The idea of the collage might commonly conjure memories of primary school art class – the crisp sound of scissors cutting through paper and the strangely alluring fragrance of Clag glue – but the medium has charted an interesting course through 20th and 21st century art.

While most, including Emily Jones (curator of new contemporary collage exhibition Cut with the kitchen knife, showing at Counihan Gallery in Brunswick), trace a line back to Cubists like Picasso and Braque and the Dadaists of the 1910s and 1920s like Hannah Hoch, Kurt Schwitters and Raoul Hausmann, collage has continued to play a somewhat tangential, but nonetheless intriguing role in the development of several strains of contemporary art.

This is where Cut with the kitchen knife comes in. Featuring the work of one American and eight Australian and artists – including Christian Capurro, Simon Evans, Elizabeth Gower, Mandy Gunn, Deborah Kelly, Nicolas Mangan, Stuart Ringholt, Joan Ross and Heather Shimmen – this NETS Victoria touring exhibition re-examines the art of collage in a distinctly contemporary light. Whether ironic, humorous or political, the notion of destabilisation is key here.

Gower’s work, for example, reconfigures fragments of advertising brochures, savings coupons and food packaging into strikingly intricate geometric repetitions, patterns and motifs, where many of Ringholt’s key works see him affix the head of one atop another, highlighting the absurdist qualities of each individual image and visual language as a whole. Mangan, meanwhile, uses the medium as a kind of symbolic idiom for political, social and historical undercurrents and events.

Its title may evoke images of domesticity and simplicity, but Cut with the kitchen knife proves anything but.

Cut with the kitchen knife shows at Counihan Gallery in Brunswick until May 13.

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