A Big Collage "Tribute to Cape Cod"

For welder/collage artist Greta Ribb, running a business and creating authentic art comes out of the same need.
Daniel Cojanu - For welder/collage artist Greta Ribb, running a business and creating authentic art comes out of the same need.

My Swimming Pool by Codeine Schoolboy

When most people think of Cape Cod art, they think of watercolor lighthouses or scenic beach photographs. Dig deeper and you’ll find a more funky— even Dada-esque—Cape Cod art scene. This is what Big Collage Artist Collective set out to showcase Saturday at their last show at Cultural Center of Cape Cod.

The Big Collage Artist Collective was formed in 2009 by local artists Greta Ribb and Harley Gardiner, who were looking for a creative outlet outside the realm of “traditional” Cape Cod art. 

Having grown up on the Cape, they have a much more intimate story to tell about life here.  Something much deeper than pretty landscapes and lighthouses that persist through the changing seasons and culture.

They started out doing electronic music shows at the now-defunct Black Spot Café in Hyannis (which was once Prodigal Son, for those who remember).  Video artists started coming and projecting their stuff on the walls that weren’t already dedicated to other visual arts.

Ribb and Gardiner were stimulated by the response their multimedia shows got from other Cape Codders craving more meaning from art. Thus, the Big Collage collective was born, drawing together “a big collage” of DIY artists in a variety of media and joining other alternative artists for shows at the Wellfleet Preservation Hall.

Big Collage and their friends soon got to be too big for the powers that be in Wellfleet, Ribb said. After an otherwise smashing 4th edition of WTF Fest, they were asked to leave, mid-song.

Was it the screaming from the noise bands? The sight of gaunt artists wheeling their collections into a historic building?  Ribb has a sneaking suspicion that the artists in control of the Preservation Hall were censoring the group, simply because they couldn’t see the artistic value in what Big Collage was doing.

Cultural survival

The Cape Cod arts scene is “lacking in tolerance and understanding of progressive content,” says Ribb, a self-described collage artist who creates electronic music under the code name Codeine Schoolboy.

Those who hold the keys to galleries and public arts centers “either don’t live here, or are part of a tiny demographic that claims to be ‘patrons of the arts’—but only the little parts they’re comfortable with. If you’re really progressive, open your mind,” Ribb says.

In October 2009, Big Collage took their shows to the Cultural Center of Cape Cod in Yarmouth. Lo and behold, they were told to “tone it down,” Ribb says—but never told how, or why.

The collective’s studio is now tucked into a backroom of Ribb’s workshop in Harwich, where she runs a family business welding quahog rakes. Orders from shellfishermen who need reliable tools come in from miles around. With the recession, the RA Ribb Company’s business is booming, as unemployed Cape Codders turn to the age-old pastime to scare up a little extra cash.

Ribb approaches business the same way she does art: authenticity is a matter of survival. Rather than buy cheap wooden handles, Ribb’s family orders custom handles from craftsmen in Maine and Ohio. 

“We know what it’s like to see a Chinese knock-off of my father’s design. They may make them a little less expensive, but then the handle breaks,” Ribb says.

A fitting tribute

Saturday’s “Tribute to Cape Cod” was intended to represent aspects of the Cape that tend to be ignored, Ribb said.

The event indeed showcased an incredible amount of creative, playful and fun local art work as well as talented musicians, Quincy Dewing, the Zookeepers, and PavePAWS.

 “Of course our group is going to present negative as well as positive emotions,” Ribb said, noting that half the artists were unable to attend the event due to the hospitality industry’s demands on what most of us consider “the weekend.”

 Outside of the venue guests were greeted with local beach trash turned into garlands strewn along the walkway handrails.  There were more works of beach trash art inside including the table center pieces.  A stunning example of how a little creativity and a beach clean up can turn into a visually stimulating work of art. 

“It’s all products of human consumption,” Ribb said. Despite the shocking amounts of trash she and her “pasty friends” collected from Nauset Beach, Ribb acknowledges an upside: they got to the beach more this summer than they ever had.

Inside the Cultural Center, energy was high.” Human easels” scattered about the eclectic crowd displayed artwork hung on sandwich boards—Big Collage was not allowed to hang the temporary show on the Cultural Center’s walls, Ribb said.

The evening tousled back and forth between a variety of media including video, music, photography, mixed media art, sculptures and more while guests enjoyed local seafood, beer and wine. 

Taylor Brown of “Fisherman’s Daughter” showed off an attention-getting, sexy, fun wetsuit fashion show.  Women walked through the crowd carrying boogie boards and flaunting some wild wetsuits.

Interacting: it's not just about technology

For Big Collage artists, having regular events is an important aspect of their highly interactive art.

“I love seeing people run into each other or connect for the first time.  Cape Cod sometimes feels like it’s a million miles long, with everyone caught up in their own scene. The alternative arts scene is tight knit, but it’s also wild and spontaneous. I’m always very surprised at what art speaks to people,” Ribb says.

With its last show at the Cultural Center now complete, RIbb said she is looking for an alternative mid-Cape venue that can fit up to 150 people. In a perfect world, she said, the collective would run a bar/café venue itself, offering artists work space and common work areas for the public by day, and holding performance art events and productions by night.

More information about the Big Collage Artist Collective and events is available on their blog.







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