‘Collage allows the opening of the unconscious, which is very direct…. it’s also a way of looking at what you are consuming all the time’ John Stezaker
I am not sure where to start describing my time with Annette at her wonderful place and studio in the countryside in Greece, delving into collage its history, practitioners, creating and learning all about making collages. Firstly, to explain, the quote above comes from a British collage artist, one that Annette refers to in her teaching and it really struck a chord with me. Looking back, in my mind’s eye this seemed to indicate that I was perhaps ‘assembling myself’, I could see a potential glimmer on the horizon as well taking part in the creative act of assembling images and making collages?
Secondly, it might be worth explaining a little bit about myself? I am a British artist that uses imagery (photography, film and also performance) to create vivid essays commenting on gender, stereotypes, visual conundrums and how we experience the world. That said I also create experiences that allow us to examine ourselves and our surroundings with art, architecture, walking, yoga and nature.
Sometime ago I felt that my own art practice had come to its zenith and I was looking to be more expansive and wanted to include self-care tool kits to combine with my projects so I trained as a Yoga and Ecstatic Awakening Dance teacher (transformational/healing movement) and Permaculture Designer (earth-care, people-care & future-care). Working on my own, especially during the pandemic highlighted that I needed to include a self-care routine in my life- art-practice and practice-art-life and also share with others so I have been combining all these elements to make projects that are hopefully meaningful and generative. This also prompted an interest in Tarot and how it can be used as signposting or an affirmation tool to move forward. I wanted to make my own set of cards and was inspired by many ‘decks’ and discovered a few that were made utilising collage and photomontage.
Previously, I had made a few tiny, tiny collage books from old discarded notebooks and vintage magazines on a self-directed residency in India (when I was locked down there), I was at a loss as to what to do with only limited data and power. So, I started a cut and paste project with paper, scissors, glue, no modern technology just with my hands which for me was distinctly ‘low-fi’ but nevertheless rewarding. This seemed like a departure from my usual practice and I loved it! It was tactile, messy, and unpredictable using the circular economy of images that are left aside and then found again to occupy new spaces and time not via the screen but in a material way on print and paper – a second life!
This year I had planned a trip to Greece to meet with my EAD teacher and other teachers in August and I wondered if I might also include another event to maximise the trip to explore more of Greece. I came across the collage opportunity and thought this is what I am looking for! It’s presenting itself to me so let’s go!
To start from the beginning of my collage venture, Annette was very welcoming and had prepared a thoughtful programme of learning and activities which I was delighted about and a little nervous as I was entering a relatively unfamiliar area for me, but Annette gently showed me to take one step at a time and above all have fun. I took this on board and gave my inner critic a holiday for once. It was time to let go, trust myself, go with the flow and enjoy myself!
By looking at art history and collage practitioners in the morning session and then working on my own creations, afterwards, this enabled ideas and inspiration to flow easily trying different techniques and approaches. Once I was in my stride I felt able to develop my own process.
I took notes, then researched my ideas making sketches in my notebook and watching artist films, looking at art websites and consolidating my thoughts from the earlier sessions with Annette. Of course, when it came to preparing my images more often than not the original ideas moved and developed as I went along. When I reread my notes, it was interesting see elements of my ideas were there, however developed and transformed during the process to make the final image. It was almost as if the images I was selecting to make the collages came alive themselves as I was working, winking at me “choose me please!” giving them another prospect and future in the community of images in front of me.
Annette was a fountain of knowledge and helped me view my work objectively not necessarily questioning myself or the work too much and importantly this was in a safe and mutual way.
I would say that previously I have over analysed everything down to the last tooth and nail and consequently have learnt that this is not always helpful, sometimes somethings just look/feel right so leave it at that. I will definitely use these ideas and tools going forward as I can be a harsh critic of myself. Annette helped me accept and apply what I think I already knew but had somehow forgotten, lost or buried along the way.
Discovering marathon and the environs was a treat, exploring historical sites that were just part of the locale without huge fanfare made it all the more authentic, meeting passionate folks who wanted to share their history. I was tickled to learn that a strange sculpture in the museum was in fact an ancient Greek signpost and not a paean to masculinity as I had thought! I think unconsciously this statue has crept into my final collage?
It really blew my mind that all these artefacts and sites were centuries and millennia old as I was able to see and imagine how different cultures lived. Learning about the history of the area and how an ancient runner ran from Marathon to Sparta for help when invasion threatened was like seeing a thread from that time to now, understanding how the Greeks and Greek culture have given so much to the world from language, philosophy, arts, myth and storytelling to mention a few disciplines seemed to rub off on me somehow.
I loved staying at Annette’s place as it was tranquil with amazing views and nestled in nature. This kind of environment sings to me and I felt very much at home. For me I think this added to my time there giving me space to daydream, reflect and just relax. I found some of my own interests crossed with Annette’s so we had plenty to chew the fat with after teaching or exploring. I remember we had lunch at a local seaside tavern and tried a native dish that the owner recommended of ink squid with black rice which was new to us both – it was scrummy. Ultimately we became firm friends enjoying each other’s company along with her very funny knowledgeable husband and of course not forgetting the glorious dogs who were very friendly, calming and a joy to have around.
Armed with my new confidence, collage creations and Greek knowledge I stepped forward towards my next Greek adventure in the city of Athens before finally leaving for my home.
Now back at base I am reflecting on my time with Annette and what I have learned both for my art practice and my life (both are intertwined and not sure that they are separate entities really?). For sure to turn off my inner critic, take small steps and experiment, but above all play and lose yourself. We are all creative beings, sometimes it’s just a case of teasing this out, trusting yourself and going with whatever that might be? The time with Annette has breathed another trajectory into my practice and has offered me something fresh and exciting! Annette also suggested that I build on the work I created with her to make a body of work, something that I had not considered but is such a brilliant idea I will be developing that.
To take all of this forward in my own life and community I am learning Tarot history and Tarot reading so that when I make my collage Tarot deck using my newly acquired knowledge and skills I can give readings that might be combined with elements of yoga? A bit of cross pollination here; for example, it might be a short Tarot reading, then using one or two of Tarot cards to set intentions either for meditation, affirmation or simply Yoga Nidra. I am so grateful that I was supported and guided by Annette on my path of re-discovery opening up a world of creative possibilities. For me collage is a rich medium that can be at once a cathartic experience affording new ways of thinking, looking and experiencing the world.
Written by Julia Riddiough