Sketchbook Artist Profile: Q&A with allison anne
Posted February 14th, 2021 by Blaine Garrett
The local collage artist discusses the state of the medium, sourcing materials, and community.
allison anne (they/them) is a Minneapolis-based collagist, mail artist, zinemaker, and graphic designer. Their practice of self-directed experimentation with many traditional and digital media is influenced by an education in American Studies at the University of Minnesota, where they received a Bachelor of Arts degree that also focused on Gender, Women, and Sexuality Studies. allison’s myriad of interests and background create a personal perspective often expressed through recycled, found, and reclaimed materials. They are an active member of the International Union of Mail-Artists and a founding member of Twin Cities Collage Collective, a group which endeavors to expand access to and interest in collage in Minneapolis-Saint Paul and beyond.
allison’s focus on analog paper collage is a constantly evolving exploration of personal experiences through the reconstitution and rearranging of various printed media and ephemera. By recontexualizing images and materials, the artist creates complex, textural, and intuitive abstractions and configurations that consciously engage with themes of identity, physical self, and gender as they relate to the personal, the political, and the sociocultural. Prioritizing sustainability and that which is left behind, allison frequently works with rescued, found or recycled materials, using collage and correspondence art as ways to explore the intersections and interactions between context, materiality, and creativity.
allison anne: At the risk of sounding cliché, it’s something I’ve always been interested in. My mom has a significant arts background, having taught art classes before moving towards elementary education. I had a lot of exposure to various things through her college art history textbooks and the variety of materials found in my basement growing up. I also spent a lot of time at various museums with my dad while growing up, and started to form fairly strong opinions about various types of art early on. Most of those opinions have since evolved, but it is pretty neat to have vivid memories of seeing things like Claes Oldenburg soft sculptures at the Walker Art Center as a kid, and the opportunity to revisit those again throughout my life. I loved to draw and experiment with paper and recycled household materials to make different things as a young kid. I was fascinated by picture book illustration (Trina Schart Hyman and Leo & Diane Dillon come to mind), cat illustrations by Louis Wain and Edward Gorey, that kind of thing. I wanted to illustrate books too, but in the end, that didn’t really end up sticking with me. The earliest collages I can remember being interested in was the sleeve for The Smashing Pumpkins’ album “Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness” with it’s surreal, detailed Victorian ephemera-based collages by John Craig, but I don’t think I put much stock in collage as a medium overall until I was older.
As a founding member of the Twin Cities Collage Collective, could you tell us about the group and what they've been up to?
Twin Cities Collage Collective is a group of collage artists based in Minneapolis/St. Paul that formed in late 2018. Currently, we have eight members, and before the pandemic, were primarily focused on creating in-person opportunities for anyone interested in the medium of collage to experiment with it and connect with others. As our mission states, we strive to provide an inclusive, safe space to support one another and bring attention to collage as an art form. We aim to provide a forum to share ideas, techniques, and our work, and intend to be a positive force in the world of collage, its history, and cultivation. We took a bit of a hiatus during the pandemic, but are gearing up again. Recently, we started re-posting work from the global collage community on Instagram (use #twincitiescollagecollective if you’d like to participate) and have a few other announcements coming soon, such as a Discord server and a World Collage Day project. Check out @twincitiescollagecollective on Instagram or twincitiescollagecollective.com to keep up with us.
Where do you source your materials from?
All over the place, ha! Pre-pandemic, a lot of my material came from thrift stores, garage sales and other secondhand sources. I’ve always enjoyed that kind of search for odd treasure. Something I love about collage is that it only gets better and better with community in every way imaginable. Sharing or trading materials with other artists via mail, swapping, and very thoughtful and generous donations from folks in the community. Folks will contact me about various books, paper, or ephemera that they are offloading to see if I want to take it, which is especially helpful as Twin Cities Collage Collective aims to provide collage material at our (pre-pandemic) meetups to address the potential barrier of collage material acquisition as a challenge to getting involved with the medium. We’re currently working on some other ways to redistribute material into the community, so stay tuned. When I worked on my pieces for the sketchbook project, I used some materials that you had previously passed to me in the piece Drill 2. That’s another element of collage that I love: the layering of experiences, of memory and community.
There’s been a lot of attention on mail art during the pandemic. Why do you think that is?
