The Process: Michael Bilsborough's Capitalist Collages
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When New York-based artist Michael Bilsborough's project HELLO TODAY: Capitalist Collages popped up on the site, we were impressed with the way he took otherwise bland images from high-end business magazines and transformed them into sometimes unsettling, occasionally eerie, but aesthetically pleasing collages. We asked him to explain the process behind creating some of these, and learned that even the act of doing the project on Kickstarter is, in a way, part of the art.
In many ways, HELLO TODAY is a departure from the art I've previously exhibited. In the past, I imagined pure aesthetics to be my highest calling. I made art for art's sake, above and beyond topical concerns. But things have changed. Now I want to make art that brings in more of the faces and forces of the world today. That's because I no longer perceive myself to be in a bubble of aesthetics. Instead, I see how I am buoyed or sunk by surrounding currents of power and wealth, which are dynamics that can explain almost everything around me. So I've updated my ideas about making art, and HELLO TODAY is the first example.
I wanted to make artwork about capitalism, and by chance, I learned which magazines have the highest-earning readers. I combed their ad pages, noting their language and design. I liked their visual fantasies of congenial meetings, immaculate factories, brotherly executives, and leisurely vacations (or workplaces). Compared to news photos, these fantastic images were better suited for capitalism, because so much of capitalism is fantasy. How does my life fit into this fantasy? How does this fantasy fit into my life?
Through this framework, I make each collage with the images leading the way. Some images have "vulnerabilities," where an intervention seems possible. Others seem "aggressive," poised to intervene on another image. Using traditional methods, I cut and paste them together. I scan that collage into Photoshop, but I retouch as little as possible. The point is to preserve as much as I can of each advertisement image, to accept the original as the best execution available, including imperfections due to the mass printing process. To reprint these collages into a book will cement these imperfections: the decay inherent to a copy of a copy. But even that imperfect art object will have more permanence than the disposable ads it comprises. Part of proving that permanence, for me, is how these anonymous advertisement “types” can become memorable characters. That’s why I’m illustrating this blog post with studio photos populated by faces from HELLO TODAY.
To me, Kickstarter is right for HELLO TODAY because Kickstarter is the most democratic and open marketplace to crowdfund a project about mass media and resource distribution.
Something funny to me is how I'm now adapting my own studio habits to notions of "production," "output," "efficiency," "performance," "valuable," and "investment" — the vocabulary of capitalism that I often find in these ads and the articles between them!
HELLO TODAY includes half of this growing body of collage work. If HELLO TODAY succeeds, then I hope to continue with another book.
For more information and images, visit HELLO TODAY: Capitalist Collages.