Mark Wagner, Liberty, 2009, Currency collage on panel, 192 x 48 inches
Liberty, a monumental currency collage that was commissioned and produced in 2009 is the culmination of Wagner's decade-long exploration of the intersection of art, culture and politics.
Liberty is a hybrid work of collage and documentation by collage and book artist Mark Wagner. This wall mounted collage reproduces Frederic Bertholdi's sculpture Liberty Enlightening the World with fanciful additions and alterations of metaphoric weight. Made of 81,895 pieces cut from 1121 U.S. Dollar bills, no source material or subject matter is more familiar to an American viewer, yet the translation of the ubiquitous dollar into the remixed American icon is mind-boggling. Beyond its humor, beauty, and spectacle, Liberty addresses issues of economics, civil liberties, American self-image, and artistic practice.
An archive trunk accompanying the finished collage tethers the surreal product to the real labor expended in its creation. With some 395 production notes, “Washington” models, stop-motion video footage, and reference books, the archival trunk serves as an educational and inspirational tool for artist and layman alike.
Libertyand its archive trunk can stand alone in an exhibition or serve as the flagship in an expansive show encompassing Wagner's currency collage, artist books, and process documentation works. The most contracted exhibition simply displays the Libertycollage and its open archive trunk. In a more expanded form, the trunk is unpacked to display some or all of its 359 enclosed production notes. Expanded further, the project is flanked by any of the artist's hundreds of collages or dozens of artist books that have preceded and influenced Liberty's creation.
A standing figure of George Washington--in scale with his portrait on the U.S. Dollar bill--measures 6.5" tall. The Liberty collage depicts Bertholdi's sculpture at one-eleventh scale so that a 6.5" Washington may appear at its base, crown, and upon its torch balcony as a visitors of normal height.
The image is made entirely of fragmented dollar bills. Rendering employs an array of handling techniques, from manneristic use of the bill's imagery--framing, foliage and filigree--to topographic contouring in thin ribbons of money. These reproduce in collage the effects of tapestry, painting, engraving, and mosaic.
The fanciful figures and scenes surrounding the statue create subtexts within the larger work. Liberty crawls with dozens of numbered Washington figures variously employed and attired, each engaging mythic, historical and metaphoric narratives. Built up around the statue's base is a fantastical garden filled with allegorical tableaux and architectural forms; cut-away sections within the statue expose mysterious inner-workings.
THE ARCHIVE TRUNK
The mixed-media trunk accompanying the Libertycollage serves as an archive for the project. When open for display, the trunk is both a kinetic sculpture and a sort of large scale artist book. The trunk simultaneously recalls the old-fashioned steamer trunks brought to Ellis Island and the modern designs of amplifiers and flight cases.
A 1 hour 20 minute time lapse video revealing the collage process plays continuously on a screen mounted in the trunk's lid. The body of the trunk houses a staircase model, tools, books, sculptural objects, glue bottles, and other production detritus. Also included are the 395 drawings, time sheets, notes, and additional paper ephemera created in the process of making Liberty.