Imagining Printmaking’s Future: Projecting from a Glass Half-Full Perspective

Clockwise from top: Michael Kempson proofing Panda and Bamboo, 2016, a laser cut woodblock made in collaboration with Joseph Scheer from Alfred University, USA; One of four exhibition temples for the thirty-country exhibition International Academic Printmaking Alliance, 2016, Taimiao Art Gallery – Imperial Ancestral Temple, Working People’s Culture Palace, Tiananmen, Beijing, China; part of the Australian contribution to International Academic Printmaking Alliance, 2016, Taimiao Art Gallery – Imperial Ancestral Temple, Working People’s Culture Palace, Tiananmen, Beijing, China.

The following inspired address was delivered by master printer, artist and lecturer Michael Kempson at Australian Printmaking: Past and Present, a forum held at the National Gallery of Victoria on 8 October in celebration of the Print Council of Australia‘s fiftieth anniversary.

When I mentioned to a colleague, the Sydney-based etcher Bruce Latimer, that I was to offer some observations about printmaking’s future at this forum, his response was, ‘well it’s going to be a short talk then’. This droll glass half-empty reaction has developed in part from the irony inherent in the ongoing fascination for printmaking, which continues regardless of how depressing the outlook for it is in the world.

Some of the attitudes espoused by leading figures in the curatorial realm haven’t helped. Riva Castleman, a former Chief Curator of Prints at New York’s Museum of Modern Art wrote, ‘I don’t see printmaking – and never have – as a way of working out the basic problems of art. It’s too fraught with other technical problems.’[1] While her remarks reference the challenges that painters encounter in the interaction between print and painting modes of working, it did result in a horde of printmakers feeling considerably miffed.

Over its long history, printmaking has enjoyed periods of public and institutional acclaim, that compensate for the times when it falls out of favour. So, when printmakers gather rigorous debate will ensue: are we actually enjoying one of those phases of enthusiastic support, or suffering a period of neglect?

Trying to foresee printmaking’s positive cycles is as impossible as the folly of seeking to predict the future. I’m reminded of Fritz Lang’s classic 1927 dystopian fantasy Metropolis. As a vision of life in times to come it was bleakly entertaining, but in the course of even a few decades it proved to be fairly wide of the mark.

This is true of most futuristic depictions in literature and film. While it shouldn’t stop people trying, the limitation implicit is that every attempt to imagine the future is at heart an examination of the present. It’s as true for artists, in their conceptual prognostications, as it is for actuaries or technocrats who trade in forecasts and projections. Furthermore one just can’t foresee the subsequent ramifications of the unexpected shocks that change the world, a conceit embodied in the somewhat convoluted wisdom of Donald Rumsfeld, and his now infamous reference to ‘unknown unknowns’.[2]

The perennial promise of a Federal budget surplus means economists aren’t the great predictors they profess to be either, but they do understand statistics with great clarity. I approached one, Mark Cully, the Chief Economist in the Department of Industry, Innovation and Science in Canberra, to get some authoritative information. Coincidentally, he and I shared a common experience spending our developing years in Elizabeth during the 1960s and early 1970s. Elizabeth, situated in the industrial north of Adelaide, was a purpose built housing commission city for the future, and the first experiment in urban decentralisation in Australia. During this time, it was so mired with planning shortcomings that, with the subsequent social problems, it actually was a dystopian reality.

Imagine Australia when I was a child back in 1971. This was a period in our history when all but one in twenty people described their nationality as British and close to two in three women spent most of their time attending home duties. Among those who were formally employed, there were more priests and ministers of religion than lawyers, more metal trades workers than retail workers, more farmers than teachers. For those not continuing with school, the most common level completed was Year 8. Today, almost all secondary students complete Year 12 and there are around 4 million people with a degree, against 180,000 back in 1971. [3] One pertinent statistic in that year’s census was that 30,600 people identified themselves in the artist/entertainer/writer category; in 2011 the number was 75,800. In a population increase of 70% between 1971 and 2011, the growth in declared artists is 148%.[4]

Could anyone have predicted in the passage of those years such changed circumstances in the labour market or social and educational demographics? What then regarding the core challenges will we face in the future: from the diminishing supply of natural resources, food and water; the decline in the world’s natural habitats; the shifts in the world economy from west to east; an ageing population; and the connectivity immersing individuals, communities, governments and businesses at an ever increasing rate.[5]

The twentieth century ushered in the concept of human capital and the nuanced interplay between demand and supply, characterised in recent economic theory as a race between education and technology.[6] For technology to function a substantial skill-base is required for its development and application, which can only be met through the delivery of appropriate education. While a fiscal race, as an idea garnered in human experience, it can influence other contexts, as is the case in the world of cinema with the all too regular dire imaginings of dystopian scenarios if technology wins. But one can also argue that variants of these ideas have been used in shaping the development of art since the 1960s.

Canadian print artist and academic Walter Jule contributes thoughtfully on art education, particularly on its transformation over the middle and latter stages of the twentieth century. Changes, he says, that came in part as a response to the introduction of photo-mechanical means of reproduction and the subsequent range of influential theories that espouse such esoteric notions as the phenomenological critique and deconstructive post-modernism. He chronicles its effect, a realigning of the focus away from art grounded in a personal or privileged vision and by extension from craft-centred practice and technical virtuosity. Over time art schools began to restructure their programs to serve the paramount notion of the ‘idea’ that drives knowledge-based practice, the core focus of most contemporary visual art institutions in the world today. The resulting effects threatened resource intensive technologies with traditional associations, like printmaking departments, and proved to be detrimental to many of the students who inhabited them, particularly in the early 1980s when I went to art school.

Jule said, ‘The focus on critical theory at the expense of first-hand experience left students with a wealth of received ideas, but often short of the craft, technical skills and visual literacy to express these ideas convincingly in material form.’[7]

Think about the American painter Eric Fischl who peevishly recounts, ‘artists of my generation were not educated, we were not given the equipment for it was generally believed to be irrelevant. Drawing, hand eye co-ordination, art history – really relevant stuff – was considered unnecessary. We were made to feel from day one that we were, fully sprung from the womb, an artist. In fact, it’s incredibly disrespectful of the importance of history that we train people to be amateurs. I deeply resent the kind of flattery that replaced discipline. What experience has shown me is that it takes your life to become an artist.’[8]

Despite this, it is affirming that printmaking over the last fifty years has demonstrated a remarkable resilience. To quote Walter Jule, ‘it has resolutely refused to abandon its traditions and maintained the ability to reflect shifts in critical thought without resorting to extreme or reactionary positions.’[9] This is certainly debatable, for there are printmaking fundamentalists who deny progress by applying strict definitions, initially excluding offset prints and monotypes, and more recently digitally derived work from print exhibitions. While on the other hand there are those in academe and business who are so all encompassing in their definition of a print, or have exploited its nomenclature to such a degree, that it undermines the activity of making them.

While many hope this debate has well and truly moved on, in our changing educational market place – when a student begins to understand their ideas and working method, to explore options in what technology to deploy – their visual vocabulary will be reliant upon the experience and philosophy of their teachers and the resources of their host institution. Rather than just teaching what you know, an educator should be as equally passionate about the printmaking technology of seventh century China, or fifteenth century Europe, to complement the astounding potential to be discovered in the digital realm.

As we observe in the commercial world, Darwinian theory rules. Pressing deadlines mean it’s out with the old and in with the new for those required to maintain a competitive edge. But thankfully a more fluid sense of time reflects the contrary dynamic of the creative impulses found in artistic practice. In preparing students for the best way to communicate visually, individual choice dictates that for many state-of-the-art technology is the perfect vehicle for their ideas. So, with one eye on the future, why then should we bother with the hard physical graft of an arcane technology, when results are achieved with the click of a mouse?

One reason can be in the unique tactility recorded in traditional prints. The haptic manipulation of layering, scraping, cutting and polishing provides an experience of history, offered at an ideal mulling pace, so to best deal with the ‘basic problems of art’. When you work regularly, as I often do, with artists who have never made prints, there are preconceived ideas about what a print should be, but those assumptions change as they focus on the considerable challenge presented in this engagement. During this process, in each and every instance, artists end up inventing the medium anew, relative to their own inner predilections and in response to printmaking’s unique expressive range.[10]

Some however still question the place for traditional disciplines in research based institutions. Academic administrators, often captives to a balance sheet, have asked hard questions following successive cuts in federal funding. Their solutions have trickled down the chain of command, resulting in sporadic pruning of specific print mediums, or the complete removal of printmaking courses altogether from Australian universities. Even more stark is the axing of fine art faculties, as was the case in NSW with Western Sydney University nearly a decade ago, or the BFA program at the University of Newcastle at the beginning of the year, and as recently as a few months ago in the attempt to dismantle Sydney College of the Arts at the University of Sydney.

