a collage means being in agreement with the world, but to agree does not mean to approve. To agree means to look with my own eyes, to think with my own brain, to feel with my own heart, without turning away. To do a collage is a technique, but it’s also a thinking and furthermore, a philosophy: the philosophy of understanding the world in its reality and complexity, without accepting the values, the weight, and dimension of this reality. Therefore – doing collage means changing and giving a new form to the world’s realities. This is the property of a collage. In doing collages I can and I want to glue together what does not stick together – this is the essential aim of a collage and my mission as an artist. To do, to think ‘collage’ is the basis of all my work since the beginning: a three-dimensional work, or even a work in public space, is always based on the ‘thinking of collage’. To do collage also permits working in series, small or large, as I have been doing for the last years with “Ur-Collage” (2008), “Collage-Truth” (2012), “Easy-Collage” (2014) or “Pixel-Collage” (2015 – 2017). In my last series, “Pixel-Collage”, I wanted to break the scale of the collages, some are small, others are very large.


To the outsider, collage seems like the most freeing of mediums to work in, but is it? 

I also count myself in this case as an outsider, because it is indeed ‘freeing’ and simple to make a collage, and it can be done quickly with no special technique. To do a collage is so simple because by gluing together two existing printed matters I can create a new picture, a new meaning, a new world. It’s fun to do a collage and it’s suspicious: too easy, too fast, too silly, not respectable, immature, adolescent. But, as always, what seems easy and freeing can be – must be – complex and difficult at the same time, and gives the collages a singular grace. What is constitutive of a collage is that it never completely fits, just because it’s made with printed matter of different color, dimension, tonality or print-resolution. And this ‘not completely fitting’ is precisely what gives the work its particular drive and demands of its author an emancipatory spirit. Nevertheless, almost everybody in this world has once made a collage – this is its absolute universal power. Therefore, a collage opens up to a ‘non-exclusive audience’, and a collage possesses the power to implicate the other immediately. 


How improvisatory a medium is collage? Do you have a strict sense of what will happen before you start?

I would use the term ‘headlessness’ rather than the term ‘improvisation’. Because, in order to do a collage, I need to act without my head, with courage, in pure affirmation, and with the instinct to make a break-through. A break-through into how we should see, how we should understand, how we should do things. A collage has the potential of a revolution, a revolution to see the world differently and reach out to it in a different way. I have this in mind before starting a collage. This revolutionary potential comes from the singular fact that a collage is made only with elements of the already existing world, with the will to create a new world. Therefore a collage is charged, dangerous, it has such a great explosive power and remains explosive. To do a collage is an act of resistance, resistance to cultural, economic, political, and aesthetical habits, to do a collage is resistance as such.


Collage is often something that most people encounter in childhood, can you remember your first attempt (and how you felt when you created it?)

I do not remember my ‘first collage’ but I remember very well the collages I did when I was a student at Kunstgewerbeschule Zürich. In my memory – but still today – doing a collage was, is a moment of truth, an act of Truth as such that only art can provide – not as verification of a fact, or verification of an information. Today, with time distance, I see those headless collage works as my first affirmation of an artistic position, and I remember very well the discussions, confrontation, and dialogue that these works provoked with and among my colleagues and professors. I have this in mind as empowering, intense and uncertain moments of creation and its critique.


Is there a collagist from history that turned you on and made you realize collage is a thing? What did they do that inspired you?

I love Dada, I love their work and their collages. The collage-works of Hannah Höch, for example, her beautiful collage “Mischling” of 1924 is constitutive to me, John Heartfield (1891 – 1968) with his entire work – although he very precisely does montage rather than collage – is such an encouragement. John Heartfield’s words: ‘use photography as a weapon !’ deeply inspired me. Kurt Schwitters with his genius “Merzbau” (started 1920 destroyed 1943) sculptural three-dimensional collage-environment, introduced a completely new dimension to the art field. The fantastic overwhelming “The great Plasto-Dio-Dada-Drama” (1920) of Johannes Baader, a mark stone for collage in its third dimension – is an image that I always carry with me.


What do most people miss or misunderstand when they attempt to ‘assess’ collage?

I am not sure most people misunderstand the collage medium – perhaps they just lack confidence in it. Therefore, it happens that people qualify something as a ‘collage’, presupposing it is artificial and not to be taken seriously, nor guaranteed. But this is exactly what gives the collage its artistic grace, its political strength, and its poetic dimension. And it requires a lot of confidence and courage to keep silly and just glue together two printed matters, remain reluctant to adopt a ‘professional behaviour’ or simply refuse ‘to work artistically seriously’. The adolescent joyful and doubtful try to give form, is still the real wealth and true competence.


What are the hardest things for you to get ‘right’? (The things non-artists might never think of).

The most difficult in doing a collage, is to know when to stop working on it, when the edge of affirmation is reached, and exactly the point of ‘no-return’ is touched. To feel this ‘No- return’ in the expression of the artistic (my) will. To feel the grace which the work needs for keeping its mystery, its superficiality and touch profoundness. This is the difficulty – I am not complaining because it’s my mission to be aware and awake – as artist – in order to reach the point or moment of emptiness for letting grace happen. As Simone Weil says so strikingly: “. . . Grace fills empty spaces, but it can only enter where there is a void to receive it, and it’s grace itself which makes this void. . . “


Is it wrong to think of collage as something ephemeral, or less durable? If that’s true and does it concern or maybe attract you?

Yes, it’s wrong because – as everything in the art field – a collage is made for eternity. Just remember the paintings and imprinting in the Chauvet-Cave made more than 30 000 years ago. Because as we know from so many examples in recent history, it’s not the material or its object-character which gives sustainability to a work of art. In contrary it’s the intensity, the need, the urgency that gives an art work its duration. Just as these signs and drawings made at a ‘prehistoric’-age with organic materials still remain. My collage work is therefore made for eternity, and in saying this I want to include, with modesty, the dimension of the ‘precarious’ which is inherent to all works of art. ‘Precarious’ in contrary to ‘ephemeral’, means to accept the condition of our life – despite its precarity, despite the precarity of all things and despite the precarity of life as such. The logic of ‘Non-Permanency’ – and the conditions of its persistence – is life survival, life in absolute necessity and emergency, on the contrary of the ‘ephemeral-logic’, since ‘ephemeral’ implies coming from natural law, related to a certain death.