A ramble on the Guerilla Art of Collage

Joe Orton collage

Prof. David Ferry’s recent lectures which I have been attending have been exploring the subject of collaging in art with the intention of disfiguring or even hijacking the original intentions of the images being used to create the collage. David’s title for his module is borrowed from an old Daily Mirror headline, ‘Gorilla in the Roses’. The article covered the story concerning artists and playwrites Joe Orton and Kenneth Hariwell, who in 1959 were caught edititing the dustjackets of books temporarily stolen from their local public libraries. One such book ‘Collin’s guide to Roses’ had a gorilla’s image stuck in the centre of the cover. The pair were caught in 1962 and charged with malicious damage (concerning over seventy books). They each served 6 months in prison.

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‘Libraries might as well not exist; they’ve got endless shelves for rubbish and hardly any space for good books.’ Orton, 1967.

The extreme sentencing for such a mild crime of expression puts me in mind of more recent Guerilla Art. Guerilla Art as I understand it is essentially street graffiti which interacts or answers to it’s surrounding environment. A good example of this is Banksy’s mural on the gaza strip wall, an illustrated hole showing a grass much greener on the other side. Raising awareness of a horrible situation through thoughtfully situated illustrations, not without risk I think.

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Outside of Aberystwyth, (which I can roughly describe as my home town) there has been a bright red chunk of wall graffitied with the words ‘Cofiwch Tryweryn’ (in english: Remember Tryweryn). The words have been there since the sixties, when the people of a small welsh village were essentially kicked out of their homes to make way for a damn that would flood their land, in order to supply water for Liverpool. It is important, I think to mention that there was a lot more disparity between the Welsh and English then and so this was more obviously a case of the big dog shitting on the lower nation whist taking it’s resources. tryweryn
At the end of this post I’ll attach a link to a Walesonline article which whilst describing what the phrase ‘Cofiwch Tryweryn’ signifies, is firstly the reporting of the ‘Cofiwch Tryweryn’ graffiti having been defaced. The defacing doesn’t have any apparent political meaning to argue against the artefact, it seems to just be the defacing of it for it’s own attention’s sake. I would say the most meaning that the desecration could possibly have is that younger people don’t feel involved in the politics that it evokes. It’s hard to defend that mentality as being the reason behind the desecration of something that carries so much weight.

The difference between Banksy’s work on the wall in Gaza, and the defaced ‘Cofiwch Tryweryn’ wall is that the first is art, commenting on the sadness of a dire situation, collaging place and content to create discussion. The second is a reminder of recent oppression, in a country that has been swallowed up by another and is eager to forget it. Joe Orton’s defacing of library books comes from a different world to the examples that I’ve been describing. The dull books of a library were turned into playground toys for creativity, an idea not too obviously dangerous. Being thrown in prison for it (it’s likely being gay also helped) made his collages for me, worth taking an interest.

Relevant BBC article: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-north-west-wales-21388585
Wales online article: http://www.walesonline.co.uk/news/wales-news/vandals-deface-famous-cofiwch-dryweryn-6740008

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