Today, my mother would have been 59 years old. She was born in Newark, New Jersey on October 04, 1960. For me, the date marks the start of October — a time, annually, when I make a point to slow down, practice self-care and reflect. As the quality of the light outside begins to hollow with the changing season, I often find myself in a depressed state. Just like everyone else living with some version of the Gregorian calendar, my month of October ends on Halloween, the day my mother was killed in a sudden accident on October 31, 1992. I was three years old. This year, in 2019, her birthday falls directly in-between the two holiest days of the Luach (the Jewish calendar): Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, the Jewish New Year and the Day of Atonement respectively. This is the hidden timestamp and personal framing of my writing this essay. I wonder why I write the word hidden? Are there hidden structures embedded in collage?
Collage is a piece of art made by sticking various different materials such as photographs
and pieces of paper or fabric onto a surface. Each material, each distinct part, is subject
to its own distinct history and internal clock — taken as a collective whole,
the collage dances to its own unique tempo.
For the last week, everyday, I’ve written at least one paragraph here; giving language to a singular idea, producing a little piece to explicate or exemplify some connection I have made that answers the question, how are time and collage connected? Or, assuming they are related as I do, another way to ask this might be, what is the tempo of collage? Although I have been largely unable to answer either of these questions over the last few weeks, or to clearly articulate their connection, I want to use this essay as a space to distill and clarify why I intuitively believe them to be related.
With this paragraph, I’m suggesting that the process of creating this essay itself exists as evidence to support my argument that collage is innately temporal. The ritual of daily writing places this exercise within a clear temporal framework. The fragmentary form of the writing produced by this daily prompt begs to be rearranged, cut out from its original linear context and shuffled, stripped bare and redressed. So by the time you are reading this, the essay has undergone an edit: turning the act of creating this essay into an act of collage in time.
In considering the process of editing as an act of collaging with time, editing reveals itself to me
as a tool in service of collage. Is this the meaning of montage?
Montage is the action of re-arranging the ordering of separate sections
to create a new continuous sequence, under that larger process of editing.
Yom Kippur is often called the Sabbath of the Sabbath. If the sabbath is the holiest day of the week, then Yom Kippur is the holiest day of the year. The Sabbath is the 25 hour period (sunset on Friday until about an hour after sunset on Saturday) when God, after making the earth, all the animals and the garden of Eden, took time off. Us mere mortals, purportedly “made in God’s image,” dotingly reproduce this ritual during the weekly Sabbath. By extending this same logic, Yom Kippur is the ultimate in doing nothing: no eating, no leather, no water, no showers, no nofing! During this period of atonement, each individual’s fate for the following year is sealed in the Book of Judgement. This, in conjunction with Yom Kippur’s practice of Yizkor (remembering and honoring the dead), gives the whole day a somber and onerous vibe.
Collage requires human intervention. In intervening, the potential for new meaning is palpable. But this intervention can also be quite passive; bearing witness to a moment of chance. A chance happening upon a surface, with the human presence turned observer. With the intentional human intervention, a more active observer affixes their observation to the pasteboard — commitment to that moment, and the glue to paper freezes it in time, concretizing the composition on the surface of the blank page. Eternally frozen.
Talking about her own visual work, artist and writer Jenny Odell compares rest, or in her words, doing nothing to something that I consider to be a dominant impulse behind collage; the production of new contexts. I’ve long had an appreciation of doing nothing — or more properly, making nothing. I’m not lazy, but the most I have ever made or constructed is a new context for, or perspective on, something that already existed. Taking existing elements and recombining, reorganizing, restructuring, reframing those elements to produce new meaning, communicates new perspectives and shifts values. This, I felt confident, is an act of collage and time.
In construction, a composite material is something made up of recognizable constituent materials;
combined for the valued strength and economy of each constituent material.
Years later, my father told my sister and I about the lawsuit which followed mother’s death. Given the nature of the accident, there was insurance money distributed to the families of the two individuals killed. My father went on to explain that the amount was determined by factors the insurance company used to value my mother’s life: the predicted salary she would have amassed based on her then current employment and an average retirement age, her age at the time of her death, 32, her race, her gender, her marital status. I asked my dad how it was possible to attach a monetary value to someone’s life. How things like kindness, intention, humor and care, values my mother held and lived by, were not similarly used in valuing her life. Then I wondered what the other deceased male passenger was estimated to be worth? Then I thought of myself; how might my life be valued?
I thought about the distinctly Jewish demarcation of a day into a 25 hour cycle. Unlike Gregorian clocks, the Judeac clock ticks intune with natural solunar cycles. Human work (physical, emotional, intellectual and whatnot) is oriented towards the ongoing exchange of the rising moon and setting sun, economies of time based in changing light. The Jewish day implies an underlying, unyielding innate movement, because if we know nothing else, we know the sun will rise again tomorrow. This progressive movement is what makes the ritual rest of the sabbath, the intentional inertness, so powerful and so effective in the production of latent meaning, reflection and revelation.
From Physics, a plenum is a space completely filled with matter. In a plenum, every motion
has some effect on distant bodies, in proportion to their distance — so long as things
move simultaneously into each other’s places, motion is possible in a plenum.