Despite this, there are structural adjustments slowly taking place in the print world where novel ways are being applied to re-balance the equilibrium and amplify a renewed interest. One benefit of cyberspace is the print networks established for the exchange of ideas and information that often lead to a transition from virtual to actual engagement in forums such as this. Allowing for the sharing of positive stories, such as those I have experienced in Australia and overseas, of people bringing to their teaching optimistic agendas, providing novice printmakers with the enthusiasm to unite material and concept, and sustain a practice into the future – thereby ensuring a future for our practice.

My own story at UNSW Art and Design started grimly in 2004 with a challenging meeting in the Dean’s office giving me a provisional year to prevent the closure of the printmaking department. Cicada Press was born as one way of rethinking the dynamic of personal and creative interaction, within and beyond the classroom. As a custom printing workshop it functions via an elective course, embedding crucial skills-based training in an open interaction with a diverse range of creative approaches offered by our invited artists. The collaborative relationship, inherent between an artist and custom printer, welcomes students into this art making process, who in turn contribute as an integral component in our creative partnership. Cicada Press coalesces dialogue, community, informal interactions and lived experience in learning and hopefully, through personal connection, a foundation for respect and mutual understanding is developed.

From a simple pedagogical experiment that sought to challenge ossified norms found in traditional printmaking instruction, Cicada Press has morphed into a research group at UNSW where the shared desire of its stakeholders is to pursue broader social and ethical goals. These have included: Annual Aboriginal Print Workshops that bring together a diverse range of early- and mid-career Indigenous artists to share and experiment in the dialogue of a new medium; projects aligning printmaking with environmental activism; international engagement that facilitates cross-cultural communication through print practice; and educational opportunities for artists with intellectual and physical disabilities that affirm the value of meaningful educational experiences, often out of reach for many in our society.

After a somewhat perilous beginning, Cicada Press is now a thriving, altruistic printmaking community, using a set of scenarios through the example of making to establish the foundations of a professional network. Combining diverse personalities and intergenerational experiences that nurture, and ultimately test, leadership potential, our students have a framework for life-long learning, so they ‘can deal critically and creatively with reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of their world’.[11]

One significant prediction for the future, aligned with the race between technology and education, is manifest in the idea of the looming ‘post-work’ society.[12] An outcome, hinted at by futurists, that will see established industries decimated and hard-working, skilled people made unemployable, with the millions of manufacturing jobs that will be shed by technologies such as 3D printing. An antidote to this world requires a trait that is distinctly human – creativity. With secure jobs no longer assured, as more and more physical and mental tasks are commandeered by machines and software, why not actively encourage our future generations to go to art school, with the promise of a life of self-discovery? To create a world where we foster ideas to keep pace with technological advancements, by exercising the muscles of our imagination, ‘honing the skill that best ensures adaptability and resourcefulness during times of constant change’.[13]

We will always be heading into an unpredictable future so printmakers, like economists, should appreciate that there are valuable lessons to be learnt from history. To understand the phenomenal achievement of engineering found in the transition from traditional then photomechanical and now digital technologies, and in the science of how we combine pigment, oil, and water with paper, under pressure, to package and broadly circulate innovative ideas.

The incessant reminder of progress, apparent in a print studio, prepares us for the inevitability that things will and must change. However, in the same way that photography didn’t kill painting, despite the prediction of prophets as far back as the nineteenth century, many superseded print technologies continue to beguile; because the value isn’t in our ability to efficiently render images, but in the artist’s capacity, using all our six senses, to convey a unique viewpoint.

‘Most of us don’t actually see dead people but we do enjoy long enduring conversations with them through the products of culture. While it is true that artists learn as much from objects and the making of them as we do from people, we still need teachers in the studio because we must experience knowledge embodied in action.’[14] We all benefit from cherished mentors who have offered guidance and example at just the right time in our lives, but we should always remember that we are all both teachers and students depending upon the circumstances.

The best way to prepare the next generation to be informed and articulate contributors in this conversation is to teach them how to: understand history; find a mentor; build supportive networks; question current orthodoxy; be suspicious of prophets; believe in themselves; and be open to all the mediums of printmaking’s lexicon, within an expanded collegial structure for print education.

This includes all organisations dedicated to the exacting demands of nurturing an ongoing culture of connoisseurship for the print: from community studios and editioning workshops; museums and commercial galleries; the forums and symposia that set the agenda; the remaining print programs of our tertiary institutions; and most importantly, in its fiftieth year, our peak body, the Print Council of Australia.

To paraphrase that champion of rear-guard actions, the amateur painter Winston Churchill, ‘we shape our future, thereafter our future shapes us’. So instead of waiting dolefully for the next great print renaissance, let’s set aside fantasy. The time for action is now, and it is up to us to make it happen.

NOTES

[1] Riva Castleman, ‘New Prints of Worth: A Question of Taste’, The Print Collector’s Newsletter, Vol. 10, no. 4, 1979, p. 110.

[2] ‘Defense.gov News Transcript: DoD News Briefing – Secretary Rumsfeld and Gen. Myers, United States Department of Defense (defense.gov)‘.

[3] Mark Cully, ‘Industry and Workforce Futures’, CEDA – State of the Nation Conference address, 2015.

[4] 2011 Census Community Profiles, censusdata.abs.gov.au

[5] Stefan A Hajkowicz;Hannah Cook; Anna Littleboy, Our Future World: Global megatrends that will change the way we live, 2012, CSIRO, Australia.

[6] Claudia Goldin and Laurence Katz, The Race Between Education and Technology, 2008, Belknap Press.

[7] Walter Jule, ‘Survival tips for young artists in changing times’, 2015, keynote address for the Southern Graphics Council International, Knoxville, Tennessee, USA.

[8] Eric Fischl in ‘Fischl’s Italian Hours’, Frederic Tuten, Art in America, November 1996, p. 79.

[9] Walter Jule, ‘Survival tips for young artists in changing times’, 2015, keynote address for the Southern Graphics Council International, Knoxville, Tennessee, USA.

[10] From ideas linked to Walter Jule, ‘Survival tips for young artists in changing times’, 2015, keynote address for the Southern Graphics Council International, Knoxville, Tennessee, USA.

[11] Richard Shaull, foreword to Paolo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Thirtieth Anniversary Edition, 2005, Continuum, New York.

[12] Dustin Timbook, ‘If you want your children to survive the future, send them to art school’, Huffington Post, Feb 2, 2016.

[13] Dustin Timbook, ‘If you want your children to survive the future, send them to art school’, Huffington Post, Feb 2, 2016.

[14] Walter Jule, ‘Survival tips for young artists in changing times’, 2015, keynote address for the Southern Graphics Council International, Knoxville, Tennessee, USA.

Michael Kempson is an artist and senior lecturer at UNSW Art and Design in Sydney. Since 2003, Kempson has initiated print-based research projects with over 200 artists at Cicada Press and curated over fifty exhibitions in the Asia-Pacific region. His upcoming solo exhibition Play Time will open at Flinders Street Gallery, Surry Hills, on 20 October, 6 pm.

Seven Reflections on Uses for Printmaking

Earlier today Trent Walter, director of Negative Press, and artist John Nixon discussed Nixon’s print works as part of the special forum Australian Printmaking: Past and Present at the National Gallery of Victoria. In celebration of the PCA’s fiftieth anniversary, the forum involved a range of curators, practitioners and printers discussing printmaking both in terms of its history and contemporary practice. The following text is the transcript from Trent Walter‘s recent keynote speech delivered at Orogeny Print Symposium, hosted by the Tasmanian College of the Arts and the Henry Jones Art Hotel, 9–11 September, and expands nicely upon this idea of uses for printmaking in the present. 

I’d like to begin by thanking Jan Hogan for inviting me to talk with you all this morning. I would also like to thank Christine Scott for hosting me at the Henry Jones Art Hotel during my brief stay in Hobart. And finally, a hearty congratulations to all the artists exhibited at the Plimsoll Gallery as part of the symposium.

 

Sister Corita’s workshop

In searching my hard drive for images in preparation for this address, I came across Sister Corita Kent’s Immaculate Heart College Art Department Rules. It was something I reprinted for an exhibition at Monash University Museum of Art in 2014, and Corita’s attitude has remained with me. For those unaware of her work, Sister Corita was a pioneering, politically motivated artist and educator who made over 800 screenprint editions during her working life, after she entered the religious order Immaculate Heart of Mary.

