Artists Grab 5,000 Web Images for 1 Massive Collage
To produce the dense, hypersaturated art pieces seen in their new exhibition, two artists googled the web, scoured fan forums and browsed Flickr accounts to round up 5,000 images for a single collage.
The duo, who work under the moniker Simmons & Burke, then assembled their visual plunder into the eye-popping print, pictured above. “We like the idea of making a Frankensteinian world that is both overwhelming and quieting,” Case Simmons and Andrew Burke told Wired.com in an e-mail interview.
For their new exhibition If Not Winter, which goes on display Thursday at Michael Kohn Gallery in Los Angeles, the pair appropriated about 15,000 images from a vast trove of sources. “We use all sorts of sites and forums to discover images and samples on the internet,” they said.
The digital artists, who incorporate themes of appropriation in some of their work, do not notify site operators when they grab images for use in their collages, regardless of whether the images are protected by copyright. “Occasionally we’ll need to add something formally weighted, like ‘red floating or flying objects,’ so for example we’ll ‘Google-translate’ the word ‘cardinal’ in all the languages we can think of, or figure out all the variations of cardinals we can find on various ornithology sites, or even end up on some birdwatcher’s Flickr account.”
Besides their more systematic searches, Simmons & Burke say they also pursue random tangents on a whim: “The real way that we ‘find things’ is what comes along the way: What else does that birdwatcher have in his Flickr account? Most of the time that’s the good stuff. ”
The artists cite “cultural anxiety and paranoia, media sensationalism and fringe culture, celebrity worship and sacred geometry” as thematic jumping-off points for their work.
“All of those ideas floating around the work didn’t ever really elucidate the process as much as the idea of attempting to make a collage that houses over 5,000 images and audio samples,” they said. “Our process takes so long with such an absurd amount of labor that the pieces are constantly shifting. It comes down to more of a psychological space that we’re creating, where quotation, hybridization and mutation are the order. Sometimes we’ll use repetition or pattern as a kind of formal strategy to carve out spaces and build perspective — or just to balance out the madness.”
“It’s important for these pieces to have an initial extreme of quantity, though, and then once you start to further inspect the work, the ornamentation and subtleties give a kind of structural integrity that holds the form together and keeps it from falling apart.”
Simmons, a San Francisco Art Institute graduate, and Burke, who studied music at the University of Cincinnati College Conservatory of Music, began collaborating in 2006. One constant challenge: Figuring out when one of their humongous assemblages is actually done.
“We don’t think we’ve ever ‘finished a piece’ or there has never really been a feeling of completion,” they said. “Generally either our computer breaks, or we break, then we go to print.”
By Hugh Hart