in perpetua original

Life is a Pastiche

The idea of pastiche as a metaphor for lived experience has been on my mind a lot lately.

I’ve just finished constructing a collage that began with a cut out from a magazine using Rita Angus’ character Rutu from her famed 1951 oil painting. I’ve long admired Rita Angus – her art and her life – so I set out to create an Ode to the Artist with this collage. 

However, the collage soon began to take on a life of its own. 

I was drawn to images of the natural world, the cosmos, and of Octopoda. I’d recently watched My Octopus Teacher and remember feeling utterly entranced by the resilience and ingenuity of this creature. When I placed my cut out of an octopus in Rutu’s hands, it felt like the perfect union and metaphor for eternal strength.

On a deeper level, the finished collage has become a metaphor for an eternal longing I feel for knowledge and inner power. It took more than 12 iterations before I arrived at my final statement: Perpetua – of Latin origin, meaning ‘lasting’. It’s a pastiche piece that draws on multiple references to express something anew, but it’s certainly not original.

Perpetua – ʀᴚ

Here’s what I mean by not original.

I first became obsessed with the concept of pastiche after watching Sophia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette in 2009. Coppola had taken a woman of historical significance and messed about with the retelling of her life in a new and impactful way. Coppola made her relatable to women of my era using devices like modern music, and the odd piece of modern fashion. She filled the world with young characters that behaved in ways you’d see in your local shopping mall today. 

Pastiche is an aesthetic device used a lot in film and fashion. It’s a device that collects and blends styles from a huge variety of sources, historical and contemporary. Quentin Tarantino did it well as did Baz Luhrmann, and many other storytellers of today. 

In order to create Perpetua, I had to let go of the idea of originality and simply construct, based on my own interests and pursuits. If I’d worried about things like ownership and copyright, I probably never would have used a cut out from Rutu – I would have been afraid of an infringement! Not that I intend to sell Perpetua

Perpetua is not original, but it is something new. It’s miles away from Rita Angus’ thoughts at the time… or is it?

Here’s where it gets super interesting. At the time of writing this post, collage finished, I Googled ‘Perpetua’ to see what it’d bring up and learned about Perpetua the Christian martyr. Born in the African city of Carthage, Perpetua – twenty-two, the mother of an infant son, imprisoned for refusing to worship the Roman Empire’s deities – eventually died by her own hand after suffering in countless ways at the hands of others. She held onto her faith until her last breath, dying with her dignity intact. 

Online images of the Christian Perpetua reveal her as a woman of colour with a large yellow halo behind her head – much like Rita Angus’ Rutu. Was Rita Angus inspired by the story of Perpetua the Christian martyr? Did she base her Rutu on Perpetua? Her faith was certainly an inspiration for her art. Alas, we’ll never fully know.

So how does this happen? How do I end up creating a collage with so many interconnected layers, both literally and figuratively without even knowing it?

“Layers, Donkey.”

Some say that, on an existential level, pastiche exists to challenge originality. I don’t think I set out to challenge originality. But it does spark the question: What is truly original? We gather experiences and knowledge from so many sources these days that our lives are a living, breathing pastiche. You can’t walk down the street without seeing layers of time, history and experience in our buildings, fashion, food and so on.

To my mind, life is a pastiche. It’s a layering of influence upon influence that shapes the way we interact with the world. None of us is living an original life, but we are each living it anew. 

I’m not sure this post makes any sense, but I needed to get it out. I think I’ll write more posts about this as time unfolds. It’s such an interesting topic!

Do you think Life is a Pastiche, as I do? Or do you think of it in different terms? Let me know your thoughts in the comments section.

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