Her ‘rules’, which include an emphasis on the line ‘The Only Rule is Work’ have inspired me to record these seven reflections on uses for printmaking. My reflections are by no means exhaustive, but they mirror my own experiences and preoccupations as an artist, printer and publisher working with printed matter. The theme of this symposium, Orogeny, also suggests a palimpsest: literally a series of stories written on top of each other, or old grounds rising to the surface. The stories I will now relate aim to peel back some of these layers and reveal substance to the traces, in this case artworks, that are what visibly remain.

Sister Corita Kent’s Immaculate Heart College Art Department Rules.

Reflection number 1: Why make a print?

I ask this question to my students at Monash University. Predominantly students of communication design, they are well versed in creating content digitally. In this environment, print is a method of output. Colours are tested on screen and content is added and deleted. Why make a print? I should say from the outset that I love the flexibility that digital technology has given to artists and I use it myself constantly. Though I am skeptical of the often thoughtless output of digital artwork. Actually, if I’m being honest, I have reservations about the thoughtless making of analogue prints too. Does their materiality make them relevant? Occasionally. Though I believe printmaking in general has more feeling when its content relates to its form.

Trent Walter, Untitled, 2016, installation view.

This work, Untitled, 2016, is currently on display in a lightbox at RMIT University. The lightbox is an excellent technical solution for the artwork as it mirrors the backlight of the computer screen that the image was made on. I’ll admit that this happened fortuitously, though I am pleased by the result.

***

An artist I admire greatly is Christopher Day, whose book New Reading Order was published by Negative Press earlier this year and launched at the National Gallery of Victoria’s Art Book Fair.

Day’s practice is photo-based, though he is weary of pigeonholing himself by the medium he works mostly within. He shoots analogue and digital images. The digital ones are manipulated, making multi-layered, fantastical imagery that he prints digitally. We spent a week in Honk Kong and China, proofing his book in Shenzen and photographing Honk Kong island on night walks. In our various meetings we tend to discuss the nature of photography and a subject that recurs is the anachronism of printing digital images in the darkroom. In this respect, does the same anachronism apply to photo-mechanical printmaking processes? I would argue that it does and that these processes cannot pretend to be photography, but that photographic imagery can be the basis for incredible printmaking.

To my students and at my studio, Negative Press, I would suggest that a good reason for making a print is that there is no other way to execute the work: that it is the most practical and simplest way to achieve the artist’s intention.

I have worked on two projects with the Melbourne based artist Rosie Isaac. Both works are based around the performance of a script. Speaking in the Abstract required Isaac to construct an oversize concertina-type ‘book’ that was large enough for her actors to read while performing its content.

Here are some other views of the performance:

Rosie Isaac, Speaking in the Abstract, 2014.

For Through flooding: A silent choral reading performed as part of Brainlina at Next Wave, Isaac produced another script that was screenprinted, again in a concertina, on folded sheets of roll paper. Her requirement was for the scripts to be the same length as the audience rows that were approximately 4 metres long.

Rosie Isaac, Through flooding: A silent choral reading, 2016.

Isaac also needed the scripts to be perforated, as the script directed the audience to follow its silent direction of tearing them down at said perforation. We used printmaking, specifically screenprinting, to make these books because it was the most practical way to print repeated text on light weight paper. Unsurprisingly, it also made them a beautiful object, though they were effectively torn into pieces by their reading and performance.

Reflection number 2: The matrix is all around you.

Simryn Gill is an artist whose work revolves around collection. For decades she has combed the beaches around her family’s home of Port Dickson, Malaysia. Simryn has made relief and screenprint works at different stages of her career, though is most well known for her photographic series, her sculptural assemblages (often involving found objects and printed pages)

Simryn Gill, Pearls, 1999. courtesy of the artist and Utopia Art, Sydney.

and for representing Australia at the Venice Biennale in 2013. Around 3 years ago, Simryn and I began discussing a woodblock printing project that would use as its matrices a series of found pieces of timber from the beaches of Port Dickson washed up from the Malacca Straight.

Simryn Gill, Pressing In, 2016, work in progress. Courtesy of the artist and Utopia Art, Sydney.

Often derived from boats, these degraded pieces of wood were water-blasted to rid them of rot and to stabilise their surface for printing. After various conversations about shipping them to Melbourne to put through the press, we decided their surfaces were too gnarly, and the rigmarole around bringing a container of untreated timber from Malaysia to Australia, too onerous. The solution was for me to travel to Port Dickson and work with Simryn at her home/studio and print everything by hand.

Simryn Gill, Pressing In, 2016, work in progress. Courtesy of the artist and Utopia Art, Sydney.

Early tests proved that the baren was too wide to pick up the traces of grain and sea smoothed and animal interventions in the wood. The solution was found in the humble bone folder, and over the course of two weeks we printed scores of recovered objects of various sizes: some smaller than a smartphone, and others requiring several sheets of printed, A3 notebook paper to contain their form. The results, Simryn feels, are like texts and the process of our rubbings closer to handwriting than printing. The paper holds our touch and it is as though the paper receiving the crisp ink from our rubbing has revived the worn, wooden objects.

Simryn is not an artist who will speak directly about the meaning of her work. Like many artists, she wants the audience to engage with it, its materiality and content, to draw their own conclusions. Though in this series of works it is difficult to avoid the reference to what is cast or discarded into the sea, only to return battered and worn to the mass refugee crisis occurring globally, and its effects and ramifications locally, in Australia.

I had a call from Simryn yesterday saying that we had printed 160 small individual works, among the scores of larger pieces and composite ‘stacks’ we made. Despite the large volume of work produced, Simryn thinks that it is the beginning of a larger project, that will include an artist book and texts interspersed within the printed pages.

The first showing of this project, which is titled Pressing In, opens next Friday [16 September] at Griffith University Gallery.

Reflection number 3: The aim of the workshop is to meet and work together. Any tangible outcome is of secondary importance.

Workshop: If People Powered Radio, 2016. Photograph by Christian Capurro.

Late last year I was invited by Helen Hughes to work on a remaking project of posters from the archive of 3CR community radio to be presented at Gertrude Contemporary. In 2016, 3CR celebrates forty years of broadcasting. In their own words, ‘The radio station was established in 1976 to provide a voice for those denied access to the mass media, particularly the working class, women, Indigenous people and the many community groups and community issues discriminated against in and by the mass media.’

Despite the incredible depth of the 3CR archive of posters, handbills and ephemera, my conversations with Helen moved away from a strictly remaking project to something involving public space. The work already exists, I thought, why make a print? Over time my thoughts coalesced around the idea of conducting a ‘workshop’ in the exhibition space. This is, by no means, an original idea.

The Narrows, Printworkshop, 2008, (top) Bianca Hester & Oscar Yanez, (centre) Launch, Marco Fusinato,
(bottom) Parsing by Susuan Jacobs and Scott Miles. Photograph by Warren Taylor.

The Narrows, a well-loved Melbourne gallery that was interested in the overlap of art and design while preferencing neither, held an exhibition/project called Printworkshop in 2008. As part of this project artists were invited to work in the gallery to make a book in a day using a laptop and photocopier, on paper designed by the artist Matt Hinkley.

Ciara Phillips was nominated for the 2014 Turner Prize for her project Workshop at The Showroom in London, in which she exhibited multiple screenprints and a large-scale print on cotton. She also used the gallery as a site for making work, and exploring the idea of ‘making together’.

For the project Cutting Mirrors at c3 Contemporary Art Space, I was invited to relocate part of Negative Press into the gallery and collaborated with Renee Cosgrave and Elizabeth Newman on a series of monotypes and artist books. While the project transferred the workshop into a public space, the content that was created in the space did not reflect its environment in any way.

Workshop: If People Powered Radio, 2016. Photograph by Christian Capurro.

For Workshop: If People Powered Radio, I wanted to draw attention to the social aspects of the print studio, with particular reference to poster collectives that have a rich history in Australia. It was not about teaching the process of screenprinting (though that may be an unintended consequence of the project) or even finishing with a tangible result. The theme of this reflection ‘The aim of the workshop is to meet and work together. Any tangible outcome is of secondary importance,’ was a line I told the group of assembled participants before we started working. Our meeting together, in and of itself, defined the project’s success.

Workshop: If People Powered Radio, 2016. Photograph by Christian Capurro.

Large scale screenprinting by hand requires a collective effort, that mirrors the nature of activism and collectivism championed by 3CR and its community. The movement of passing the squeegee from one set of hands to another reinforces this. It is shared making, collective effort and responsibility and while I have convened the workshop, the author of the work is the group.

