For Kurt Schwitters, MERZ was his manifesto. He explained it as “the combination of all conceivable materials for artistic purposes, and technically the principle of equal evaluation of the individual materials.” His intention was to give anything from a used bus ticket to a piece of wire found on the street “equal rights with paint.” MERZ liberated artists by declaring anything potential material for their art making and, to illustrate this concept, he made hundreds of collages which he called MERZ pictures. Such forward thinking led art historian Isabelle Ewig to call him the “Father of the fathers of Pop.” Really, any collage artist working today owes a debt of gratitude to Schwitters, who not only legitimized the medium, but also established a working practice and aesthetic that is the basis of many artists’ contemporary practice.
Schwitters’ liberation of material was revolutionary to a world who thought of art as canvas, paint, and stone. In my work, however, I think very little of material. A child of the late 20th century, I grew up in a world where anything could be art and the true material of art was the idea. I think of Yves Klein having a spat with his gallery and declaring all of his paintings invisible. Or his Zones of Immaterial Pictorial Sensibility (1959–62) in which the artist traded empty spaces in Paris for pieces of gold. If the buyer agreed to burn the certificate, Klein would throw half the gold into the Seine to restore the natural order. These are forms of ritual play, gestures no different than Malevich’s Black Square or any work of art that asks the viewer to consider more than what they can literally see.
I speak about my work as an artist, as a writer, and as a culture worker, but I think of my work as contiguous parts whose gestalt, I hope, makes a grander point about the liberation of humanity. People tend to get what I mean when I say I am a writer or an artist, but culture worker is trickier. If my art uses paint and fragments of paper and my writing uses words, the material of culture work is the people you engage: other writers, academics, arts administrators, press agents, gallerists, and, of course, viewers and artists. My projects would be nothing without the communities of people involved…and there would be no point to any of it without those communities. Like Erykah Badu said, “We’re just emerging into a new state of being altogether.”
2019 was a transformative year for me. I’ve worked harder than I ever had and got farther than I’ve ever gone. As we start a new decade, and as I push on into middle age, the urgency to make some statements before I move on to another life becomes heightened. I think this is a normal part of aging, particularly when one has been lucky enough to spend much of their life engaged in vocational work. I will spend the first two months of 2020 in residency at MERZ Gallery in Sanquhar, Scotland where I plan to finish some texts that have been building up in me for a few years now. I am grateful for the privilege and want you to be part of it.
Since 2009, fellow Schwitterite David Rushton has been turning an old lemonade factory in rural Sanquhar into MERZ Gallery. He describes where he started, “Imagine a quarter acre plot of rubbish-strewn scrub-land in the centre of a small town. Something discarded and abandoned. It is divided by two rights of way to allow access to gardens serving two cottages along the eastern edge of the plot.” From this he has built a mixed gallery and studio space, a bothy for housing visiting artists, and a residency program to support their work at the site.” In parallel to Schwitters’ assembly of text on paper and his name ‘MERZ’ for a body of work, I thought there were resonances in adapting his approach and providing description to a small abandoned landscape imprinted with industrial and domestic histories, and that’s why I thought to call the site ‘MERZ’.” Schwitters took “the combination of all conceivable materials for artistic purposes” seriously and twice built immersive environments out of structures: MERZbau in Hanover and, later, the Elterwater MERZ Barn two-and-a-half hours south of Sanquhar in Langdale, Ambleside.
In preparing for the residency, I’ve been thinking how if Rushton could apply Schwitters’ philosophy to an old factory, I could apply it to my culture work. I often write about collage as a medium, a genre, and a community. More recently, I have been thinking of collage as a 21st century art movement. This is the idea I plan to explore while at MERZ Gallery. I invite you to join me and be part of the manifestation of the international collage community by sending a collage to MERZ Gallery. The collage will be documented and exhibited at the gallery in January and February. I will select one collage each day and share it online and via social media with a few words about how it connects to the work I am doing. And after the exhibition, the collage will become part of MERZ Gallery’s permanent collection, a forever stash of art marking the occasion that artists from all over the world manifested in Sanquhar. MERZ Gallery has agreed to maintain and care for the collection and to exhibit the collection in ten years, 2030, or give it to an organization that will do so.
Why? Because this is what we do in the collage community: we engage, we exchange, we manifest with one another. We emerge into a new state of being together. That is what makes art powerful. It connects us and takes us into the future.
