The Unstable Image

Christobel Kelly reviews a new printmaking exhibition at SASA Gallery (South Australian School of Art Gallery), Adelaide, in which artists explore and challenge the inherent qualities of the medium.

Above: Aleksandra Antic, Lapse, 2013, screenprint on drafting film, 350 x 240 x 80 cm (approx). Below left: Paul Coldwell, Conversation II, 2014, inkjet and relief, 55 x 70 cm (image) 59 x 84 cm (paper). Below right: Joel Gailer, Hotmetal, 2016, screenprint on reflective mylar, 179 x 124.5 cm.

For printmakers, engagement with transparency functions on many different levels. Maybe the artist is making work that invites the viewer to look through something in order to see something else. Or maybe, as suggested by Professor Paul Coldwell in his catalogue essay for the The Unstable Image, the artist is laying bare the process by which the image is constructed. For each of the participating artists there is a sense that their work is somehow multilayered in terms of the constructed image, as well as multilayered in terms of meaning attached to the sociopolitical origins of printmaking itself.

In Aleksandra Antic’s screenprint Lapse, veils of translucent drafting film hang breezily from the ceiling, a dark silhouette of a person’s head at the base of each strip sweeping the floor. The shifting materiality of this diaphanous work belies the voicelessness of the sweeping silhouettes: a kind of cultural muteness inherent in the experience of geographical and linguistic displacement.

Language and text also sit at the core of Marian Crawford’s bibliophilic work Antiquities. Taking the transparency of archived glass lantern slides, Crawford has captured these images of ruined arches from ancient buildings and augmented them with letterpress text in an artist’s book, which juxtaposes the charm of glass slide images with the searing contemporary vicissitudes of the Middle East.

Joel GailerAlso concerned with the site of conflict, Paul Coldwell’s work plays with our viewpoint. Coldwell’s two-plate etching Plane presents a visual conundrum wherein photographic dots are enlarged to the point where we are not quite sure whether we are looking at them or through them. We are somehow looking down from above, and through the plane to the building. Thus a tiny shudder is enacted where the image slips from large scale to small scale, and then back again.

The exciting physicality of printmaking is revealed in the work of Performprint. This Melbourne based duo, Joel Gailer and Michael Meneghetti, engage in a roistering performance of the act of printmaking using, among other things, a skateboard as matrix. Another work in the exhibition is Gailer’s mirrored screenprint Hotmetal, which casts a pool of warm light down on to the gallery floor. This pellucid puddle of light shining on the harsh concrete elicited one of the audience to comment, ‘It felt wrong to step on it.’ Is this the print? Certainly the text on the floor now reads the right way round.

An engagement with ethereal text can also be seen in Olga Sankey’s work Ghostwriting where the acrylic sheets are transparent to the point where we are able to see through each finely printed layer. In that sense perhaps this palimpsest of transparencies leads us, the viewer, through each delicate layer to the point where the shadow is the print.

And so this disarming exhibition, which engages with unstable images that reveal and obscure at the same time, perhaps fulfils a longer definition of transparency: the ability to transmit light without substantially scattering it, so that things lying beyond are clearly seen.

The Unstable Image will be on display at SASA Gallery until 22 April, 2016.