The second law of thermodynamics states that with each passing moment, every particle of matter and energy in the universe unremittingly deteriorates into increased chaos. Human beings, however, refuse to surrender their lives to this disorder. Rather than accepting entropic decline, we strive to control our lives by tightly planning our schedules, establishing daily routines, and organizing our homes around city grids.
Derived from the French word for “glue,” the collage art form is in itself a microcosm of this human desire to raise order from chaos. Collage artists incorporate photographs, pieces of text, colored paper, newspaper clippings, and found objects into a single unified artwork. Like musicians attempting to craft a cohesive melody from distinct notes and scrambled rhythms, collage artists strive to unify the disjointed melodies and rhythms of pictorial art. Although a visual rather than auditory art form, a collage is in itself a musical medley–a synesthetic experience that rages against entropy through its search for harmony.
Curator Peter Kepha aspires to capture this musical spirit in his second installment of the exhibition series, “Medley: A Collage Group Exhibition” at Pilsen’s Chicago Urban Art Society. A collage exhibition must fuse the pulse of each individual artist in order to establish a collective group rhythm. Each collage is an instrument on its own with a distinctive melody, style and sound. Kepha, therefore, is much more than a curator; he is also the conductor of an intricate symphony and musical composition. By showcasing vastly differing collage pieces from artists from all over the world–including Norway, Brazil, United Kingdom, and the United States –Kepha seeks harmony through variety.
“It’s difficult to create a cohesive exhibit with collages, but I wanted to get at the old-school definition of medley as a group show, like a musical song where each person complements each other and builds off one another’s skills and thoughts,” Kepha said.
The exhibition not only features works from international artists of various backgrounds, but also presents many types of collages in different dimensions and a wide array of media. One of Kepha’s own contributions to the exhibit is a collage centering on a smashed IPhone. A frenzied assortment of shapes, letters, and colors emerges from the cracked screen, representing the meaningless mÃ©lange of the contents of a life mastered by technology. Although these memories were once so easily recorded by the device, their expulsion demonstrates that they can just as easily be lost. His work is also inspired by the constantly changing architecture of Chicago. Growing up with the city’s ever-heightening skyline, Kepha frequently observed with fascination the rapid growth of smaller buildings into skyscrapers. According to Kepha, his work with collages is like architecture–careful construction of minute pieces into a larger, unified form of art.
Emily Haasch, another collage artist featured in the exhibition, works mainly with fragile newspaper material and tissue paper. Like Kepha, she is inspired by the geometric architecture, shapes, and buildings of the city. Her delicate collages are dominated by pastel hues and the careful interplay of photographs and paper. Rather than trying to incorporate a number of discrepant pieces into a limited amount of space, Haasch chose to accentuate specific photographs through carefully cutout shapes.
“I’m guided by the material rather than the subject matter. Even if I don’t have a singular vision, the pieces guide me,” she says. It may seem as if the art of collage-making is relatively easy; however, a cohesiveness separates these established artists’ works from a toddler’s assemblage of a few scraps of paper. Without extensive knowledge about the aesthetic qualities of form, line, shape, and color, it would be impossible to recreate these works’ simplicity.
“There’s a common misperception that anyone could do a collage, but there’s a lot of thought required for cubism and abstractionism,” the curator said.
Pablo Picasso, one of the greatest pioneers of collage-work and cubism, once said, “Every act of creation is first an act of destruction.” Collage artists must recognize the importance of accepting destruction and pandemonium as inescapable characteristics of life. They do more, however, than passively accept destruction–they are inspired by this second law to create beauty. “Medley: A Collage Group Exhibition,” physically embodies how artists embrace the universe’s entropic decline, capturing the world’s chaos and melding it into a medley of meaning.
Chicago Urban Art Society, 600 W. Cermak Rd. Through May 31. Friday, 6pm-9pm; Saturday, noon-5pm. Free. (773)-951-8101. chicagourbanartsociety.com