SAM BIRT’S COLLAGES
Fine and Exciting Collages From Her Special Collection
This weeks essay is devoted to the collage work of Sam Birt, an English woman working in Italy. This may seem odd but her work is so fine and exciting it is worth bring to the attention of those around Europe and Britain who seem to be reading my blogs.
Sam Birt’s collection of collage prints are a cornucopia of beauty, cultural appreciation, pleasure and joy, while also revealing her deep humanity. Her images are easy to approach; they are a lure and as any good lure, they tug you, ever so gently, into a series of ideas, passions and values. It is this which the viewer may sense is transcendental.
Look closely at AFRICA. It is a centrifuge of riches with darts of differing red and aqua strips becoming alluring bodies. In our brooding world it is an effervescence of joy. It projects the music of sub-Saharan Africa: gaiety, smiles, bodies hurled around in dance or perhaps jumbled in a market.
CAMPAGNIA confuses me in that whilst I cannot easily read its content, I find it intriguing and deeply pleasing. This relationship between the look and the meaning of Sam’s images says to me that in part the classical thinkers were right to believe that formal elements can illicit the ‘beauty response’ because to encounter seductive form allows humans to see in the genius, skills and vision of the creators, their own possible perfectibility. Or at least, that as a species we may rise above our faulty behaviour.
This collage of Sam’s encompasses all the above: the beautiful landscapes, the floating futuristic vision/nightmare of a societal built mechanised floating world, and echoes of the idealist Russian revolutionary Constructivists, with their dreams of creating a beautiful, rational world.
In this way, Sam’s many images sing out about the joys and horrors of being human, as seen in FRAGMENTS and LONDON: deeply visceral presence of home and people assaulted by disintegration, or perhaps the carbonized scars of war and violence
The above opens another area of consideration in the definition of beauty. How does content (subject matter, narrative) play a role in beauty? This relationship between formal beauty and the needs of our psyches for stories is touched upon in Old Testament myths. Their God defined beauty in a way opposite that of the ancient Greek world view. In Acts 13:22 (written between 70 and 90 AD) it says: “After removing Saul, (God) made David their king. ... (He said) Rather, it should be that of your inner-self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God's sight.”
This Biblical story implies the second part of what I believe composes beauty; yes, it is about ideal forms, but those forms embraced with the ‘unfading beauty’ of the human spirit expressed as a narrative, which, to my mind, must play a part in the creation of what we find deeply moving in relation to beauty.
For me as a documentarist, I find MEN AND GODS amongst the most beautiful and moving of the collages. It is unequivocal in its care and empathy for the voiceless of our world.
At the same time, the equation between our bodies and our earth and the organic integration of people, animals, water and soil in MIGRATION is a forlorn siren’s call of loss in a world of Bolsonaros and Trumps.
There is so much more in this work. As a collection, it is a study-course in the value of art in society. Franz Kafka wrote, “If the book we are reading does not wake us, as with a fist hammering on our skull, why then do we read it?” If viewers engage sufficient curiosity to step into Sam’s images they will respond to her tapping on our unconsciousness. Sam’s work continues to ask questions, to demand that we think, to examine our world, as all fine art does.
PINK, as SPIRITS and UNDERWORLDS ask other questions, in particular about our sanity in an insane world of chaos and violence. Robert Reich recently wrote, “Maybe what people feel (worthlessness, insecurity, self-disdain) are valid descriptions of personal experience rather than symptoms of mental illness. Maybe we need to stop thinking about anxiety and depression as “disorders” and start regarding them as rational responses to a society that’s become ever more gruesomely disordered.” These images touch upon this probability.
It is excellent that the collage collection is being shown locally in an Italian space sympathetic to Sam’s beautiful images; they also deserve to have a broader audience, one in which a louder dialogue may occur in a country undergoing threatening changes.
The exhibition opening is on Saturday 15 October from 18:00
at Birrificio di Naon, Via Gabelli 12/A, 33080 Porica, PN
and runs through December
You can see more of Sam’s work here.