‘It is a very accessible artform’: Talking collage with Paris Collage Collective

‘It is a very accessible artform’: Talking collage with Paris Collage Collective

Paris Collage Collective is an online community of collage makers, who respond to regular creative challenges. Over the past couple of years, a lot of those challenges have used photos from our collections.

In light of a recent collaboration (more on that below), Petra Zehner from Paris Collage Collective talks to Senior Digital Editor Daniel Crichton-Rouse.

What inspired Paris Collage Collective?

I founded PCC in 2018 after I couldn’t find anything that fit me. I had been looking for a community with regular, ideally weekly projects, open to both analog and digital work.

I owe a lot to The Collage Club and Edinburgh Collage Collective – the former only doing analog collage collabs, the latter only doing occasional open calls. PCC does weekly challenges since 2019 plus occasional open calls throughout the year, and almost anything goes: analog, digital, mixed media. You find something interesting, albeit respectful, to do with one of the images we suggest, and we’re happy to have you.

The idea is to encourage creativity in any form. It can be intimidating to share but also nearly impossible to get your art seen, especially when you’re just starting out and positive, any kind of feedback, is most important.

A collage using people’s faces from photographs and then the rest of their bodies comprising of bits and pieces cut out to resemble bodies
An entry in the second-ever challenge, by Instagram user @redcheeksfactory / Nelleke Verheoff, using Mrs Prince, Tinakori Road from the national collection.

What is it about collage that you connect with?

I love collage for many reasons. On the one hand, it is a very accessible artform. You need neither prior skills nor expensive tools. Anyone can do it anywhere they are. On the other hand, it is incredibly versatile. You can combine analog with digital collage techniques, and add any other art form.

In the collective, we have everything: people who combine collage with mixed media, people who create 3D collage sculptures, painters and photographers who add collage elements to their work, people who work with paper and fabric and literally stitch their collages together. The possibilities are endless.

It’s not collage in the strictest sense anymore, and some purists do complain, but it feels very appropriate for the times we live in. Everything is a mix and match of past and present influences and ideas wherever you look: music, fashion, film.

You often feature images from Te Papa’s collection – how did you come across us?

I googled vintage images and found a goldmine with Te Papa. There are a few places where vintage photographs are available online, and more museums are doing it, which is great for artists, but you are still the only one who is making images available at high resolution.

How do you choose the images for challenges?

I chose intuitively. An image either speaks to me or it doesn’t. Vintage images are very popular. A lot of people love working with them, either for nostalgic reasons, or because they allow to put old and new into context. That was especially helpful during the height of the pandemic.

Te Papa’s Cat sitting on a cushion (week 49/2021) is one of my favourite images – simply because I love cats (I’m a crazy cat lady in the making). I’m really looking forward to this challenge.

A cat sitting on a cushion, on a table
Sir Floof-A-Lot features in an upcoming Paris Collage Collective challenge. Image: Cat sitting on a cushion, about 1910, New Zealand, maker unknown. Te Papa (PS.000506)

What catches your eye in people’s entries?

Creativity, diversity, and effort. Sometimes ideas spread. Someone does something unusual early on in the week that sparks a whole series of variations on a theme. That’s always fun to observe.

But I also love it when people mix techniques and move away from classical collage. Often you can tell that people are more comfortable in a different artform, like painting or sculpture, and that they are really stepping out of their comfort zone to incorporate the image prompt or that they’ve never done collage before. I’m very grateful that they do and that they feel comfortable to share their work.

The main goal of PCC is to encourage creativity and to create a save and non-judgemental, inclusive space for people to come together. I don’t want people to feel like they have to be already accomplished or experienced to join.

What unexpected things have you learned because of Paris Collage Collective?

That people are so much nicer than we are made to believe. The amount of generosity, kindness, and support people show each other is amazing. Especially the media often makes it look like we are living in incredibly selfish times, and that everyone is just looking out for themselves, so I’m very grateful to see examples of the opposite on a daily basis.

An old fashioned billboard stand in front of large rocks. In the billboard are three photos, each of a man with a plastic bag over his head, making three different faces, each suggesting a struggle. In front is an oversized soft drink bottle and a small astronaut
An entry in the Surrealist Dreams challenge, by Ana Todorovska.

How has Covid-19 impacted on the project? You have presented some art therapy sessions, for example.

Covid-19 was good for PCC, as wrong as this may sound. Especially during the first lockdowns in early 2020, a lot of people were looking for something creative to do, without having to leave their home, and joined our weekly challenges (I’m glad that it looks like quite a few stayed and continue to do collages). It shows how important creativity is for everyone.

Working on PCC definitely kept me sane when everything else around me was falling apart. For a lot of people, it was important and helpful to go somewhere and talk about something other than Covid, even if it was only online. Collage is a medium that lends itself well to collaborations too – people send collage starters to someone else who finishes the piece and sends it back – so there was and still is a lot going on outside of PCC.

We started organising art therapy sessions only this year, and will continue to do so for at least the rest of the year. Collage is such a niche art that for a lot of people connecting with other collage artists is nearly impossible in real life. So, these online classes are meant to facilitate connection and to teach people about art and creativity as a mental health self-care tool, so to speak.

You’re currently undertaking a creative project using a photo from our collection of a woman as your muse – what drew you to her?

You are referring to Elleree. I did two portrait series last year, 35 women and 35 men, also with images from your collection. This is kind of an extension to last year’s project. The idea is to create 365 images based on the same portrait. Not on a daily basis, but for however many months or more likely years to come.

I chose this particular image because of the woman’s expression. She seems distant and reserved, almost cold, which is most likely not true at all. I can relate to that. I know I can come across as reserved and standoffish too even though I’m just your garden-variety introvert.

Collage of a leaf and a black and white photo of a woman displaying in the leaves
One of Petra’s collages featuring Elleree. Image by and courtesy of Petra Zehner

The Surrealist Dreams collaboration

Earlier this year we got in touch to collaborate with Paris Collage Collective, and, taking cue from the exhibition of surrealist art that we had on, Petra chose ‘Surrealist Dreams’. Almost 600 people submitted an entry. Paris Collage Collective chose 70 which will feature in a book that they’re publishing. Our photography curator Athol McCredie also chose his favourites, which we’ve put together as a slideshow.

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1 Comment

  1. Love collage!! I do it, but never hear anything about it !!

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