In the summer of 2011, I was invited by the artist Laura "Lola" Baltzell to contribute a collage to her mammoth project to create a collage for every single page of her old Russian-language edition of War and Peace, a novel that was very dear to here. She was posting all of the pieces online on her wonderful site The War and Peace Project and you can see the hundreds and hundreds of collages that Lola, her "Team Tolstoy," and their assorted collaborators put together.
From her site, here is a bit of an explanation as to the genesis of the project: In late 2009, Laura "Lola" Baltzell, initiated a “crazy and enticing” collaborative art project: making a collage from each page of her old Russian edition of Tolstoy’s War and Peace. The War and Peace Project, when complete, will include more than 750 individual collages.
Each collage is 7 inches tall and 5 inches wide, made on velum paper, and incorporates a page of Tolstoy’s Russian text along with images, text, maps torn and cut from old books, guides, newspapers and a variety of other materials.
Ms. Baltzell and her project partner, Lynn Waskelis, have assembled a small group of friends dubbed “Team Tolstoy.” Team members are Lucy Arrington, Otto Mayr, Lucy Zahner Montgomery, Emma Rhodes, Adrienne Wetmore. Otto Mayr who lives in Berlin is the team’s long-distance participant. From time to time the group invites guest artists to contribute a collage. Each artist is free to use their own style, yet the individual pieces are unified by use of the Russian text as well as from working side by side throughout the process.
There are few rules: each piece must use at least one word of the original text; the artist may not go back and touch up or re-do any collage. Each artist is free to respond to the story line or not. The group is delighted to view their project as a "loose and baggy monster", a term Henry James used to describe War and Peace. “It’s a mash-up of personal bits and random detritus washed up from the universe of print” says team member Lynn Waskelis.
For the team, it’s been a wonderfully unexpected and rewarding collaboration that has posed some pithy questions, such as: What business do we have ripping apart Tolstoy? Why War and Peace? What does it mean, if we’re not exactly illustrating this classic? What relationship do each of us establish with its text and the words and images? Is the effort academic? Artistic? Destructive? The team is pleased to admit that they’re not in complete harmony regarding these issues. It’s what keeps the whole thing interesting.
I loved this challenged because I have never read War and Peace and I remain quite unfamiliar with a great deal of Russian literature but this gave me a chance to sort of introduce myself to it. Lola sent me an envelope of raw materials I could use for the collage as well as the page from the novel and some very brief background. I did some research online, finding her recommended full text translation, and familiarized myself with some of the themes and ideas of the novel and of my specific page.
Below is my first contribution, and this post on the War and Peace Project blog explains some of my thinking behind the piece. I think you'll see some familiar visual symbols here.
4 inches by 7 inches
acrylic paint, collage and ink on found paper
July 13, 2011