The Frank Olson Legacy Project



Exchange with digital collage artist Dirk Hine  

email to eric olson
From: Hine, Dirk A
To: Olson, Eric
Subject: collage

Sent: 6/13/2001 12:37 p.m.

your thoughts on collage as an antitoxin for psychic trauma are interesting.

i am a 48-year-old artist who suffers from chronic depression. i have done a good deal of collage work and find that in my current state of deep depression, it is the only thing i can do. i have been obsessed with it even in the best of times, and now i do it to the detriment of everything else. i am unable to go to my day job, but stay at home making collages instead. i don't know if this is the cause of my depression or a way of dealing with it, or both. i've reached the point where the desire to immerse myself in my artwork is so strong that i'm miserable doing anything else. on one level i know that it's irrational to not put in my eight-hours-a-day at my day job, since that is what allows me to pursue my artwork. the irrational wins out every morning however, when i find myself paralyzed by an anxiety attack when i try to go to work.*

two weeks ago when my depression was particularly bad, i resolved to work non-stop on my current project until i ran out of money and the electricity would be turned off for nonpayment of the bill etc., and then commit suicide. during the past couple of days this has started to seem like a good idea again. this isn't a "cry for help" by the way, just some anecdotal data to add to your research. i have a doctor and am on antidepressants. i sometimes wonder though, if artists aren't sui generis, with their own peculiar set of problems which even the best therapists would find difficult to understand.

i think your work is a good thing and hope that it will lead to an easing of many people's pain. incidentally, i worked with someone who apparently was the victim of unauthorized drug testing when he was in the army.

dirk hine
*the fact is, pure and simple, that the disease is what keeps me home and not the desire to spend more time on my artwork. but with the desire to create so strong, added to the mental confusion that depresion brings about, i'm continually analyzing (or trying to) what goes on in my mind and questioning my motives. i have to hear over and over my doctor's confirmation that depression is the cause of all this.

reply from eric olson:

"... I think you are right that there are profound connections between collage and depression, and that collage is part-remedy, part symptom. I have sometimes thought of this in the way that a serum immunizes one against a disease: that the injection has to contain some portion of the disease against which it is to work. In artistic terms this is akin to a line from T.S. Eliot: "To be restored our illness must grow worse." Or in the Schwitters quote which I love: "Everything was in pieces and new things had to be made out of the pieces." Schwitters continued, "Collage was like an image of the revolution within me--not as it was, but as it might have been."

Collage can be a reflection of inner chaos, or (and) it can be a milieu for restructuring connections and generating new symbolic pathways. It is intrinsically both. The idea of collage as a potentially ideal image of a revolution, a formative revolution rather than a defomative one, is for me the essence of what collage can provide. It is that idea which I spent many years trying to understand so as to be able to build a method that foregrounds and heightens this formative effect within a new model of a psychotherapeutic process. Sadly, for some time I have had to set my collage work aside, so as to resolve my father's death."

Eric Olson:
“His Harvard research was about how to help people recover from trauma. With the psychiatrist Robert Jay Lifton, he had been to Man, W.Va., to interview survivors of a disaster in which 125 people had been killed and 4,000 people made homeless when a dam burst and a wall of black water containing coal waste swept down Buffalo Creek. He and Lifton wrote a paper that spoke of the way sudden, violent loss left people imprinted with death anxiety and long-term psychic numbing.

“I remember Eric talking for hours in his Cambridge apartment about a technique he had been using to help the people of Buffalo Creek. It was called the "collage method," and it involved getting survivors to paste together pictures, using anything they felt like clipping out of newspapers and magazines. It seemed childish to me at first, but Eric said that for people whose lives were in pieces anyway, collage was mysteriously satisfying. They would work for hours in silence, he said, moving about the floor, sticking things down, and sometimes when they had finished, they would contemplate what they had done and start to cry.

“After 75 years of psychoanalysis -- the talking cure -- here was a therapy, Eric believed, that didn't start from words but from images. It seemed to unfurl the winding processes of a person's unconscious and lay them out flat on paper. Eric had been playing around with his father's camera and making photomontages since childhood. But he didn't stumble on the power of collage until he was in his 20's. One stoned night, he and a girlfriend got down on their knees in her apartment and began cutting pictures out of magazines and gluing them down. When Eric finished, the central image of his collage was a grainy picture of a man falling head first out of a window.”

(excerpted from Michael Ignatieff,
“What Did the C.I.A. Do To Eric Olson’s Father,” New York Times Magazine, 4/1/01, posted on Dirk Hine web site)

Visit Dirk Hine's web site to see samples of his collages.