Call to Artists
The original Call to Artists (SA143SW22EPM) is archived in the ephemera collection. It began, “Ric Kasini Kadour invites collage artists to submit a two-dimensional collage for inclusion in the Schwitters Army. There is no theme. If you’re a ripper, send him a ripped collage. If you’re a digital artist, print and send a digital work. If you’re a collaborator, send a collaboration. Send a collage that shows what kind of collage artist you are.”
Receiving & Processing the Artwork
Expecting around a hundred submissions, Kadour received two hundred works of art, each of which needed to be unpacked and documented. Quite amount of effort was made to sort out the delivery of the work and customs fees. The process was: open package, unpack collage; enter the information into the finding aid, assign id number; create a high-res image and a web image; make web page for the artwork; place the image and text in catalog; enter ephemera into finding aid, assign id numbers; email artist; and schedule social media post.
The Schwitters’ Army Collection of Collage Art
The artwork at MERZ Gallery is a permanent collection of international collage art curated by Ric Kasini Kadour in January and February 2020. The Collection is a survey of art by active collage artists in 2020. Artists who contributed artwork to the collection are Veterans of The Schwitters’ Army. The Collection lives at MERZ in Sanquhar, Scotland and online at the The Schwitters’ Army Website.
Schwitters’ Army Archive & Finding Aid
The finding aid enables an initial overview of the collection, links to images and additional archive information about the artist when available. It exists so that those interested in the collection can find items in the collection, learn more about the artists, and see examples of artwork from the collection. VISIT THE FINDING AID
The Schwitters’ Army Collection of Collage Art operates through a series of declarations issued by the Convenor, Curator and Representative of Schwitters’ Army Ric Kasini Kadour, V.S.A. These documents are signed and witnessed and generate ephemera which is placed in the archive. Declarations are both real documents and pieces of performance art in the vein of Yves Klein’s Zones of Immaterial Pictorial Sensibility. It is an act of history making by documenting an event and placing that documentation in archives.
“…and then the pandemic happened.” Kadour writes, “I returned to New Orleans at the end of February 2020. I celebrated Mardi Gras and the following week I found myself unexpectedly driving to Montreal, hoping to make it to the border before they closed it to entry. The pandemic left a number of key aspects of that project went unfinished. In 2022, we started to rectify that.”
World Collage Day 2020 in Sanquhar, Scotland
May 14, 2020. MERZ Gallery photographed each envelope received for Schwitters’ Army during Ric Kasini Kadour’s artist residency, January-February 2020. The images were made into a one-minute video which was posted on MERZ Gallery’s Instagram page. On World Collage Day, the doors of MERZ Gallery were opened to the street to reveal Julia Zinnbauer’s postcards celebrating postal and telephone communications, which are displayed in a purpose-built window in the shape of a red British telephone box. Postcards of Sanquhar by Kadour periodically replaced Zinnbauer’s postcards. By “opening the door”, the collage envelopes became part of “MERZ Inside:Outside”, in which work was displayed on the outside of the gallery for the duration of lockdown. MORE
In February 2020, David Rushton interviewed Ric Kasini Kadour about his residency. In October 2020, Rushton released a 24-minute documentary about the Schwitters’ Army Project. In the documentary, Kadour and Rushton discuss the theoretical underpinning of the project: how art history is made, how it is influenced by the market, and how Kurt Schwitters’ legacy continues to influence art making. “Collection building is a form of theatre, a performance in and of itself.”
On 8 April 2022, Kadour issued “Official Declaration regarding The Schwitters’ Army Reunion” and thus created the event. On Friday 9 September to 10 September 2022, The Schwitters’ Army Reunion Weekend is a gathering of Veterans of The Schwitters’ Army and their friends in Sanquhar, Scotland. On Friday, Veterans of Schwitters’ Army and their friends will have an informal reception at The Nithsdale Hotel in Sanquhar, Scotland. On Saturday, we will have brunch and then parade through town to MERZ Gallery where we will unveil a blue history plaque installed on the exterior of MERZ Gallery that commemorates The Schwitters’ Army. After some pomp and circumstance, we will spend the afternoon making collage and visiting the collection, which is in a secure location underneath MERZ Gallery. The collaborative collage, The Ritual, will be available for those who would like to contribute to it. Later that evening, we will return to The Nithsdale Hotel for an informal evening in the pub. EVENT WEBSITE
The Schwitters’ Army Book
In September 2022, Kolaj Institute will publish a book about the project. The Schwitters’ Army Book will contain essays about the project and a catalog of the artwork with commentary about the artists who are represented in the collection.