The Collage Path:
Make piles

Separate and sort the diverse stuff you have gathered, putting together those items that in some way seem to belong together. The piles may start to suggest categories and ways of labeling that are familiar to you from your own life. If that happens, notice those images that yhou have trouble placing in a single pile because they seem to belong to many categories at once.

The photographs in the scanning book are placed there without any verbal labels. The collage-maker thereby encounters a very wide variety of pictures, both in terms of subject matter and aesthetic treatment, without their being already categorized, or in any way framed by verbal tags.

In understanding the formative power of the collage process, it is important to appreciate just how rare the collage-maker’s opportunity at this point really is.

Despite the contemporary cultural importance of photographs, or perhaps precisely because of this importance, the experince of encountering unlabeled photographs almost never occurs. (Unlabeled pictures are seen only in one’s dreams.) In virtually every case the photographs one sees are already embedded within an actual or implicit text: a news story, an account of a trip, a description of a family gathering, a tour of an exhibition.

Piles stand between the narcissism of self-contained images and the inclusive sweep of symbolic functions. Piles, or categories, may be formed in many ways, but, however formed, it is important to distinguish the category itself from the use(s) to which it is put. (See Victor Turner in “Body, Briain and Culture”)

A category is organized by placing selected objects together. Then the category is used and, in being used, is distinguished from other categories in the same domain of experience.

The implicit question of the first step is, How is the category formed? The question raised by the second step is, In the service of what project(s) is the category put into, and out of, play? A category may be highly motivated by internal structures (prototypes) of the objects within it, and therefore constitute a “natural kind.” Or, at the other end of the continuum, a category may be arbitrary and idiosyncratic, reflecting an imposed set of criteria (list of attributes) that shift with changing circumstances of the user.

The collage-maker’s piles are typically extremely heterogeneous: they demonstrate many different strategies and principles of organization. Some piles may be very loosely associated heaps; others, defined by a concept that goes through metonymic transformations within the category itself, more like collections. Still others may reflect the stable application of true concept.

These differences, which often reflect the collage-maker’s uneven cognitive development, or a motivated unevenness in his utilization of cognitive capabilities, will later be discernible in the abstractive heterogeneity, or category texturing, of the collage surface.

One of the great formative attractions of the collage medium is, in fact, just this capacity to absorb a heterogeneous mix of objects, images, tokens, types, signs, symbols and concepts, and retain them as a conglomeration, without assimilating them to a single semiotic category. The complex texturing of bodily experience is thereby symbolized.