Workshop: If People Powered Radio was conducted over 2 days in the main gallery of Gertrude Contemporary. Spiros Panigirakis, artist and co-curator of the exhibition, remade the boardroom of 3CR in this room. It included a board table with printed ephemera under sheets of Perspex and posters and photographs from the archive from key moments in the organisation’s history on the wall. In preparation for our collective making, I put together a reader gleaned from research into 3CR’s organisational structure and history as a primer for our group to make poster’s that reflected this history. In many respects it was the ideal space to make this work, surrounded by the archive.

The results were interesting, and ultimately two days was too short for this kind of art making, however as I have said the aim of the workshop is to meet and work together. Any tangible outcome is of secondary importance.

Workshop: If People Powered Radio, 2016. Photograph by Christian Capurro.

To attract participants/collaborators for Workshop: If People Powered Radio I sent a callout to artists and their networks. I wanted to work with people without a broad knowledge of 3CR and its activities. I ended up with a group of people who I knew–Emily Floyd, Rosie Isaac, Saskia Doherty, Jaime Powell, Natalie Rambaldi and Olivia Koh. All are excellent artists in their own right and I appreciate their dedication and involvement in this project.

I am currently working on plans for an extended series of Workshop projects in regional towns, as a meeting place, a community space, a venue for people to express themselves: all of which align with the aims of 3CR. I believe to be successful in these new environments Workshop needs to be convened outside of the institution, and occupy a shop front or some other neutral, independent space.

As an aside, I think the thread of this reflection echoes my feelings about art school, that it is the interactions and collective experiences that are valuable, more so than what is physically produced. The record of these interactions is only our memory. In the streamlining of fine art courses across the country, disciplines are being neglected for a theoretically centred pedagogy. While I am in favour of theory, I don’t think it should be at the expense of disciple, or of the collective studio experience essential to the growth of early career artists.

Reflection number 4: It’s a thin line between remaking and reproduction.

Debates surrounding notions of the ‘original’ and the ‘copy’ abound in print related practice. It is impossible to avoid these ideas when remaking works. From an art market perspective, there are more and more art businesses coming up that sell so-called ‘contemporary editions’. Some are bone fide original works, output digital. Sadly, most are reproductions sold as limited art editions that command high prices. They ignore printmaking’s key tenets: the democratisation of artwork through low-cost editions; and the unique, craft based attributes of fine art printmaking. It is the cause of much negative press around print related processes. If the general public are confused about what constitutes an original artwork in the print medium, what luck do they have of understanding the true nature of ‘contemporary editions’ as proposed by these businesses?

Elizabeth Newman, Collateral Damage, 2013.
Courtesy of the artist and Neon Parc, Melbourne.

In 2013, Negative Press published two editions with Elizabeth Newman, Collateral Damage and Untitled. Both are approximately 110 x 80 cm and are a combination of digital printing and five screenprinted colours. The works were made specifically for a collage exhibition titled In the cut at the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art in Melbourne, curated by Hannah Mathews. In making these works, Newman and I discussed how we could collage processes rather than physically collage paper, with the artwork’s surface left intentionally flat.

These works derived from dozens of smaller collages Newman made over the course of 2013. In essence, we have remade the collage as a printed edition. There is a thin line between remaking and reproduction. Have I made with Newman the same type of work I have just rebuked?

In making large woodblock prints with Helen Frankenthaler, Ken Tyler made sure that Frankenthaler worked up her image on a woodblock. They kind of look like paintings, the whole image is there, but they are not paintings: they were not valued and were treated like working images. Tyler, in this instance, was aware of the issues surrounding remaking and reproduction and avoided them via this process.

When making these works with Elizabeth Newman, I suggested we destroy the collages the prints were based on. Or that we should somehow reduce them to a mock-up or working image. It was not truthful, and can’t disguise the origin of these works. Newman has said that the prints are better than the collages. I feel like they are some of the best prints I’ve ever made with an artist. They are original works in so much as the colours have shifted, the surface of the elements changed, though I still think about them in the context of the conversations surrounding remaking and reproduction in the field of printmaking.

Reflection number 5: Where is the edition?

There are two works that I made recently that forgo the edition altogether: the matrix becomes the work. The first are a series of copper plates made for Nicholas Mangan based on his investigation of the conflict surrounding the copper mines in Bougainville.

Nicholas Mangan, Progress in Action, 2016, installation view Sutton Gallery at Spring 1883.
Courtesy of the artist and Sutton Gallery Melbourne. Photograph by Andrew Curtis.

In the artist’s own words:

Progress in Action reflects upon the 1989 civil war on the Pacific Island of Bougainville; a war that lasted over ten years and was ignited over disputed land use, ownership and compensation claims for land damage. This conflict was catalyzed by the imposing Panguna Copper Mine. As a result, conflict broke out between the indigenous landowners of Bougainville some of who formed the Bougainville Revolutionary Army (BRA) and Rio Tinto Copper operating as (Bougainville Copper ltd) in collaboration with the PNG government and Army.

 … Progress in Action pays homage to the BRA’s use of coconuts as an alternative source of fuel through the construction of a provisional coconut oil refinery that is used to produce coconut bio-fuel that powers a modified diesel generator. The electricity produced by the generator supplies power to a projector, which in turn screens a film about the events. This film features imagery of the very material that is at the core of the project: the Bougainville crisis. It is a portrayal of energy in exchange; a series of actions and reactions, flows and interruptions.

 

These copper works continue this creative rationale, imaging the cover of the Bougainville Copper Limited’s prospectus and a topographic map of the disputed mine sites onto the very material at the centre of the conflict.

Tomorrow afternoon [11 September] is the launch of a public art project Standing by Tunnerminnerwait and Maulboyheenner by Brook Andrew and I. It will be a momentous occasion as it is the first time a government body (in this case City of Melbourne) has recognised the frontier wars and resistance against invasion by Indigenous people via a public monument. Tunnerminnerwait and Maulboyheenner were part of a group of Tasmanians that travelled to the colonies of Port Phillip (now Victoria) with the so-called ‘protector’ of Aborigines, George Augustus Robinson. Along with Truganini, Planobeena and Pyterruner, Tunnerminnerwait and Maulboyheenner absconded from Robinson’s watch and travelled to Western Port where they took up arms, raided settler huts, and eventually killed two whalers.

They were hunted, captured and tried for murder and received an unfair trial. And despite lesser sentences being proposed by the jury and prosecution, by order of the trial judge they were the first people to be publicly executed in Victoria close to the location where the monument now exists. They lived in a time when to be black meant you could be shot on site. Tunnerminnerwait’s people were massacred at Cape Grim. Travelling with Robinson in Victoria, the group were aware of the Convincing Ground massacre near Portland. One of the whalers, in his dying words said ‘it serves me right, for I have killed many blacks’. It highlights issues around colonial ‘justice’ and uncovers one of many stories that our nation is founded upon.

The monument we have made has many aspects, including medicinal plantings, a solid bluestone tomb that is attached to a metal swing. Behind the swing structure is a series of newspaper stands that contain lithographic and etched aluminium plates that are filled with texts relating to the story of Tunnerminnerwait and Maulboyheenner.

Our original idea for the newsstands was to relate a more in-depth overview of this history in the form of a newspaper that could be accessed by the public. As this is a permanent artwork (which I believe means it will be maintained for fifty years), printing so many copies of a newspaper was deemed impractical. The second idea was to make a publication, and then use the litho printing plates to make newspaper-like sculptures. Though again, our timeline and budget meant that this was not possible. Ultimately, we settled on creating a series of signs, that relate the story of Tunnerminnerwait and Maulboyheenner and the significance of the site, while still referencing the materials of printing and making something that should last fifty years at least. While it appears like it required a series of compromises to finalise this part of the work, formally it is more cohesive in the context of the site. The text panels also remind me of the various signs on properties along the north coast of Tasmania we visited in researching this work: those that directed us to the site, those of the Van Diemen’s Land Company who own the properties at Cape Grim and their signs that threatened us with prosecution for walking on Aborignal land.

Reflection number 6: Technique is not overrated/Agency shouldn’t be ignored.

Brent Harris‘s studio wall of works in progress.

Last Thursday I delivered a new edition to Brent Harris’ studio. Harris is an artist with a long history of making prints alongside his painting practice. Images are remade, recontextulised and reused between his works. In 2012, Harris made a series of 100 reductive monotypes called The Fall. The figures that populated those intimate works have become the basis of his print and painting practice over the past four years.

Brent Harris, The Problem, 2015, Print Council of Australia fundraiser edition.

