RECAP - Chatting collages at Brunch with Julie Rafalski
23 feb 2015 by Ashton Chandler
This Sunday as part of our Brunch series, we chatted art, design and architecture with London-based collage-artist Julie Rafalski and had a peek at her portfolio and prints, including her collages. In full-English style, we were fueled with good food and stimulating conversation as the rainy day was brightened up with her vibrant primary-coloured works.
We're sharing a few snapshots from the day as well as more insight into Julie's modernist-inspired contemporary collage works with the interview below. Enjoy!
Projecions III, 2014, heavyweight fine art paper, 42 x 59.4 cm, courtesy of the artist.
AC: Within your multi-disciplinary practice, you re-contextualise meanings and imagery from modernist projects using 20th century documentary materials. Can you explain more about how you source and select your images?
JR: I'm drawn to old books, postcards and printed ephemera that document modernist artworks and architecture. I'm particularly interested in those artists, architects and designers who are part of the art history canon and whose work methods have a certain sense of absolutism.
For example, I was drawn to painter Piet Mondrian's work because of his belief in what he called universal visual elements, such as the grid and rectangular colour fields. He translated trees and buildings into coloured rectangular shapes. His grid-like paintings are similar to today's pixelated images, where objects are reduced to square shapes. His paintings are flat and discard the idea of the gestalt (forms in which an object is separate from its background). On the one hand I find this notion of the universal suspect as I believe more in the particular and the individual. On the other hand I find his paintings visually exciting. This sort of ambivalent relationship to his works is what made me decide to work with reproductions of his paintings.
AC: How do your works highlight in a new way modernist conceptions?
JR: My working methods often rely on interventions in the appropriated image that hopefully make the viewer see the original works in a different light.
Sometimes a way of understanding something is by comparing it to what it is not. So in my work I often add the opposite of what I see in an image. For example, in the Dear Mondrian series, I add transparent shapes that create the figure/background scenario in his paintings that he struggled so hard to abolish. Or I add asymmetrical brightly coloured silhouettes of spaces to images of Mies van der Rohe's architecture, which is mostly grey, black, minimalist and rectilinear.
Adding this various elements to these image, makes it possible to imagine what a colourful Mies architecture might look like, or what a Mondrian painting with different layers might look like, creating imaginary versions of these paintings or buildings. In this way a different version of modernism might start to emerge- one in which interventions (which are a reflection of the present time) cause us to rethink the past images. And one which perhaps makes us see the present time in a different way- for it would be a present that draws upon the past.
AC: Your approach concentrates on fragmentation, utilising margins and being obsolete. Do you believe in 'less is more' in terms of more directly conveying messages artistically?
JR: I think that even the smallest intervention into an image can change one's viewpoint of it. A subtle change or shift can have a ricochet effect on meaning. I don't necessarily programmatically enforce a 'less is more' method but I also don't try to swat a mosquito with a sledgehammer. Stanislaw Lem once said that he hopes his writing is like instant coffee - he provides the text and then the reader can slowly dissolve it all in his head. I have the same hope for my work.
AC: Your work examines how this modern era represents its utopias. Do you think utopias exist in our current day and in what context? How have our representations of utopian society changed over history and how does your work demonstrate these explorations?
JR: Modernism wanted to change the world for the better and to create a utopia. It has failed to do that but what it has done is given us a whole range of practical tools and methods of creating. It has also not killed the desire in us to continue to try to make the world better. I think that art can't change the world but it can make us see the world in a different way, which is often the first step in trying to change something.
AC: Not only does your practice incorporate artistic influence, but elements of architecture and design are integrated into your collages. What is your perspective of the correlation between art, architecture, and design as exemplified by your practice?
JR: Art, architecture and design are all visual ways of understanding the world. My collages take as it's subject matter art, architecture and design, but what I make still functions as art, as opposed to architecture or design.
AC: It's been said you engage in a playful dialogue with through your work, and we've noticed the touch of humor. Where, generally speaking, do you draw your inspiration for these clever twists?
JR: I draw inspiration from many sources such as comedian Tommy Cooper, writer Italo Calvino, poet Wislawa Szymborska, artist John Baldessari or duo Fischli & Weiss.