Katrien De Blauwer calls herself a ‘photographer without a camera’. Her work is photomontage, but very different from dada pioneers Hannah Hoch, Raoul Hausmann, John Heartfield’s anti-Nazi protest, or John Stezaker’s spliced movie stars and other strange juxtapositions.
There’s nothing overtly clever or sophisticated on the surface of De Blauwer’s work. Black-and-white pictures are cut out of old magazines and books and layered together with faded, torn, rough paper and cardboard, sometimes interspresed with flat planes of black or red. These materials are as much part of the finished work as the photos themselves.
Her technique is not intricate or meticulous, but blatantly disclocated. It’s often as simple as cutting a picture in half and reversing the position of the two pieces. There’s nothing to it, but somehow the effect is invariably uncanny, creating a lacuna within the image, a hole at its heart.
Opening the book feels like entering and exploring a long forgotten archive, perhaps an ancestor’s legacy found in a box in an attic. Old memories are reconfigured, like intersecting reflections in a series of mirrors or the unbound pages of magazines spread loose.
De Blauwer puts parts of human bodies into relationships with trees or manmade structures that complete them, transforming people into things half-human, spliced with their surroundings. Shadows and silhouettes suggest traces and fragments of secret identities.
Inexplicable spatial relationships abound, with hints of a narrative, its sequence out of joint, like rearranged panels of a comic strip. In a series of disconnections, repetitions and reversals, people strike mirrored poses and gestures that somehow just fail to connect with each other.
De Blauwer includes fragments of text, which might be memoir, fiction or script. The mind works to complete a story or a picture from assembled fragments like these, trying to make sense of everything.
The book also contains a central section of reproductions of cards, envelopes, wallpaper, patterns, and cuttings of text in foreign languages, all brown and decayed, date-stamped with the artist’s name like filed correspondence. There’s few scattered full page images as well, in light grey tones, ghostly, faintly evocative.
The connection with Italian film director Michelangelo Antonioni is lost on me, but of course there’s always the resonance of photomontage with the montage of film editing. Film scripts and photomontage both invite further work by others. You can take them apart and rearrange them.
Photomontage always feels incomplete because you can see how it was put together from fragments of other work, found material. It’s fundamentally unstable because its cuts and joins remain visible. Photomontage forces the viewer to conceive of the original context of the material as well as further potential contexts.
I do not want to disappear… is a thick, dense book, building piece by piece into a kind of labyrinth to get lost inside. With a low-key surrealist tone, and its variety of visual tricks it evades labels and interpretations. It remains a deep, unsolvable mystery.