Eternal Return Collage Series

Library card collage art Eternal Return Paradoxes of Omniscience beta fish vintage postage stamp
Eternal Return CXXII {Paradoxes of Omniscience}

During a year off of school while I was applying to grad programs, I took a job at the Purdue University Libraries to hold me over until my studies could resume. My desk there was thirty feet underground in the storage stacks where ancient periodicals and other books with low circulation were kept on movable shelving in a bomb shelter like basement of the undergraduate library. One of my duties there was replacing the old due date cards kept in manila pockets inside the covers of those old books and academic journals with bar codes. Instead of throwing out the cards with titles and Dewey Decimal numbers hand typed on the yellowing card stock, I kept them, and so the seeds of the Eternal Return collage series were planted.

Initially I had intended to keep the cards as bookmarks, having use for many as I embarked on a scholarly career. I saw the aesthetic value of a nostalgic reminder of a library system that was both iconic and now entirely obsolete. The cards with titles like American Labor Legislation Review, Water Supply Papers and Zoologische Jahrbücher conjure images of library clerks in reading glasses and knit cardigans bent over library desks stamping and recording circulation data before the integration of computer automation into the library process.

Eternal Return CXLIV {Regulative Ideal}

Grad school came and went, and I had used a small fraction of those due date cards as bookmarks as I devoured scholarly tomes on German philosophy. My interests moved from a desire to theoretically understand the creative process to actually engage in it, and the collection of due date cards felt like the perfect place to begin bringing my aesthetic influences together in a visual medium. Those library due date cards were not the only vintage paper collection I had from which to draw images and visual ideas; an old postage stamp collection handed down to me by both my maternal grandfather and paternal grandmother shared with the library cards an ephemeral connection to an almost obsolete past (posting physical letters in the mail) and a similar sepia tinted pallet of yellowing paper and engraved printing.

Postage stamps and due date cards also happen to have the same scale, and so I began to play with stamps positioned on the card. Magazine cut outs, game pieces, and old identification guides for flora and fauna provided a wealth of imagery from which to draw. Experimentation would eventually add the watercolor curve across the card beneath the imagery in to make what would become hundreds in a series that I titled Eternal Return, a series that continues to expand to this day.

This collage medium provided a space to combine my aesthetic influences which include, in addition to postage stamps and mid-century institutional imagery, the sepia tinted golden hour light and surreal juxtaposition of imagery of Giorgio de Chirico paintings, old maps and botanical illustrations, Tarot, flags and heraldry, Mexican Lotería game pieces and Joseph Cornell shadow boxes, the last of which with their paper ephemera collage is perhaps my works’ strongest precursor in the art canon and to whom I owe an artistic debt of gratitude that borders on theft.

A typical Joseph Cornell shadow box
Giorgio de Chirico the conquest of the philosopher surreal imagery influence on eternal return justin marquis
Giorgio de Chirico’s The Conquest of the Philosopher

The title Eternal Return alludes to the fact that the basic format of the series is infinitely iterable, there being an unimaginably large combination of possible images that can be arranged on a due date card. With each image, each typed book title on the cards, and even the name of each collage alluding to a whole host of concepts, persons, places, and objects, the whole human relationship to images and ideas can be potentially contained in the Eternal Return series taken to its imagined infinity.

Given the infinite possible imagery and concepts that can be combined within the Eternal Return series, the collages are capable of functioning like an unending post-modern tarot deck, a tarot deck that does not offer predictive power but that rather functions like a kind of Rorschach test drawing out ideological and conceptual associations and affective responses in the viewer, meaning that the attentive viewer who becomes aware of the associations that they make between the images and ideas becomes a virtual part of the series themselves.

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