As a fundraiser for the Print Council of Australia last year, Harris and I completed our first collaboration. The Problem uses an inverted image from a monotype that didn’t make it into The Fall series. It is produced with an intaglio photopolymer plate and three screenprinted colours. We attempted the work as four screenprinted layers, but the finished print lacked depth, specifically in the inverted monotype image. We were both thrilled with the final result, despite its technical challenges of shrinking paper and fine registration. Brent has chronicled the process of making the work on his website, and it was also published on the Imprint blog, so I won’t go into further detail here.

The Problem has now led us to embark on a series of five new works, the most recent of which is called The Other Side.

Brent Harris works in progress 2016.

Again it is made with a photopolymer plate and two screenprinted layers. What I find so alluring about Harris’s print is the image he has conjured from the characters he has wiped out of a rolled up plate. I am also partial to the craft aspects of the finished work; the integration of print processes to affect the viewer’s interpretation of the picture planes; and the dark intensity of the intaglio element versus the light intensity of the screenprinted layers. They are formal concerns that support his conceptual interests.

Perhaps the opposite finish of Harris’s prints is found in the student posters of the Atelier Populaire.

Atelier Populaire, Capital, 1968.

The Atelier Populaire, or popular workshop, was established when students and faculty staff took over the Ecole des Beaux Arts during the student protests in Paris in May 1968. Of the hundreds of posters created, no artists or designers are credited: all posters were attributed to the Atelier Populaire.

In the workshop’s own words, the posters were to be ‘weapons in the service of the struggle … an inseparable part of it. Their rightful place [was] in the centres of conflict, that is to say, in the streets and on the walls of the factories’. One famous poster translated as: ‘The police post themselves at the School of Fine Arts – the Fine Arts’ students poster the streets.’

These posters function as activism and eschew the aesthetics of fine art printing in the service of political agency, directly communicating their purpose through their formal qualities.

The seventh reflection requires no explanation and draws us back to Sister Corita’s proclamation that ‘The Only Rule is Work’!

John Nixon is a Melbourne based artist who is prolific in his practice as a painter and experimental musician. He fronts a band called ‘The Donkey’s Tail’ and exhibits nationally and internationally several times each year. I can also reveal that he has an extensive collection of Australian pottery bought in opportunity shops and a library of books and records that would be the envy of any bibliophile or vinyl junkie. Nixon is so prolific that he has filled to overflowing a massive studio and storage facility at the back of his house in Briar Hill. It got to the point where he was painting on an outdoor table because he had run out of room.

Along the way, Nixon has also dabbled in printmaking.

John Nixon print archive documentation.

He refers to it as a side project, though he has been characteristically prolific in this field also. Early this year I helped Nixon catalogue 180 separate images, some existing as editions and others unique, created over the past thirty years. These works comprise of small etchings, screenprints, commercially printed posters, potato prints, relief prints, lithographs and xerox works.

Alongside this cataloguing, we have also embarked on making some new screenprints and small etchings. The majority of Nixon’s etchings were made when he taught at the Victorian College of the Arts in Melbourne in the early nineties, in his lunch break. We now meet each Tuesday in the print studio between 1 pm and 2 pm (also his lunch break between four-hour long morning and afternoon classes), grounding up plates, etching and printing. We’ve made five small plates in our last two short sessions.

Nixon’s prolificacy is a reflection of his enjoyment in making work: it’s the reason why so many of us make prints, though as artists, and particularly as artists who make prints, I believe we need to balance our enjoyment and interest in craft with well considered conceptual responses to the content we are working with.

Thank you.

Trent Walter is an artist, printer and publisher interested in the intersection of contemporary art and printed matter. In his artwork, Walter combines multiple readymade sources (textual, pictorial and/or sculptural) to explore narrative, history and intersecting time.

Through his studio, Negative Press, Walter commissions artists to create projects made through the lens of expanded print practices. 

Terminus: in search of an (im)possible conclusion

Images from top to bottom: Melanie McKeePlication II, reverie between two places, 2016, solvent transfer on polyester, dimensions variable; Monika LukowskaImmersed in coal II, 2016, digital print, 68 x 143 cm; Monika Lukowska and Melanie McKeeTraversing the Terminus II, 2016, digital print, 30 x 155 cm; Monika Lukowska and Melanie McKeeTraversing the Terminus III, 2016, digital print, 30 x 109 cm.

This essay, written by Dr Ann Schilo, has been produced for the exhibition ‘Terminus’ at Paper Mountain, Northbridge, WA, 6 October – 22 October. There will be an opening celebration on Wednesday 5 October, 6 pm, and an artist talk on Saturday 15 October, 1 pm. 

A terminus is a place of arrival and departure – an airport concourse, a train station, a bus depot, a port-of-call – that is often the end point of a journey. As travellers, wayfarers, strangers or welcomers, we have all been there, physically and emotionally drawn into its machinations. As a physical location, the terminus is a noisy place of transit. Marc Augé contends such spaces are ‘non-places’[1]. They are zones of mobility whose architectural forms and configurations present a generic view of the world, a nowhere but everywhere that people pass through on their way to somewhere. For many migrants and refugees, the terminus is not just a physical place of embarkation but a metaphoric location. It can be both an ending and a beginning, offering incalculable moments of transition and possibility as the memories of the past succumb to the cacophonous dreams and desires for the future.

Having arrived here from elsewhere, both Melanie McKee and Monika Lukowska imagine Perth as a kind of terminus. Yet unlike Augé’s contention that it is a generic ‘non-place’, they picture its unique characteristics as a location of affective and embodied sensibilities. Drawing upon their experiences of residing in differing locales, they render the paradoxical senses of dislocation and belonging as they try to become emplaced. Individually and in collaboration, they mobilise their artistic expertise to respond to the specificities of living here, in this place, as it tugs at their memories, emotions and desires. Thus this exhibition offers an appreciation of the affective dimensions of emplacement and the material conditions of knowing our place in the world through the practices of two women artists as they picture their (im)possible terminus.

Melanie McKee whose family migrated here after being dispossessed of their home farm, Marston, in Zimbabwe, uses a combination of printmaking, digital photography and plain sewing techniques to explore the personal and historical narratives that surround her sense of both displacement and home making. Stitching together memories of the lost homestead, family stories, and understandings drawn from her doctoral studies, McKee creates highly accomplished and engaging works that evoke more than a memorial to the past or a passing nostalgic reverie. Rather she presents ways of reconciling there and then with the here and now. Such conjunctions of space and time can be seen in works like Plication I and Plication II, reverie between two places in which fabric – overlaid with solvent transferred, fragmented images of Marston and Perth – is pleated into a placed tactile intimacy. The plain sewing – a skill learnt from her grandmother – reflects a generational passage of time, while the printed images convey a fleeting familiarity with places lived and experienced.

Considering the affects of living far from her home town Katowice in Poland while undertaking doctoral studies, Monika Lukowska portrays her experiences of place making as she comes to terms with two radically different locations. The combination of lithography and digital technologies provides Lukowska with a perfect vehicle for picturing the particularities of each cityscape, their surface appearances, architectural forms, textures and emotive resonances. Her works not only reveal her deft skills as a printmaker but also highlight her sensitive apprehension of the material conditions of these differing environments. Lukowska‘s evocation of place can be seen in works like Immersed in coal I, and Nikiszowiec II, where the comfortable familiarity of coal soot that dusts Katowice’s cityscape provides a visual leitmotif for rendering her sense of place. In these works the embodied experiences and memories of over there are collaged into the present realities of now from the viewpoint of here in Perth.

Working together for the first time, McKee and Lukowska bring together a rich and potent understanding of the complex experiences of contemporary nomadic lifestyles, the interplay of memories and everyday realities that are imagined through the sensate material world. In their collaborative work Traversing the Terminus I, II and III the individual artists’ concerns for a sensed apprehension of places are brought into dialogue to create a poetics of transition. This panorama of stilled moments in time and space is pleated into a subtlety nuanced meditation, one that transcends nostalgia and sentimentality. Through rendering the light, textures and other aspects of the environmental locale in which they find themselves, these two artists picture a personal and intimate portrayal of this place as they create a home in the here and now.

In keeping with McKee and Lukowska‘s contention that places are understood through embodied sensitivities, while we may not be able to smell the soot as it coats Silesia’s architecture, nor taste the fruit in the lost orchard left behind, nor hear the sounds of unfamiliar languages as we migrate to new destinations, through the art works in this exhibition we can appreciate those desires and affective experiences that are to be found when travelling through the terminus.

Note

[1] Augé, Marc, Non-Places: Introduction to an Anthropology of Supermodernity, Verso, London, 1995.

Dr Ann Schilo is a senior lecturer in the School of Design and Art at Curtin University. She is a co-supervisor of the doctoral studies of both Melanie McKee and Monika Lukowska.

