Collage as Research?

I love making collages, usually exploring a specific topic that knocks at my door. This can for example be something I want to learn more about, something I’m struggling with, or something I like to celebrate or express gratitude for.

I never thought of my collage practice as a process of creating knowledge, or as research method, until I began exploring an exciting field of (relatively) new methodologies, called ‘a/r/tography’. This hybrid, practice-based enquiry transcends the lines between Artist, Researcher, Teacher (A/R/T) – Peter Gouzouasis (2013) even removed the slashes to underline the holistic integration of these various roles. Coming across a paper called ‘Collage as Analysis’ (HOLBROOK & POURCHIER 2014) spurred me to reflect on my own collage activities, and the (blurry?) boundaries between knowledge, inquiry and research.

Usually I start with lighting a candle and asking for support and inspiration to work with the topic. I then browse through a bag of pictures that I have accumulated over the years, taken from magazines (National Geographic and Happinez are favourites!), cards, newspaper clippings, and prints of my own photographs. They cover themes like nature, people, symbols, the four elements, and animals. I select images that resonate with the topic I’m exploring, and once I’ve gone through the whole bag, I spread them out, and let them speak to me. Do I sense a balance or a lack in some way? Is there a dominant colour? How are the illustrations relating to each other? What message am I picking up? Is something missing? The process takes many hours spread over weeks, sometimes months.

The one you see here, I made a few years ago. It is called HOME. I was reflective of having moved so many times in my life. Of what home is, and belonging. Of what characteristics make a home for me. I needed to find out how I could continue to cope with my nomadic life style, and how to deal with yet another upcoming move, despite my deep, deep yearning to root somewhere.

Home (28.1.14), Artist & Image Credits Eline Kieft

The collage evolves around the space in which Seagull flies free, which simultaneously reflects the egg she came from. She once told me to find an environment that fits my soul and to honour my needs in order to survive – just as she needs cliffs and air, Mouse needs a little earthy hole and Elephant a big wide steppe. On the sides I explore elements that make a home a home for me; a place to read, write, be with spirit; a space full of beauty, and silence; a place to reflect, dream, and dance; a place of earth, and stone and nature; a place of patterns, and art, and warmth and light.

Making a collage supports me as a way of learning, increasing understanding, and deepening insight. The process is healing in itself, a coming to terms with and integrating oddities and paradoxes, an increased peace. Also, the finished piece, which I aim to be aesthetically pleasing but most of all emotionally true, becomes a power object, a reminder of my search, a solace and encouragement in times of difficulty. In this case it became an anchor through the turbulence of moving and life unfolding in different places. Through the integrity of my engagement with it and its inherent power, it may have another uncanny effect. In the last three years, where I moved from Scheveningen, to Torquay, to Yelverton, to Coventry, each time just a few weeks before I was aware of the move, something would happen to the collage. It would fall off the wall, Seagull would fall off, or the glass would break (seriously!). Was that spirit knocking at my door, signalling a time of change? Twice it happened before I got a new job; once before my house was sold. For me this strengthens and deepens my connection to other dimensions of our everyday reality.

Although I do appreciate and consider the inclusion of ‘other ways of knowing’ through nature, the arts, movement, meditation or silence as absolutely crucial to academic research endeavours, it leads to a host of interesting questions, such as what is knowledge? How is knowledge created? Are there different types of knowledge? Are there types of knowledge that are relevant only to individuals? When and why do they become relevant to smaller or larger groups of people?

We use the word ‘research’ a lot in our daily life – for systematically, methodically comparing holiday deals, best prices for our favourite foods, train times, etc., as well as for varying degrees of self-reflection and inquiry, but that doesn’t necessarily make it interesting, useful, valid, applicable for others.

Reading Holbrook & Pourchier, while appreciating their effort of including the reflective arts, I cannot help but think: ‘so what? How is this relevant to me?’ And I fail to come up with any convincing answers – apart from a welcome nudge to look at my own collage practice (of which you, of course, might think: ‘so what?’).

To do justice to those important and creative ‘other forms of knowing’ and include them within academia as essential part of the human experience, we need a methodology first for facilitating similar journeys while documenting similarities and differences, and then for collating the ‘results’. This way the ‘simply subjective’ can grow into the inter-subjective, individual forms of knowledge creation become shared between many, and we strengthen the ‘other knowledge archives’!

I wonder what those would look like!?


GOUZOUASIS, P. 2013. The metaphor of tonality in artography. UNESCO Observatory Multi-Disciplinary Journal in the Arts, 3 (2).

HOLBROOK, T. & POURCHIER, N. M. 2014. Collage as Analysis: Remixing in the Crisis of Doubt. Qualitative Inquiry, 20 (6), 754-763.

Photo Collage: Home, © Eline Kieft, 2014

Please note: I published an earlier version of this text on 25.2.16 and 20.9.19  in older blogs that has now merged with Clover Trail.

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