Höch used collage to take apart common visuals of human and natural life, and then reassembled the imagery to communicate outwardly what was in her inner soul. Some work featured in the Hannah Höch exhibition was darker than others and some pieces presented a personal playfulness that cannot be imitated; the Hannah Höch exhibition was the first collage exhibition that I have entered and found the audience giggling sweetly.
On show in the first Gallery space were drawings, illustrations, collages, and prints. All collages on display varied in size, however, none seemed bigger than 30cm by 40cm. Mixed media collages included mediums such as Lino prints/Lots of torn paper/reed pen drawing/gouache/watercolour/ink & metallic foil.
In 1918 Höch proclaimed that the purpose of art was not to ‘decorate’ or replicate reality but to act on behalf of the spirit. To me her spirit revealed the deconstruction and reconstruction of visuals specifically relating to textiles, fashion, embroidery, geometric pattern, organic form, human body parts (particularly women) and animals. The colour range commonly used by Hoch were variations of cream, blue, grey, brown, orange, red and khaki.
In Höch’s pattern based collages she was experimental with repetition, both with design and composition; a good example of this is Rohrfeder collage (Reed Pen Collage) 1922.
However, most of the work displayed in the first gallery were that of narrative; Höch was a storyteller with a wild and fantastic imagination. I found myself laughing out loud to scenes she had set with dreamlike themes and ideas such as flying characters, friendships between unusual creatures, Angels and Sea serpents. Höch used a great deal of smiles and expressive eyes which is how she attained such humour. I was fascinated with how she could create such intense human expression with few pieces of image. Höch’s work appears to have been motivated by character building.
Höch was rebellious and controversial, she brought to the foreground subjects like sexuality, gender, and race. She questioned these subjects with her character building, visually breaking down what was happening in reality and setting a new scene so that a viewer could see the situation from a different perspective. Höch stated ‘ I am a human being, but on the strength of my imagination – tied as it is - I can be a bridge’ she wanted to ‘blur the firm borders’ that we as human beings have created and open minds to different points of view; Höch encouraged empathy. Höch was able to make her work relevant by touching upon politics and satire whilst drawing upon a creative playfulness; a collection of imagery that defines what makes the human race interesting.
A piece that I found very powerful was Mischling (half-caste) 1924, I thought it effective and intelligent composition. Using one small piece of another image, Höch very powerfully conveyed that, though the skin is a different colour, as a whole it is still one human face. Hoch literally and effectively distilled this message into its simplest form. For us, the audience, it is black and white.
The next gallery space held Hoch’s scrapbooks containing imagery she collected between 1933 till the end of the war in 1945. In those twelve years Höch experienced a great deal of personal hardship and artistic decline. The nature of Höch’s work incriminated her under the Nazi reign; Höch moved to Berlin and hid from public life. She found peace in her scrapbooks, collecting mass media images of interest. Images included; children, flowers, women, cats, flying birds, mountains, dancing, lightning, naked women, mothers and babies, death, and steps in the sand. The album is a visual poetry of life, creating a great sense of happiness and so acting as a reminder of the beauty that existed at such a dark time.
The last gallery exhibited work from 1945 till the end of her life in 1978. On the 1st of May 1945 Höch wrote ‘In my soul there is calmness, such as I haven’t felt for many years’. The first piece of work I saw was Never keep both feet on the ground (1940) and I felt relieved that Höch, with the use of collage, had recovered her creative freedom - a human right. This piece was one of few that was most like her earlier work.
After the war her work seemed like an explosion of her compression, she began to describe her work as Fantastic art. Höch stated ‘Fantastic Art has always taken up the position between the world of ideas and the real world. It reflects the tension between the two, the degree and nature of their non-congruence’.
With Fantastic Art Höch danced across the fine line between reality and a dream world until it disappeared completely. I would describe the collages exhibited in the last gallery space as abstract or surreal, focussing on aesthetics of pattern, colour and repeat.
With the idea of Fantastic Art came new mark making inspired by form in nature. In her later years the beauty of nature heavily influenced Höch, she said ‘A purely aesthetic or abstract message originates in life’s deepest secrets’. Nature impassioned her creativity and gave her freedom from doubt; she described her garden as ‘emotional support’.
The last small room had a video of Höch in the late 70’s and two collages, Life portrait (1972-73) and Little Sun (1969). Life Portrait, a huge collage using personal photographs overwhelmed me. Imagery included lovers and friends of her life, flowers, cats, cacti and photographs of herself throughout her life. Hannah Höch was a brave, empathetic and inquisitive woman, the exhibition held at Whitechapel gallery was a credit to her expressive and creative talent. I will leave you with Little Sun the last collage before leaving the show.