Artist Selena Kimball, who works primarily in the medium of photo collage, operates at the intersection of the visual arts and the social sciences. Her large-scale wall pieces are usually made up of materials from a single documentary source—a book, a website, or a manuscript that she has extensively researched. In addition to her studio output, Kimball has collaborated on films with the visual anthropologist Alyssa Grossman and on collage novels with the art historian Agnieszka Taborska. Here, Tricycle interviews Kimball about her current project, “The Flowers of J. F. Rock,” which was inspired by photographs of Tibet from the 1920s and ’30s.

The first piece of yours I ever encountered, in 2011, was an enormous, irregular, mostly white field of glued-together scraps of glossy paper, in the middle of which fragments of black-and-white photographs formed a kind of scribble. It knocked me out with its scale, its sheen, its tactility, its calligraphic qualities, and most of all, its mysteriousness—what was it? Untitled (Phenomena of Materialization 1923), 2011, was a collage made of the photographic contents of the book Phenomena of Materialization by Baron Von Shrenck Notzig. which was first published in 1914. It documented, through notes and photographs, a series of séances conducted by a female French medium. 

The first epic collage I ever made was created out of the photo pages from three copies of the 1914 edition of that book. The collage you saw was the second I made from it, and is from the 1923 edition. And there is always a second set of found material that I’m looking at when I make a piece, so that scribble in the middle of the work was something I saw once on a bathroom wall.

Do all of your collages begin with something in the real world? Yes, something other than my own subjectivity. This is related to my attempt to find a middle ground between art and ethnography. For me it is important that there is a real subject, even if it is filtered through my own experience. I can’t imagine doing studio work without that. It allows me to get outside myself.

And your current projects? At the moment I’m working on two series of collages concurrently. The first series, “Night Vision,” uses images from blogs written by US Army personnel. The most interesting pictures on these blogs are posted by official Army photographers—not embedded journalists, but soldiers on the ground. Each of the “Night Vision” collages reconstitutes the form of the Hindu Kush as seen in a black-and-white photograph from the 1940s. 

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