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Handbook of the Spontaneous Other: Reviewed by Blake Andrews

Book Review Handbook of the Spontaneous Other Artists book by Aikaterini Gegisian Reviewed by Blake Andrews In Handbook of the Spontaneous Other, Aikaterini Gegisian brings together a diverse range of found photographic material produced in Western Europe and the USA during the 1960s and 1970s.

Handbook of the Spontaneous Other
By Aikaterini Gegisian.
Handbook of the Spontaneous Other  
Artists book by Aikaterini Gegisian

Mack, London, 2020. 
144 pp., color illustrations, 6¾x9½".

Collage might be considered the unintentional language of the Internet era. Anyone who has jumped from one site to another, or thumbed through an Instagram feed that melds thousands of authors into one stream, or shuffled around a computer screen with six windows open at once, has experienced a chance form of digital bricolage. Authorship takes a back seat to interaction, boundaries assume a primary role, and raw material converges in unexpected ways to create new entities, which are in turn recollaged.

That reality will be quite comfortable to the younger generations. But for Gen-Xers, such as Greek-Armenian artist Aikaterini Gegisian (and, full disclosure, yours truly), caught between the new digital world and earlier models, the collaging instinct convolutes, with traces of physicality lingering in the digital margins. Gegisian is a creator of many stripes — sculptor, filmmaker, videographer, and sound artist, to name just a few. Regardless of medium, collage is a recurring element. In her approach to photography it assumes an old-school cloak of the tangible. Her recent monograph Handbook Of The Spontaneous Other (Mack, 2020) collects fifty-nine such collages into a tidy yellow book.

Handbook of the Spontaneous OtherBy Aikaterini Gegisian.

Gegisian’s source material is taken from the mass culture of the 1960s and 1970s Western world: snapshots, magazines, postcards, advertisements, and brochures — interstitial fabric of consumer society. Her combinations tend to be minimalist, incorporating just a handful of images into each piece, sometimes as few as two. She is also reserved in her mediation. You won’t find crazy scissor cuts or precision outlines here. Instead, the collages tend toward blocky and static, the emphasis on the basic interaction of forms. What does this photo look like near this one? Or this one?

The Handbook of Spontaneous Other is color-coded (reminiscent of another recent Mack publication Omaha Sketchbook). There are nine broad sections, each roughly grouped by hue The whole rainbow is bookended by a light section in the beginning and black at the end. Within each part, the colors shift slightly from one page to the next to accommodate the collages, which are loosely sequenced to complement the colors. But the correspondence is loose and inexact, as collage tends to be.

Handbook of the Spontaneous OtherBy Aikaterini Gegisian.
What does it look like in reality? Well, for one, there’s a whole lot of porn involved. X-rated photos appear in perhaps a third of the book’s images. As anyone who has browsed an adult magazine knows, the human body is capable of surprisingly expansive twists and gyrations. Collage them next to, say, a cactus or a sea anemone, and you generate intriguing possibilities. But prudes needn’t worry; any original lascivious edge is stripped away by Gegisian’s reappropriation. These images are about as titillating as a granite boulder.

Handbook of the Spontaneous OtherBy Aikaterini Gegisian.
Some of Gegisian’s combinations are perhaps too facile to generate energy. They are merely X near Y and not much more. And when these diptychs are run through the book gutter they fall even flatter. But that is a small gripe within the greater context of the book, which contains enough strong imagery to overcome its minor faults.

Gegisian is a deft colorist with a sharp eye for chance composition. Aesthetically her photos are pleasing enough, although perhaps not in the league of John Stezaker or Joseph Mills. But in the end that’s just fine, because Gegisian’s creations are meant more as political commentary than graphic statements. For Gegisian, photographs represent elements of national identity, both in production and consumption. They signify the unconscious visual codes that inform pop culture — a layer of media that is especially dominant in the Western world, but seeps into the rest of the world. By collaging these images in new and surprising ways, Gegisian emasculates their original intent, regenerating their motifs as “The Spontaneous Other,” which is, according to Mack’s description, “a notion of the self and of pleasure that exists beyond the confines of popular culture and its dominant modes of representation.”

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Handbook of the Spontaneous OtherBy Aikaterini Gegisian.
Handbook of the Spontaneous OtherBy Aikaterini Gegisian.

Blake Andrews is a photographer based in Eugene, OR. He writes about photography at