All matter is interconnected by this relative motion and movement.
On our way to the cemetery, my sister, dad and I stopped at the florist on the corner, a small newsstand that had been newly converted into a flower stand. My sister immediately grabbed a handful of purple flowers and asked the cost. The shop owner woman replied flowery, ninety-nine cents a stem.
Because the stems were priced individually, rather than as a collective bunch, my sister and I began to engage with the selection quite differently than we had initially. Instead, the experience became an exercise in collage. An opportunity to collage together a bouquet of flowers — combining colors and textures that we felt were interesting together. The implementation of the ninety-nine cents a stem pricing structure fostered an inclusive and generative process — I didn’t feel the angst that I often feel at flower stores, unable to choose the best bunch.
Assemblage is a collection or gathering of things or people.
A work of art made by grouping found or unrelated objects fitted together.
She handed me back the receipt. There was a small drawing of her at the very top of the receipt above the words FLORAL ART BY MIA. Printed at the bottom it read The cooler you think you are the dumber you look. I wondered if Mia knew what she was enacting by inserting this unusual pricing structure into her flower art business. By creating a new structure, we, the customer, were forced to engage with the act of picking flowers more creatively.
Flowers are markers of time both symbolically and biologically. I can think of many ways:
Flowers are subject to life spans of their own. When this internal ecological time encounters our industrialized systems, the flower is subjected to new human economies of time: cut from its roots, transported, bought, sold, transported again, now into someone’s home, into a new vessel, where it will most likely die its final death.
Collage is an act of chance. It is the coming together of distinct ideas, materials, elements, that may have never found each other in the first place. Or maybe, parts whose collaged fate preordained their meeting. Individual parts, each subject to its own temporal rhythms, cut away from their larger contextual wholes. Now, cemented to a surface, condemned eternally to a fragmented life, together. New bodies cut from old ones. Collage implies an embodied physicality, and the word itself, with french origins, feels at the same time fragile.
The word suturing means to stitch up (a wound or incision) with a suture.
A suture is both an action and a method that drives that action. It is both a verb and a noun.
The noun means, a stitch or row of stitches holding together the edges of a wound or surgical incision.
It could also refer to an immovable junction between two bones, such as those of the skull.
This second meaning implies a single point of contact with the surface,
rather than total coverage. The word suturing implies a body.
Collage is about a chance encounter with surface. While time implies depth or thickness. I think both depth and surface can exist simultaneously; this is exemplified by the notion of the Mobius Strip.
The Mobius Strip is formed by twisting one end of a flat, two-dimensional
rectangular strip 180° and joining its ends. When embedded in three-dimensional space, it is a surface
with one continuous side. The Mobius strip has the mathematical property of being unorientable.
The word of the day pops up on my computer, interrupting my train of thought. Horologist, someone who repairs watches.
Ritual implies commitment to an activity at a distinct time. Ritual also implies maintenance; the maintenance required to carry out a simple daily act and care required to keep something going. As I write this essay, I am discovering that maintenance is something I highly value. Through repetition and reproduction, there is a slow mutation and changing of information (forms, ideas). Under this guise, maintenance and care reveal themselves to me aligned with notions of progress. But places progress in a much slower temporal framework than I initially understood the word to mean (at least via the definition evoked by Silicon Valley or speculative design). How are maintenance and collage connected?
I’m also interested in the preservation of time — the preservation of moments, captured, lost. If history is the record of interventions, collage is the action of intervening.
While I was visiting Mexico this summer, I learned of the Mixtec notion of time as vertical; moving from the sky down, through you, to the ground. The future is the movement downwards. Time is motion.
From my seat, I stared at the free bookmark they handed out at the start of Yizkor services. I noticed that the schedule for the High Holy Days services were organized moving from the bottom to top; commanding your eye to read upwards.
As we pulled into the entrance of Mount Sinai, the cemetery was noticeably lively. My dad asked the guard at the gate what was going on. She responded that it’s the Days of Awe, it’s like the Jewish Day of the Dead. The J-Day of the Dead qualifier places this exchange distinctly in Southern California.
A chimera is a single organism that’s made up of cells from two or more “individuals” — that is, it contains
two sets of DNA, with the code to make two separate organisms. One way that chimeras can happen
naturally in humans is that a fetus can absorb its twin.
Sitting at the burial site with my dad and sister is one of my favorite annual family activities. I don’t believe that my mom is there, in the ground, but collectively we conjure some version of her made from all of us. It was during this ritual, over the past 27 years, that I learned who my mother was; how she lived her life, her humor, her style, her tempo. We place the collaged bunch of flowers on my mom’s headstone. They are beautiful. I realize then that the flowers aren’t for her, but for us. For me. For my memory of her. I knew when the bouquet was finished at the florist because I felt satisfied that they were beautiful enough to honor my memory of my mother.
As we paid, Mia, the florist pointed to one particular flower in our wild bunch and said I love that Veronica. Was this a reference to 80’s cult classic Heathers? With all the thinking about death and dying, kicking off my annual month of reflection, somehow the Veronica / Heathers reference seemed to resonate meaningfully. As we walked away, Mia said:
You can come back everyday
to pick special flowers for the special people you love.
Seeds & Seedling