walk-in collage in space, billboard posters
wexner center for the arts
at the ohio state university, USA
The verb “clip” is a small term for a seemingly simple action. Yet, “clip” is a contranym, meaning the word has two opposing definitions: to cut or detach, but also to fasten or join. So this small word is a fitting one to describe a photomontage, or work created by cutting, layering, and gluing together two or more photographs. For Anita Witek, these simple yet contrary gestures have similarly complex consequences.
As a way to understand how domestic life is depicted in a foreign country, Witek began making photomontages from real estate listings in newspapers. She began that series, called Polaroids of places that have never existed (1998), while in graduate school at the Royal College of Art in London. Her process has since evolved, and while the artist continues to work with preexisting or “found” images (often ads or reproductions from printed matter found at flea markets or estate sales), she now begins by cutting out the main subjects of these images and collaging the remaining “background” elements to create a new composition. This process of cutting and attaching creates abrupt juxtapositions among fragments. In compiling the leftover visual information, Witek also scans for traces of meaning and connections that might emerge from the margins of an image, questioning how this information might operate when inserted into a new, unintended context.
Several years ago, the artist began creating massive photomontages (often with billboard paper) using this same technique, with the resulting works immersing viewers in abstract landscapes of fractures and fissures. The fragmented photographs that constitute Clip, Witek’s first site-specific work in the US, seem to tumble across four adjacent walls in the Wexner Center’s lower lobby, with repeated motifs emerging to the fore and slipping to the background. The artist chose imagery with personal associations, remnants culled from earlier bodies of work such as Notizen zu Aminadab (2007)—a series inspired by French writer and theorist Maurice Blanchot’s novel Aminadab (1942) and its descriptions of uncanny architectural spaces that explore the limitations of language. The title of each work in Witek’s 2007 series is inspired by the Kafkaesque spaces of Blanchot’s novel, and she attempted to translate its implausible descriptions with deconstructed fragments of appropriated imagery.
Witek’s enduring interest in collective memory—conceived of by art historian Aby Warburg (1866-1929)—led her to mine publications in her archive for advertisements produced contemporaneously with the opening of the Wexner Center in 1989. In seeking images that echo the center’s innovative and future-looking design, Witek suggests that photographs—even those without their most central, recognizable content—might have the capacity to contain memories or references not intended by the original creator, and even to transform or supplant our own recollections of the past. So while this imagery does not directly reference Peter Eisenman’s design of the Wexner Center (itself complex and collaged), these images might provoke fleeting recollections of the past in which the very space where we stand was conceived. Clip not only unsettles the way we look at images, but furthermore maps a new layer of references and allusions onto the building’s spaces that recharges our familiarity with the center’s architecture.
Lucy I. Zimmerman
Curatorial Assistant, Wexner Center for the Arts