David Ferry: The Gentle Flavours of Surrealist Chewing Gum

Images from top, left to right: David Ferry, Canterbury Cathedral, 2010, digital archive print, 42 x 59.5 cm; Westminster Abbey, 2010, digital archive print, 42 x 59.5 cm; Ely Cathedral, 2010, digital archive print, 42 x 59.5 cm; Princes Street, Edinburgh, 2010, digital archive print, 42 x 59.5 cm; The Langton Arms, 2010 digital archive print, 42 x 59.5 cm.

In the lead up to the exhibition David Ferry: The Invader’s Guide to the British Isles at The Post Office Gallery, Federation University, Ballarat, UK artist Professor David Ferry will present a lecture hosted by the PCA at the Fitzroy Town Hall next Thursday (see details below). In the following essay, which will also form part of the exhibition catalogue for The Invader’s Guide to the British Isles, writer and lecturer Stephen Clarke discusses Ferry’s Belligerent Rock Intrusions.

One late evening in summer in a large, quiet barn, the artist David Ferry screened the film The Devils (1971) for a small group of friends. As the night closed in, and the air became ever cooler, the film heated up to reach its crescendo with the burning of Oliver Reed and the destruction of the fortification of Loudun. Set in seventeenth-century France, the controversial film by the English director Ken Russell mixes violence, religion and sex, including an orgy scene in which the crucifix is defiled by disrobed nuns.

Ferry considers the act of defilement as central to his art practice and he revels in comedic drama to colour his images. His core subject and source material are the inoffensive picture-book guides that fill the shelves of high-street charity shops. These books offer an innocent perspective on British life, emphasising a shared national heritage that appeals to genteel middle-class tastes. Ferry defiles these scenes in the manner that a small boy pees in the municipal swimming pool. Slight alterations by the addition of material alien to an existing image result in a change of flavour. Unlike the explicit drama of Russell’s violent depiction of the crucifix attacked, the purity of the picture-book scene is desecrated by permissive intrusion.

Ferry is conscious of this tactic of alterations made to books. It has its roots in the Surrealist movement but is also employed by British satirists. Notable examples that Ferry refers to are the books altered by Joe Orton (1933-1967) and Kenneth Halliwell (1926-1967). They had smuggled books out of their local public library, modified the covers, and then returned them to the shelves to be found by the unwary. For the text on the dust jacket of one book they typed: ‘READ THIS BEHIND CLOSED DOORS! And have a good shit while you are reading!’.[1] Foul taste becomes a weapon against propriety. In 1962, following their admission of damaging more than seventy books, the pair were jailed for six months. Officially, their actions had been judged vandalism; historically, these altered book covers have become artistic interventions collected and exhibited.[2]

Montage and vandalism are close bedfellows. A common sight on city streets are billboard posters defaced by chewing gum. These are casual intrusions made by the passerby who takes the masticated substance from their mouth to stick to the surface of a photograph. The gum, now imbued with the saliva trace of the monteur, has a less desirable flavour and this is part of its visceral impact. The small, hard rocks eventually lose their adhesion: intent and act are cursory. Ferry’s Belligerent Rock Intrusions have more longevity. In the series of prints made from his altered book, images and text from guides to rock climbing collide with pictures from a tranquil British scene.[3] Offence is not to be found with either the intruding rocks or the place where they land, unlike the additions made by Orton and Halliwell, and the gum-chewing public: the concoction remains palatable. Ferry’s intention is not to shatter national identity and heritage with a brick but instead instigate questioning through humorous intervention.

Zealous intervention can be rewarded with crushing consequences. In an effort to rid the village of Avebury of rocky inhabitants, a medieval Barber-Surgeon was crushed to death by a particular belligerent rock under which he lay for six hundred years. Avebury’s Neolithic stone monuments – already ancient when the Romans invaded Britain – were by the tenth century considered intruding megaliths. Their destruction and desecration wasn’t halted until the introduction of Sir John Lubbock’s Ancient Monuments Act of 1882;[4] and their preservation was only secured when archaeologist Alexander Keiller purchased the site in 1934.[5] Within a decade, Keiller had re-erected stones, created a museum, and arranged for the National Trust to take over as custodians.[6] These rocks, now no longer intrusions, are instead the foundations of British heritage with previous actions towards them being deemed vandalism. Today’s intruders are the tourists who pay for their visit through car-parking charges, admission prices to the Trust’s properties and, of course, obligatory sweet-tasting ice creams.

Conscious of the invasion of modern tourism, the National Trust has limited the number of souvenir shops in an effort to curtail the appetite of the commercial maw that the stones represent. But, the gamekeeper becomes poacher as the Trust that protects heritage fills its own purse. Although access to Avebury is free, visitors still pay a price. This is more apparent at neighbouring Stonehenge where access is strictly controlled. In her book Our Forbidden Land (1990), the photographer Fay Godwin recalls that her request to English Heritage for permission to photograph Stonehenge over a period of time was allowed on condition that she pay a fee of £200 per visit.[7] It is this payment to get into heritage sites that Ferry’s series of prints, Belligerent Rock Intrusions, questions. His solution is that the visitor can learn to climb into, and onto, the heritage site.[8] Humour belies a fundamental concern which is whether our national heritage is a right or a commodity. His photomontages are acts of trespass, and yet the host accommodates the invader. Unlike the unfortunate Barber-Surgeon who was felled by the stone, Ferry’s climbers cling to the surface immersed in embrace.

The Barber-Surgeon resurfaced again in the 1977 television programme Children of the Stones that was filmed at Avebury. Recast as a poacher named Dai, the Barber-Surgeon is killed off in the same manner as his medieval counterpart. In this production the village, renamed Milbury, is trapped within a time circle where events are continuously repeated. This stagnation is reinforced in the climax to the drama as the villagers meet a petrifying fate: they are actually turned to stone. The wards of the Heritage Industry may have been cast the same fate. In an effort to protect the fabric of the past, a place and its people undergo a process of petrifaction.

Paul Nash (1889-1946), an artist influential upon Ferry, addressed an appeal to the past while paying attention to the advances of the present. By the mid-1930s Nash’s work became a blend of abstraction and surrealism that interpreted motifs from the past. He had a particular interest in the stone circles of the south of England and was given a tour of the Avebury site by Alexander Keiller.[9] The artist depicted the ‘Landscape of the Megaliths’ although his interest was not in archaeology, history or religion, rather the stones served as formal pointers for modern painting.[10] For Nash the stones were not petrified remnants but objects that had current purchase. Avoiding choking on the dust of the past, whilst trying to picture the national heritage, is a hazard of which the contemporary British artist must be wary. Ferry’s attempt to reinvigorate this landscape is to use the Nation’s own compost: Orton and Halliwell’s shit becomes fruitful manure. Ferry refers to this approach – the use of pre-existing photographic images from second-hand books – as ‘re-re-cycling [sic]’. [11] Like Nash, Ferry revisits a past to propose a new surreal landscape, one where the rocks assert their presence and the inhabitants negotiate this new territory with the textual guidance from experienced climbers.

Reference to Nash and British Surrealism is a conscious decision in Ferry’s practice; his predecessors are the veteran climbers who show him where to find his grip. The barn where Ferry shared an evening with The Devils was sited at The Rodd, the farm on the border of England and Wales where the Australian artist Sidney Nolan (1917–1992) had settled in 1983.[12] Nolan was an unexpected resident in this location: he was out-of-place. This ‘angry penguin’, a surrealist from hotter climes, was noted for his depictions of the Australian outback and the anti-hero Ned Kelly.[13] Kelly, the bushranger, became famous for his use of homemade armour that crudely resembled the attire of a European knight. This mêlée of penguins and knights in the desert is transferred to the quiet of a rural town sandwiched between two countries. What should not be there finds a home. It is this ‘out-of-place’ quality that exemplifies Ferry’s practice. The defilement that he relishes is mischievous tampering by the addition of that something extra. Vandalism, trespass and indifference are implied by the title Belligerent Rock Intrusions, but it is agreeable synthesis that Ferry’s montages create. Much like Blackpool rock, the hard-boiled confectionary stick manufactured in Ferry’s hometown, the best way to consume national heritage might be to gently suck rather than vigorously bite.

Notes

[1] Quoted from the defaced flyleaf of Clouds of Witness by Dorothy L. Sayers, altered 1959-1962. The collaged book forms part of The Joe Orton Collection at Islington Local History Centre, London.

[2] Orton and Halliwell’s local library was Islington Public Library. An exhibition at Islington Museum in 2011-12 titled Malicious Damage: The life and crimes of Joe Orton and Kenneth Halliwell in Islington displayed some of the altered books.

