A funny image accompanied by a one-liner caption—it’s a form we know all too well. The internet meme is infinitely reproducible, mutable, and sharable: they're digital artifacts symptomatic of our current cut-and-paste culture.
But we’re not the first generation to cut and paste with wild abandon: in Europe in the 20s and 30s, photomontage became surreal art in the hands of practitioners like Hannah Höch, John Heartfield, and Raoul Hausmann; British artists took to collage from the 1960s on, from Pop Art’s Richard Hamilton to Punk’s Linder and Jamie Reid; San Francisco produced collage artists like Jess and Bruce Conner, associated with poetry and the Beat generation.
But here are some collages from the analogue cut-and-paste days that wouldn’t be out of place in the internet meme-sphere. Behold the dark humor of Helen Adam:
(PERHAPS NO ONE WILL NOTICE THEM.)
A society photo with some bats pasted in transforms this girl into a quivering debutante with a morbid obsession.
“I BLAME MOTHER.”
These demons disgorged from the bowels of Hell while a stern-looking Puritan woman intones, “I blame mother”—would sure make a great e-card.
WHERE ARE THE SNOWS
The caption on this one is a bit opaque, but the use of the kittehs is right on point for this day and age.
Helen Adam (1909-1993) was a Scottish poet, artist, contemporary to the Beats, active participant in the San Francisco Renaissance of the 1950s–60s, and eccentric kook with a penchant for turbans and amulets. Along with her collages, her poetry also seemed to belong to a different age. While her contemporaries were busy deconstructing formal poetry, she stubbornly adhered to the ballad format. Her mix of modern slang with antiquated lyric verse form had Allen Ginsburg scratching his head, but was totally post-modern before there was even post-modernism. Here she is singing a rhymed ballad about a junkie looking for a fix:
Adam’s collages are currently on view at the Pasadena Museum of California Art, in the magnificent exhibition An Opening of the Field: Jess, Robert Duncan, and Their Circle, which is on view until January 11.
(All images: Helen Adam, c. 1957–1959, Collage; The Poetry Collection of the University Libraries, University at Buffalo, The State University of New York; Photo: James A. Ulrich; Image at top: Bonny Charlie’s Gone Awa)