Two main things come to mind. First, it prioritizes connection regardless of distance, and it thrives outside of institutions like galleries or museums. Mail art has always pushed back against that kind of structure, and is highly community-centric. There is also an intimacy or care present in correspondence and/or mail art that other manners of modern communication lack. There’s an investment of time, of intention. And while there’s plenty of exchanging with complete strangers in the mail art community, I’ve always been struck by the extension of creativity and care present in it.
When I discovered mail art as a community and practice beyond making weird correspondence for friends, I was experiencing a lot of isolation resulting from an abusive relationship. Mail art felt expansive in expression and communication, something that was beyond the surveillance and control of my then-partner, and that experience solidified my personal feelings about the medium and community as a site of significant personal and creative connection. It’s really great that others have found ways to get involved with it during the pandemic, and are using it to explore new ideas and connections outside more ‘traditional’ venues for sharing artwork.
Mail art postcards: Compartment 2 (front) & Compartment 3 (back) Walls, collage, décollage, and vintage carbon transfer on recycled paperboard, approx 6"x4", 2021
Collage has been gaining a lot of visibility these last few years. There are several collage artists in the sketchbook project. Do you see the medium becoming more accepted by the world of fine art?
This is an interesting question, and the short answer is yes, but there are so many layers to it. Historically, collage and photomontage have not been seen as an especially "fine" art, but it’s dependent on the context of what’s being discussed, and how fine art is being defined. Collage has certainly risen in visibility, and it does seem like there is a wider interest in it from galleries and publications these days. Collagists are good at creating their own spaces for their art, too. There's so much community, and various collage groups that exist all over the world. The medium lends itself well to self-publishing in zine and book format, and there are many publications that are exploring it, such as Cut Me Up Magazine, Plastik Comb Magazine, Oltre Collage Fanzine, and Kolaj Magazine. Every February, there’s a project from Edinburgh Collage Collective and the Scandinavian Collage Museum called Februllage. Artists from all over the world participate, and it really shows how vastly talented and welcoming the collage community is. Personally, whether the medium is accepted as a fine art or not isn’t much of a concern, because the community and accessibility aspects are more of a priority. The arts are a powerful way to connect communities, to teach and learn, to prioritize and work towards social justice. Expanding awareness of collage as a medium and a means of connection are personal goals, as well as a driving factor behind Twin Cities College Collective.
dream insert, paper collage, 8.5"x11", 2020
How did you get involved in the Sketchbook Project? Did it impact or otherwise fit into your pandemic art practice?
My friend Stacey (stace of spades) who is also featured in the project, mentioned early on that she was working in a collaborative sketchbook organized by MPLSART. You reached out, and of course I wanted to get involved! The concept of a local creative project creating some nearness and interaction at a time of isolation within our local arts community was really exciting to me. In terms of how it fit into my overall pandemic art practice, artmaking has been my main focus in this period of isolation, especially after becoming unemployed. Finding ways to work collaboratively during a period where the vast majority of my time is spent alone has been really great. There’s long been an element of that present in what I do because of my involvement with mail art and the general interest in collaboration that many collage artists share, but the opportunity to be involved with the sketchbook project has been a chance to meaningfully connect with many artists in a variety of mediums in the Twin Cities.
Mouldered, paper collage, 8.5"x11", 2020
Once the pandemic is over and it's safe to venture out once again, what is something you are looking forward to?
I’ve really been missing opportunities to engage with art and other creative folks face-to-face. A lot of what Twin Cities Collage Collective has been up to the past few years has hinged on getting together — talking, making, exploring. Those types of connections are something I’ve been missing, and am really looking forward to starting up again in the future. I miss that freedom of movement without the constant risk assessment — just walking around with a coffee, visiting museums and other arts spaces, looking, investigating, talking to folks.
How can people support you and your work?
A great way to support my work is by following and interacting with it on social media, especially Instagram. It’s the main place where new work is posted, and is the easiest place to find me. There’s a really vibrant collage community on Instagram! If you are interested in purchasing my work, I have an online shop for original works and zines as well as a print shop. There’s also an option to subscribe to exclusive zines and other items if getting some creative monthly snail mail captures your interest! Finally, keeping an eye on Twin Cities Collage Collective and connecting with us is a good way to get involved with the collage community both locally and globally. ♦
allison anne. Photo courtesy of the artist.