[3] The altered book is titled, David Ferry’s Britain in Colour with Belligerent Rock Intrusions mainly in Black and White (2006).

[4] Caroline Malone, Avebury (London: Batsford/English Heritage, 1989), pp. 122-23.

[5] Ibid., p. 126.

[6] Ibid., pp. 126-131.

[7] Eventually the fee was waived but Godwin was permitted only one visit. See: Fay Godwin, Our Forbidden Land (London: Jonathan Cape, 1990), p. 23.

[8] Ferry’s first exhibition of prints from Belligerent Rock Intrusions was titled: Climbing Over Britain (Impact 6 International Printmaking Conference, 2009).

[9] Keiller gave Nash a guided tour of Avebury in 1938. See: Sam Smiles, ‘Ancient Country: Nash and Prehistory’, in Paul Nash: Modern Artist, Ancient Landscape, ed. Jemima Montagu (London: Tate, 2003), pp. 31-37.

[10] Ibid., pp. 31-37.

[11] David Ferry, email to the author, 8 October 2012.

[12] The Rodd in Presteigne, Wales is the site of the Sidney Nolan Trust. Members of The Cardiff Sessions printmaking collective were based at The Rodd, producing collaborative lithographs for their exhibition at the Sidney Nolan Trust in August 2013, when the film was screened. David Ferry is a printmaking consultant to the Sidney Nolan Trust.

[13] Sidney Nolan was part of the movement Angry Penguins that sought to shake up the cultural establishment in 1940s Australia.

This essay has been produced for the occasion of the exhibition David Ferry: The Invader’s Guide to the British Isles, 26 October – 19 November 2016, at the Post Office Gallery, Federation University Australia, Ballarat.

Belligerent Rock Intrusions has been exhibited at: Woodfinch Gallery/Simon Finch Rare Books (in association with The National Print Gallery), London, 2010; Impact 6, University of the West of England (UWE), Bristol, 2009.

The altered book, David Ferry’s Britain in Colour with Belligerent Rock Intrusions mainly in Black and White (2008), was purchased by the Jack Ginsberg Artists’ Books Collection, Johannesburg in 2012.

Stephen Clarke is an artist, writer and lecturer based in the North West of England.

Afterlife at West Gallery, Thebarton

Review by Geoff Gibbons

Afterlife is the inaugural exhibition for a new gallery in the western suburbs of Adelaide that features spacious well lit exhibition spaces occupying the first floor of a modern building. The gallery is the initiative of Margie Sheppard, whose vibrant multi-plate colour etchings can be seen in several interstate galleries.

Margie SheppardCherish, 2016, etching, 62 x 79 cm.

This exhibition of prints brings together a selection of work by many of Adelaide’s leading contemporary printmakers. Curated by Christobel Kelly artists were asked to consider the theme of ‘afterlife’, invoking the analysis of ruins and ruination as described by Walter Benjamin in his Arcades Project.

A number of the fourteen artists represented have explored the potential of working with the randomness of marks left as a trace of earlier projects. Lorelei Medcalf’s exquisite artist’s book comprises collaged segments from etchings that take on hybrid forms constructed from industrial landscapes and plants, all made from a richness of mark making textures. Similarly Simone Tippett has explored the ghost print‘s relationship to its source, in this case a heavily corroded metal plate. She achieves a sense of transience in the subtle traces made on strips of monoprinted paper that seem to hover somewhere between real time and remembered time.

Olga SankeyBloom: Burn, 2016, digital/intaglio, 23 x 40.5 cm.

Olga Sankey references a key concept in Benjamin’s analysis, that of the capacity of ruined objects to divulge insights into their former life. Her paired images can refer to the aftermath of actions, the consequent transformation from abundant life (bloom) to alternate states (burn/blush). Altered states feature in Aleksandra Antic’s long scroll-like silkscreen, giclee and monoprint. Taking as her point of departure an eroded fence that separates a section of the Botanic Gardens from the Royal Adelaide Hospital, the perforations become points of connection providing glimpses into very different social spaces.

Michele Lane’s series of intaglio prints reference the destruction of the Baalshamin temple at Palmyra in Syria. If Benjamin believed that ruination could lay bare the truth of an object one truth is surely that it is impossible to maintain permanence and continuity in a mutable world. Sandra Starkey Simon engages with a related subject in her large screenprint, collagraph and stencil print Firestorm which references the periodic destruction of the city of Magdeburg. Amid the piles of rubble signs of former lives can sometimes be found and even new life in the form of chrysalises.

Sandra Starkey-SimonFirestorm, 2016, screenprint, collagraph and stencil, 76 x 56 cm.

Suzie Lockery’s frieze like print evokes cosmic realms complete with an oval shaped portal that suggests access to other states, even to other parts of the universe. The shimmering points of light on the surface of the portal evoke the myriad of stars in our galaxy. Flanking images recall the background static that is now believed to be the aftermath of the big bang when the universe was a cauldron of intense heat.

Joshua Searson plays with screenprinted images of early film posters. Their fragments recall the layers of torn and over-pasted prints that once adorned the walls and display stands of cities throughout the world. These prints also reference Benjamin’s concept of the Dream World to describe the way that consumer goods and mass culture epitomised by Hollywood films can become the source of an alternative fantasy world that is both seductive and illusory.

This exhibition exemplifies a renewed interest in finding new forms of visual language derived from printmaking that are richly allusive yet capable of engaging the viewer for their graphic qualities.

Afterlife will be on display at West Gallery Thebarton until 10 September.

Geoff Gibbons is a foundation member and chairperson of Bittondi Printmakers Association Inc. that was formed in 2008 to provide an access workshop for artist-printmakers. He has taught printmaking in TAFE and at the Adelaide Central School of Art where he currently lectures in art history and theory.

Trails: Seong Cho’s Works on Paper

Roslyn Kean, artist and Director of The Stables Print Studio, Sydney, writes about Seong Cho‘s work in the lead up to her exhibition Trails at Incinerator Art Space.

Seong Cho, Trail  XII, 2014–15, woodblock, 42 x 81 cm.

It has been a decade since Seong Cho completed studies at Meadowbank TAFE Art School here in Australia, prior to which she graduated as a Graphic Designer in her country of birth, South Korea, in 1978.

Since her arrival in Australia in 1990 the unifying base for this series of works has been established, with focus on memory and journey becoming one.

Her recent works employ very large hand-cut woodblocks where the image is drawn directly on the block with broad expressive brush strokes. These lines capture the childhood memories of the mountainous winding roads of her mother country, and embrace emotions associated with the artist’s visits to sacred temples or family members. The act of drawing becomes the writing of a diary.

Creating a dynamic contrast of light and dark, movement and shadow, the lines take you on a journey of memory. It is not essential for the viewer to know the story but the topographical rendering also creates a link to the written language of Korean characters suggesting a personal story is being told in each work.

Cho wants to establish her vision of the world in a deeper realm: my bold thick lines symbolise the winding and long journey of life we all must take’, but taking time to consider the scenery and various obstacles encountered on the way are of vital importance to the content of her drawings. Now in a foreign country away from immediate family, the path has not always been easy.

Cho is one of many Australians weaving ancestral traditions into a new life for herself here in Australia. This is who we are as a community, so many different cultures and traditions melding together to share in a way forward, while retaining sight of our disparate origins.

These memories help define the person we become. To record in an ongoing series of prints, as Cho has, gives strength and conviction to the ongoing series of works. Working on handmade papers form Korea also helps embody in a tactile way something from home. Hand printing with a baren on this large scale involves a physical engagement that allows you to become very connected to the surface marks of the wood and the intimate way in which the image will be transferred.

There is a spiritual presence in Trails and the viewer is drawn into contemplation and quietness. Cho aims to depict a Zen philosophy, which is often ignored in our busy lifestyle, ‘…we often forget to contemplate our journeys, both where we have been and where we are going’.

Seong Cho’s exhibition Trails will be on display at the Incinerator Art Space, Willoughby, from 27 July to 14 August.

Scratch & Pierce

Mei Sheong Wong guides us through Scratch & Pierce, an exhibition of prints and plates by contemporary South Australian artists exploring the nexus between printmaking and scratched and pierced surfaces. Curated by PCA Committee Members Simone Tippett, founder of Union Street Printmakers, and Vicki Reynolds, Head of Printmaking at AC Arts.

Top: Sandra Starkey Simon, 28 Korana St (detail), 2015, drypoint with chine colle. L-R: Jane DisherHearts for Catholic Girls III, IV and V, 2016,  scraper board.

