Five people are inside a train carriage looking out the window. The view? A burning lava-like cloud of ash and fire. Yet the people remain fixed—spectators sat motionless as they observe the apocalyptic scenes before them.
The image is the work of collage artist Jazz Grant. And its discerning critique of our all-too-often passive relationship to critical environmental challenges is by no means an exception. In fact, over the last two years Grant has crafted an extensive body of work that touches on the most pressing issues of our time using only a pair of scissors, a glue stick, and a bundle of old magazines and long-forgotten books. From photographs of civil rights protests to documentary stills of natural disasters, Grant meticulously sifts through a hoard of archival material to re-present our histories and reimagine our futures—including, doomsday.
“I have a recurring dream where it’s the end of the world in one of two or three ways,” Grant told Atmos. “I say the end of the world, but it’s really the end of the world as we know it. There’s mass flooding, water pouring through my house, or a sea of molten lava coming down the street towards me. To me, it’s a dream, but it’s also a reality of the world we live in. On a personal level, [these apocalyptic images] consume me.”
Collage has become Grant’s primary mode of expressing such anxieties, but her interest in the archaic art practice is still relatively new. In fact, Grant initially studied menswear fashion at university. In her quest to become a designer, she repeatedly created collages both for moodboards and for her collections. “I think those collages were better than my designs,” she said. “That’s what I was naturally drawn to.”
On a personal level, apocalyptic images consume me.
But it wasn’t until October 2019, when a friend encouraged Grant to submit her collage work to an exhibition in Brighton, that she started thinking of her craft as more than a hobby. Her hunch was further affirmed by menswear designer Bianca Saunders, who asked Grant to participate in a group show—titled Nearness—at around the same time. It was the assurance Grant needed. Shortly after, the artist made collage work her full-time priority.
“I realized my collages were good when they were saying something more,” she said, adding that until that point each collage was created individually with no larger goal in mind. “With Nearness, I knew I wanted them to collectively be a tool for [addressing] something bigger.” The result was astounding: a series of small but decidedly powerful images filled with monochromatic depictions of Black protestors, on the streets or in the courtroom, often crowned by thick green foliage. Treason Trial is one of these works; in it, Nelson Mandela speaks to a crowd of protestors who are framed by a thick layer of greenery, once again the only example of colour in the series.
“It was a big challenge for me at the time,” Grant said. “But it really cemented this process [of collaging] for me and expanded my idea of what this might actually mean in terms of my career or in terms of what I want to do.”
Grant’s series for Nearness was only the beginning of a career that has since been marked by her dedication to meaning; to finding new ways of communicating the world’s ongoing social and environmental injustices. Later works include “Divine,” an image featuring a figure—carved out of a grove of palm trees—wading across a sea of magma while waves of fire crash against rocks. In the foreground, the outline of two observers can once again be discerned. A more serene example is “Father’s Son,” which features the silhouette of a boy—whose shape is made from an image of his fisherman father—standing in front of a small body of water. In both instances, Grant constructs her human figures out of landscape photography and, as a result, emphasises the incontestable symbiosis between people and the natural world.
“Humans are constantly trying to distance themselves from nature to the point that it’s routinely pushed to the side [in our collective conscience],” she said. “But obviously we’re constantly having such an impact on the natural world.”
It seems to me that our own intelligence is stifling our progression.
It’s a subject that remains critical. Headlines of catastrophic temperature rises and melting ice caps could be found on every major news platform shortly after the publication of a new assessment report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change last week—only to be forgotten a couple of days later. It’s in part this selective reporting—and remembering—that has brought us to an ecological tipping point. Grant agrees. “I’m trying to find a way for people to become one with news [of the climate crisis] rather than just observe it,” she said.
“Overflow,” one of Grant’s most recent works of art, occupies this exact intersection. Made out of satellite photographs of floods, the image features two silhouettes kissing. It’s a casual pose and—at first glance—a moving image of a couple in an embrace. But the context is bleak: a deadly natural disaster that’s becoming increasingly common. “I used satellite images because I wanted [them to serve as a reminder of] humans going up into space and invading nature from all angles for the sake of science,” Grant said. “But it seems to me that our own intelligence is stifling our progression.”
Although Grant doesn’t describe her work as a form of activism, the timeliness of her art and the urgency it conveys serves as a necessary reminder for us—the viewers—to reconsider our relationship with the world around us.
“I get a lot out of seeing, hearing or experiencing art that tackles familiar topics in new ways,” she said. “It can spur a new line of conversation, especially if the subject matter is dark or difficult. And if nothing else—it can remind you that you’re not alone in feeling these ways about the world. That can be just as reassuring and just as powerful.”