Introducing: Frederikke Houman, Collage Artist
Arts Editor Fran Lowe spoke to up-and-coming collage artist Frederikke Houman about her style of work, her intentions, and why we need propaganda more than art these days.
If I one day make someone sick from one of my collages I know I’m doing something right
Frederikke Houman is a London-based collage artist, who uses stirring, often shocking imagery in her work in order to force the viewer to ask questions of what they are looking at, but also of the world they live in. She clashes images of vintage erotica with socio-political statements, juxtaposing unexpected elements in provocative and unusual ways.
“I don’t really see it as art, or see myself as an artist really. I think it’s more taken the direction of propaganda, which I think we need more than art at the moment. It depends on who is looking at the images though, but I think kids from my generation right now can look at the collages and instantly understand the underlying message of sexuality, conflict, eco awareness and existential struggles. They evoke sensory reactions similar to that of street art and personal propaganda rather than that of fine art pieces, which I think is more relevant to us today than art for the sake of beauty. The eternal struggle of freedom of speech for people my age in a society of ever-growing surveillance means that there is a demand for modest propaganda so I think I’m just testing the waters for how far art can go without being labeled a menace or abrasive.”
Indeed, Houman’s work does seem particularly relevant for the now; for people struggling to make sense of the world around them; for millennials faced with the seemingly impossible task of making lives for themselves in a world that our parents’ generation has not made very welcoming. Her work speaks of economic meltdown, sex, war, culture, and points out its flaws. In looking at Houman’s collages, the body’s knee-jerk response is frequently to laugh; perhaps it’s so we don’t cry instead.
I’m just testing the waters for how far art can go without being labeled a menace or abrasive
The fact that Houman’s works are collages makes her propaganda points all the more poignant: these aren’t images that she has made up. Instead, she has plucked them directly from the world around her, mashing them up into something new.
“My work practice is organic and completely unplanned. I struggle trying to create commission pieces for bands or answer to anything brief-led. I’m working on it but it doesn’t feel natural to force the imagery. I’ve never started out with an idea, I work backwards and if I’m happy with them I know that they have the right level of subtle aggressiveness.”
“My art practice has developed over the past few years. In the beginning I was approaching collage with the intention to create picturesque scenery, using collage as a traditional art form similar to drawing and painting, being less conceptual and more skill-based. Somewhere along the way I changed direction and concentrated on developing collage in a more conceptual way, similar to the intentions behind conceptual work and street art, where the technical skill is irrelevant to the overriding message. I think this is where my collages are different from others out there, I’m not making pretty art to celebrate myself. Someone once told me to “make them vomit” through my art and I think I’ve kind of stuck to that. If I one day make someone sick from one of my collages I know I’m doing something right.”
Houman’s work practice is refreshing in a world where so much of art- and indeed life- is moving towards a predominantly digital future. Her collages, with their old-fashioned saturated colours and, for want of a better word, ‘retro’ look, are almost flashbacks into the previous century.
“I work raw and organically and only use recycled books and a scalpel and don’t edit using computer programs. The opportunities are endless once you start using all the incredible programs available out there but sometimes it’s a good thing to limit yourself within a certain realm of opportunity and I like having the actual physical piece.”
“I never feel like I am wasting my time when I’m producing collages, a realization I had which made me want to continue collaging. Often I find when I’m drawing or painting I feel like I am spending pointless hours illustrating something, whereas with collage work they keep giving because of the concentration on communication rather than impressive technical skill. I feel like I’m giving something back when I create them, rather than celebrating myself as an independent artist. They’re for you, not me.”
If Houman’s collages are, as she says, for me as the viewer rather than for her, then I suppose it’s time I put my thoughts forward: personally, on an initial viewing, I considered much of her work to have underlying feminist statements. For me, the juxtaposition of images of naked women, taken out of their sexualised context, with humorous settings, only points out the ridiculousness of these images in the first place. However, as Houman writes, these collages are for the viewer to decide upon, so my opinion, as a fairly loud feminist, might well be different to yours. She says herself:
“I think people see my work and instantly assume I’m a feminist but I don’t want to label myself, I think the feminist movement sometimes backfires because of using that label and puts women back into the submissive position. Also, everyone loves a naked woman but if I used naked men instead the pieces would take on a whole new level of aggressiveness, so it’s all a constant balance.”
I feel like I’m giving something back, rather than celebrating myself as an independent artist. They’re for you, not me.
The images are undeniably sexed. The white splatters that adorn some of them imply only one thing; again, the viewer doesn’t know whether to laugh or cry. Houman does not shy away from boobs; in a society that requires the “Free the Nipple” campaign, it’s actually surprising to see so many nipples gathered in one place that isn’t a porn site. And that’s just it. Sex is all over Houman’s work, and yet it’s not porn. If anything, it’s the opposite, if there can be an opposite to porn, with sexual images taken out of their porny context and reshaped to say something new.
Cum-stains aside, however, I believe that there is a message in Houman’s work for everyone: she deliberately twists images that we do not expect, aiming to shock, because so often shock is the only way to get a message through.
“The juxtaposition of subject matter in my work is really important. They are borderline childish yet adult, and both serene yet aggressive. The selective combination of imagery is a simple tool which is often surprisingly effective, most of my works are just two images combined but can still have a powerful message.”
Houman’s work asks us what we make of the society we are in: are we happy to sit back and watch as the things that she so explicitly demonstrates in her work happen? Are we okay with that? Or are we going to get off our objectified, capitalist arses and do something about it? She’s right: it certainly is propaganda, but for me, that doesn’t stop it from being art.
And to all the people who deny that there is any skill behind what she does? As she has said, is the skill in art in sketching for hours to reproduce something realistic, something that already exists? Or is the skill in creating something new, something that actually makes its viewer stop and think for a moment? To anyone who says “Well, I could have done that,” what’s her answer? “You didn’t.”
Houman is an inspiring and refreshing young artist; check out some more of her excellent work below:
All images reproduced with the kind permission of Frederikke Houman. For more, check out her website.