Stieglitz 19

Miriam Tölke

New Horizons

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By Gunnar Luetzow

Collage has its history: Cubism, Dada, and of course Surrealism were
the movements that have inscribed this technique into the foundations
of modernism. While politics were tumbling into chaos and the
technological progress of that age was accelerating at a speed which
could only be perceived as a barrage of real world and media shocks,
André Breton and his accomplices celebrated the beauty of “the chance
encounter between a sewing machine and an umbrella on the autopsy
table.” But collage is also very much a part of our present day. Since
the turn of the millenium, a new generation of artists has discovered
the unlimited possibilities collage can offer, their work aptly
reflecting both a new era of media accelaration and another moment of
social and cultural fragmentation. Or, as London-based curator
Francesca Gavin wrote poignantly in “The Age of Collage” (which
comprises three volumes, so far): “We see more images than ever
before, and collage is a way of making sense of that chaos. Artists
are using collage to symbolically resist consumption and recreate the
world in new ways. The process of addition and removal and combining
contrasting elements is not just an artistic process. It is a way of
thinking.” (1)

Berlin artist Miriam Toelke (b. 1977) is part of this new generation.
During her studies at the Art Academy in Stuttgart she procured her
second-hand art supplies from the local recycling yard. And since the
year 2000, she has turned Berlin´s urban space into her own huge
treasure house. On her extensive city walks into the unknown she
discovers material by the wayside that has just been waiting to
activate one´s imagination – something which in daily life is too
often inhibited by the demands of a so-called “pragmatic worldview.”
This urban drift(ing) as – in the artist´s own words – a “flaneuse”
does, references more than a tradition rooted in writings of Edgar
Allen Poe or Charles Baudelaire. (2) It also resurrects a dissident
urban practice developed in Paris by the avantgarde art movement of
the “Lettrist International,” (1952 – 1957) whose adherents confronted
the capitalist production of space with their own subversive
“psychogeography.” This concept was taken further by the “Situationist
International” (1957 – 1972) whose aim was to counter a “society of
the spectacle” (3) with a strategy of recontextualizing everyday
culture, thus creating collage´s first revival in their publications
which were situated halfway between provocation and pop.

So how does Miriam Toelke address the issues of a new century (or
millenium) in addition to those of the most recent past? There is, for
example, a sense of slowing down as a choice: She is not into collage
as an overwrought explosion of shapes and colours. Instead, black and
white tones rule her work. Colourful material, when used, is added
sparingly. Gifted with a sharp eye and a daring hand, she requires
very few elements to create strong, meaningful compositions. When
taking it to the extreme, only two will do. A recurring and
significant motif in her work ist the human face, whose reliability
and truthfulness she questions in radical ways. Her interventions seem
to imply that a mask sometimes reveals a person´s true self. When
Toelke courageously twists a work by 180 or 90 degrees she risks
uprooting trees, but in so doing, she opens up new horizons, creating
a fresh understanding of things we believe we know all too well.

Which points to another significant aspect leaving traces in her work:
The artist, whose other home is located in Brandenburg’s rural
Uckermark region, has found a way of carefully negotiating the balance
between human life and its natural surroundings. This not only
features the subject at the center of the current discussion about the
anthopocene, it also proves that collage does indeed have a future.