Writer Victoria Lane / Photographer Connor Pope
In the early years of the 20th Century, collage gained prominence as an artistic medium as a way of reflecting the rise of biassed political narratives in the media in an increasingly fractured and fragmented society – sound familiar?
In Triple One Five’s takeover of Artefact Gallery in Stirchley, we see collage return to its anarchic, satirical roots in an explosive and irreverent fashion.
Triple One Five are a Birmingham based collective of four artists: Adam Wynn, Ken Banks, John Glennon, and Byron Jackson – whose entire oeuvre consists of satirical works created solely from words and images cut from the daily free tabloid, Metro. What started as an Instagram page evolved into a monthly zine which has now culminated in this show.
But why collage? “It’s like the hip hop of art,” Triple One Five explains to us on the show’s buzzing opening night. “It’s a way of taking something fully formed, a ready made object, then remixing and repurposing it to form something new.”
Triple One Five’s satirical works hark back to origins of collage championed by artistic movements such as Surrealism and Dadaism, whose collages poked holes in capitalist and right wing media narratives through absurdist humour.
It may not come as a surprise that Metro, most commonly found strewn on the floors of buses and trains nationwide, is the most widely read newspaper in the UK. Due to the background presence of Metro in our lives, Triple One Five suspect that we may not be fully interrogating the political motivations of the material we are reading on our way to work every day.
Whilst the paper may officially make claims about its political impartiality, its ownership by the publishers of the decidedly right-wing Daily Mail may raise more than a few eyebrows.
By remixing and reforming Metro’s images and words to dance to their own tune, Triple One Five are shining a spotlight on issues that may have been buried by mainstream media, such as successive scandals and dodgy funding – reclaiming the narrative by highlighting that hidden motivations and agendas the publishers and writers of Metro might be trying to obscure.
There’s a particular emphasis on the freshness of pieces as well. Each artwork is a direct reaction to the previous week’s Metro – something the artists are keen to describe as a way of ‘making sense of the chaos’ of contemporary politics.
Upon entering the exhibition space, the viewer is confronted with a dazzling array of pieces from the collective’s first five years. Over 100 pieces are eclectically hung together against the pop of the yellow gallery walls. The impression is that of recognisable pop figures and politicians (many of whom have since resigned in disgrace) being paraded into a conga line of corruption, callousness, and incompetence.
As a collection of artworks, the overall impression is a damning indictment of the last five years of Conservative rule.
The exhibition is not ordered by time period nor topic. Collages with strong political messages hang next to pieces of a more light-hearted and humorous nature, which particularly highlights the absurdity of contemporary politics.
For example, an impossibly long legged Peter Crouch hangs next to a piece featuring the faces of Putin, Adolf Hitler, and Ed Sheeran imposed on each other to form a sort of hellish boy band.
The absurdist juxtaposition of contemporary events remixed with elements of silliness and playfulness means that despite the heavy subject matter, the artwork never feels either overbearing or depressing.
One of the most pressing concerns within the art world is that the realm of visual art is fast becoming increasingly exclusive and elitist as marginalised people are being priced out of participation. This show opens at a time when art is being increasingly erased from the UK curriculum and only 12% of people working in the arts originate from working class backgrounds.
However, accessibility to art is important for Triple One Five, with one member of the collective having no previous artistic experience before their foray into collage. Which further makes their show at Artefact Gallery feel particularly subversive in reclaiming visual art as a rebellious medium.
This is also exemplified by the Metro collaging workshop held at Artefact the day following the show’s opening night. To create a collage, the aspiring satirist needs no previous artistic experience – just an idea, some scissors, a pritt-stick, and a little bit of politically charged rage.
The images and words used in the making process are completely free, and use of Metro in this way feels incendiary – a way to use the establishment’s own weapons against them.
What’s next for Triple One Five? “We may put together to take out an advert in Metro so we can remix our own advert,” they laugh. Keep an eye out for that on your next commute.
Triple One Five’s exhibition is free to visit at Artefact Projects in Stirchley from 27 January – 27 February 2023
For more on Triple One Five go to: www.instagram.com/tripleonefive
For more on Artefact go to: www.artefactstirchley.co.uk