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Pleasure-y Guilts: Collaging

I spend a lot of money every month on damaged second-hand books and glossy magazines, and I don’t keep any of them: I just tear them, cut into them, and throw the rest of them away. Wine in hand, trashy series playing in the background, I cut out sentences, rearrange them, make the world make sense again. It started as a way to collect recipes, extracts from borrowed books I wanted to keep track of, but little by little, images took over and spread over the notebooks.

Those magazines, ones that have been imprinting my brain since age 7, have been absorbed in a crooked way. I have no sense of fashion nor of domesticity, but I dive with great pleasure in those lakes of light absurdities. They teach me nothing concrete; somehow, collaging, I remain impermeable. But this exercise also means more. It connects light meanings and deep ones, over material that’s supposed to be futile but feels anything but.

Through my short-lived academic career, I was always fascinated by what magazines and romances (both often despised) meant to their readers. They manifest a specific, if artificial vibrancy of their times. Collaging spins a web of parallel, hidden history. Simple rules of good conduct and fashion become staples of everyday fights for composure and strength, when you bring together images and hidden meanings.

In collages, sentences over images also take on a surrealistic meaning: “Sometimes, I’d like to be a dog,”  “Not lonely together,” “fried foods anger the blood,” pop corn laid over tombstones, Toulouse Lautrec shooting at spiders. When nothing makes sense in the outside world, everything seems to fall into place with magic coherence in those haphazard assemblies.

These images carry me over as I sit down at my desk, reneging on anything useful: while I’m at work on a collage, poring over magazines in a trancelike state, nothing else can be demanded of me. The absurdity of the task is my greatest pleasure, with very little guilt involved. I have cultivated no skills for hosting, sewing, stitching, cooking, no athletic gifts: this one is purely hedonistic and selfish. It brings no pleasure to anyone but me, promises no satisfaction, no productivity goal. They’re no records: every couple of years, I pick up the old notebooks, peruse them, then tear them apart. None of this was meant to keep.

Marguerite Duras wrote that some women keep everything for later, for others, for the children, while other women free themselves of that custodian task by throwing everything away. I cut everything up. What’s left is not what Duras describes: “the house lights up, tables available again, smooth, free, all traces erased.” A collage is the opposite of a trace erased. But still I buy another stack of material, reveling in the destroying, the sorting, the forgetting.


Tiphaine Monange, tearing material life apart.

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