Jim Jarmusch’s small, eerie collages are all about faces. And about the bodies attached to those faces. And about what happens when faces get switched off onto other bodies. You could say that Jarmusch, ever the director, is engaging in exploratory casting. He wants to see Stanley Kubrick in the role of a golfer, and Nico as a Vegas crooner, and Jane Austen winding up on the mound, and Albert Einstein as a rock star, and Bernie Sanders as a dog. Andy Warhol, meanwhile, just goes ahead and casts himself in every role, turning all of them into “Andy Warhol.”
Personalities can transfer their qualities to other modes of life, and you are invited to imagine the results of the ensuing cognitive dissonance. When there is little discernible personality, or when parties have abandoned their personalities in favor of a position—political or legal or corporate or academic—they simply become their blather. You imagine that those thumbprints of text, sitting above shoulders, are excerpts from an endless gray ribbon of rhetoric that unspools continuously. And then there are those humans whose heads are empty, the same color as the mount. Since some are villains and some are heroes, that does not seem to carry a moral implication. Maybe they represent all those who suffer from stomach troubles.
Jarmusch’s canvases are tiny, but they encompass at least two hundred years of news, culture, and entertainment. Anything in our collective memory can be reconfigured at will. A line of jokers headed by Claude Monet step out in minidresses printed with the faces of the 1968 U.S. presidential candidates, simply because they can. The mood might be postapocalyptic; history is over and it is now time to swap out its parts, looking for a better fit. We can run rampant all over the stage of what used to be called civilization. At last even ciphers and smiley faces and cocker spaniels can become celebrated heroes and beauties!
The modest proportions of Jarmusch’s collages also make them pass for news, in the old sense: murky little gray pictures on some inner page of the newspaper, where the photography conveys not so much a slice of life as a sense of ritual. Under those circumstances, if a sufficient number of men in suits are crowded together it really doesn’t matter to your scanning eye whether they are legislators or mafiosi—they are enacting importance, and they do so every day regardless of the weather. Seeing Jarmusch’s collages is like flipping through the Daily Bugle and suddenly realizing that the paper has been taken over by pranksters who are giving you the real news: those figures might wear suits but they are actually cocker spaniels! Your vision has been corrected. You are no longer semiconsciously scanning now, but sitting upright and paying attention. The world reveals itself for what it really is.
Luc Sante’s books include Low Life, The Factory of Facts, Kill All Your Darlings, The Other Paris, and Maybe the People Would Be the Times. He teaches at Bard College.
Jim Jarmusch is a film director, writer, musician, producer, and artist. A prominent figure in independent cinema, his notable films include Stranger than Paradise (1984), Down By Law (1986), Dead Man (1999), Broken Flowers (2005), and Only Lovers Left Alive (2013). Some Collages is his first book of collage artwork.
An excerpt from Some Collages, by Jim Jarmusch, published by Anthology Editions. Jarmusch will also present his first solo show of these collages at James Fuentes Gallery, September 29 through October 31, 2021.