As Brighton-based artist Ben Gore describes it himself, Ghosts of Empire is “a collage project about the history of civilisation.” With such a subject matter, virtually impossible to grasp in its entirety, one must acknowledge the brave tone of this endeavour, born out of a strong relationship of the artist with the medium: “I think of collage as the hunt for and the creation of visual metaphors or stories,” he states.
In Gore's work, collage lends itself to an inherent paradox, which feeds creative potential – collage is, actually, a relentless hunt, for shapes and meanings running wild in an unlimited out there. It is simultaneously creation – every piece leaves the world richer than it found it, functioning as an abundance of contradictions, surprisingly cohesive.
More than other mediums of artistic expression, collage incorporates existing moments and shapes, already recorded, removed from a place of predictable commonality, and joined with startling new storylines. Ghosts of Empires is no exception, as each piece in the series is made “from found or unwanted magazines and materials,” routinely rejected and overlooked products.
In a metatextual turn, the undesirable status of these throwaways informs the critical commentary at the heart of this project: it marks the point at which we lose sight of the valuable life surrounding us, and allow destruction, chaos, and violence to seep in. This aspect grounds Ben Gore´s practice into historical aspects of the technique: much like in the early days of Dada collage practices, layers of meaning and visuality put together an assembly, highly political both in its source, and in its depiction: ecology, warfare, man-made disasters, technology, or ideological aggression are all touched upon in Ghosts of Empire.
As consumers of visual culture, we crave a classic narrative order, characterised by continuity, causality, and closure. Gore´s collage series refuses to offer any of these, and it is this refusal that invites new possibilities of creative reflection and understanding. The very act of cutting out fragments of a scene, separating images, thus interrupting their organic existence, questions contemporary claims to continuity and cohesion. We live an illusion of connectivity and reason, as we find our material world to be harmonious and equal to itself. Ben Gore challenges this perception of totality, by carving into established ideas of our realities.
Ghosts of Empire is an echo, accumulation, and subversion; it is repetition of elements taken out of context and placed in another, creating shock and disturbing reason. Nevertheless, we might find a surprising ease to relate to these scenarios: we recognise war, decay, violence, ecological disasters – each a common place in our world today. Ben Gore´s works have us faced with our tragic normality, with routines we forget to question; his works are a challenge to the very act of looking: his pieces are not necessarily harmonious, do not always commit to a storyline, but rather interrupt their own narrative midpoint.
Gazing with delight is not an option here; reading and decoding are necessary. The style appropriates the way of looking: fragmented, dialogic, never really enough on its own. We need our history, we have to tap into our collective consciousness and assume responsibility, in order recognise the symbols and references in these works, and eventually be able to answer the question: are we the empire or are we the ghosts?
Words: Elena Stanciu
Artwork: Extracts from the series Ghost of Empire by Ben Gore