Like previous South Australian grassroots shows such as Low-Brow and Inked, this marvellous collection Scratch & Pierce has mushroomed from an underground mycelium of devoted printmakers. The elegant venue forms a warren of discovery, showcasing forty-one items by thirty-one South Australian artists.

Inside, John Blines’ uncompromising oeuvre is deliberately confrontational with its accusatory text and severely obliterating process, while bold design and confident process manifest in Simone Tippett’s intaglio collagraph Heartlands. Religious relics inspire Jane Disher’s concentrated scraper-board images in Hearts for Catholic Girls. Primitivist, mask-like forms inform Olga Sankey‘s Spoils and, alongside this, metal ‘shields’ with anachronistic inscriptions are depicted in her work Trophies.

Olga Sankey, Trophies, 2016, etched, inked and mounted zinc plate.

Gloves literally come off in the next chamber. Lorelei Medcalf’s grisly home-made tools accentuate the scratchy physicality of her gorgeous etching Hand Work. Geoff Counsell employs inescapably sinister material in Barbed Shadows, and with a material casting process Stephanie Radok explores the bookish interface between positive and negative in Social Policies for Old Age.

Stephanie Radok, Social Policies for Old Age, 2016, mixed media.

Petra Dolezalova Troyn fabricates intricate, cast resin prints, exposed for scrutiny with medical precision. In the Brevity triptych, Kate Bohunnis provides a subtle interplay of colours, textures and shapes, screenprinted on plywood; while Sarah Thame’s meticulous engraving Untitled scintillates with swirling patterns.

Sarah Thame, Untitled, 2016, engraving; Untitled, 2016, engraved plate.

The Landscape series of cyanotypes by Lauren Sutter is derived from rearranged, fragmented negatives, while Joshua Searson’s pop-inspired combination print City Breathing merges layers of appropriated, eye-catching graphics. Extending the vein of Surrealist montage, Andrew Dearman’s absurdist self-portrait dioramas evince quirky materiality via the notoriously fraught process of ambrotype (wet plate photography on glass).

The pace slows with Margaret Sanders’ Landscape, stylised, perforated linocuts; and Michael James Rowland’s sublime Ghost Tree woodblock, carved from reclaimed timber, is imbued with wabi-sabi aesthetic.

Michael James Rowland, Ghost Tree, 2016, woodcut print and woodblock.

Reminiscent of Chagall’s iconic floating figures, Sandra Starkey Simon’s 28 Korana Street, a delicate dry-point on chine collé, offers an intimate vignette. Etched metal breastplates underpin Sonya Hender’s expressive shift into moody, emblematic prints. And Janet Neilson embraces the unforeseen in A Silverfish Perhaps?, her combination print on ‘insect-damaged’ paper.

In the multi-media work Resurface, Georgina Willoughby experiments with unconventional composition and earthy colours, while Liz Butler’s Margins of Place reveals an on-going fascination with grungy material landscapes of rusted steel plates. Jake Holmes highlights humble, scuffed streetscapes in his frottage-inspired Urban Relief monoprint.

Unique states of Palenque, Hanah Williams’ striking vertical etchings, convey intense materiality. While Vicki Reynolds series Run Away evokes the poignant vulnerability of endangered fauna. The works embody an Arte Povera aesthetic: precise mark-making with simple materials – in this case, salvaged/repurposed polystyrene plates (souvenired during a recent Vicarious Press residency in Fabriano, Italy).

Larkworthy’s lithograph Imagined Landscape expresses graphic clarity and lilting modulation. While a penchant for the whimsical emerges in Jamie Alexander’s carefully crafted compositions Creature with 3 Stars and Creature Study for Abandoning. Barbara Coddington’s monoprint Monsters and Robots reveals a Surrealist impulse, with disrupted text snippets amidst haptic scissor shapes, interspersed with disconcerting red embroidery.

Chris de Rosa, Beatrice, 2015, digital inkjet print, etching and pigment stain on perforated magnani paper.

Dark, unsettling silhouettes contradict deceptively soothing hues in Christobel Kelly’s diptych monotype Ravensmutter. Aleksandra Antic’s multi-media installation Flatness Endless, reminiscent of Sally Smart’s extensive stencil/print/wall compositions, skilfully integrates material multiplicity with tonal interplay. In Lepidoptera Victoriana and accompanying hand-crafted brooches, Sue Garrard shifts gleefully between imagery, process, dimensions and reclaimed materials.

Suzie Lockery’s subtle variations in pattern and process shape the composition of Trajectories 1 and glorious hues and complex organic forms surge forth in Beatrice, Chris de Rosa’s resplendent combination print.

This multifarious exhibition Scratch & Pierce is a great opportunity to tap into the buzzing network of South Australia’s vibrant print community.

Scratch and Pierce will be on display at Gallery 1855, Tea Tree Gully, until 30 July.

Canzone – Music as Storytelling

Wendy Garden, Curator of Australian Art at the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory, reviews Angela Cavalieri‘s current exhibition, the result of a five-year exploration of Monteverdi’s madrigals, now on display at the Northern Centre for Contemporary Art, Parap, NT.

In order of appearance: Angela Cavalieri, Canzone – Music as Storytelling (installation view showing left to right: Combattimento, 2013, and Il ritorno, 2015); Canzone – Music as Storytelling (installation view showing left to right: Ragionando, 2015; Gira …, 2014; and Giro, 2015). Below: Ragionando, 2015, hand-printed linocut, acrylic on canvas, 212.5 x 150.5 cm; All images courtesy of the artist and NCCA.

Opera today is loved for its melodrama and the expressive scores that give life to its narratives. It is essentially musical storytelling and this is what interested Angela Cavalieri in her investigations into the music of Italian composer Claudio Monteverdi (1567-1643), brought together in the exhibition Canzone – Music as Storytelling currently on display at the Northern Centre for Contemporary Art in Darwin.

Monteverdi is often credited with creating the first opera, L’Orfeo in 1607, but this is incorrect. What he did do, however, was create the first great opera, which gave rise to the modern form as we know it today.[1] Frequently hailed as the father of opera, Monteverdi changed opera by creating musical drama based on real people and historic events. He placed human emotions at the fore seeking a union between words and sound.

Monteverdi was an obvious choice when the Arts Centre in Melbourne commissioned Cavalieri to create a work about opera five years ago. Cavalieri has long been interested in the spoken word: the language of gossip; of love; of the tales we tell; of the things that we say and don’t say; of the things better left unsaid; of the words that can hurt or heal – and the magic of storytelling itself. Her recent foray into musical narrative, inspired by Monteverdi’s operas and madrigals, has enabled her to develop this further and draws upon her own experiences of her father singing stories to her as a child.

The Arts Centre commission was followed by a State Library of Victoria Creative Fellowship from 2012 to 2013. This enabled Cavalieri to research more thoroughly the musical scores and original sixteenth century texts and the Italian poets that inspired Monteverdi.

In 2015 Cavalieri undertook a residency in Venice at La Scuola Internazionale di Grafica and this enabled her to explore the city where Monteverdi was based in the last decades of his life. One of the significant works to come out of this residency is Il Ritorno, 2015, based on Monteverdi’s opera Il Ritorno d’Ulisse in Patria – the story of the return of Ulysses after the Trojan wars. Constructed as a double-arched bridge over the water that swirls beneath, it calls to mind the bridges of Venice and makes reference to the twin movements of departure and return. But it also powerfully underscores the way in which words fundamentally create bridges between people. Without language and the level of deep communication it allows, we would, in many ways, remain somewhat isolated from each other. It is through words that we connect together forming bonds that encompass a broad and nuanced range of emotions.

While some of her images can be seen as a more literal response to the music and the occasion of its performance, for instance Pur ti miro, pur ti godo, 2012, other images are more abstract in their treatment. An example is Ragionando, 2015, from Monteverdi’s Seventh Book of Madrigals. It is a response to the moment in the story when the two lovers kiss. They lament that while declaring their love they cannot kiss and while they kiss they cannot speak of their love – what joy if they could ‘kiss the words and to speak the kisses’. Cavalieri gives visual form to the dilemma entwining text in ribbons that interlace to create forms that have a roundedness vaguely reminiscent of pursed lips. Likewise Giro, 2015, is a play with the visual form of rounded sounds that repeat and pivot creating spirals.

Cavalieri has built an international reputation for her formidable lino-prints that give visual form to sounds, rhythms and tempos. This compelling exhibition allows us to enter into the music of Monteverdi and reflect upon the timeless narratives at the heart of his moving scores.

 

[1] Tom Ford, ‘Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo and the invention of opera,’ Limelight, August 2012. Accessed 5 April 2016.

Canzone – Music as Storytelling will be on display at NCCA until 7 May, 2016.

 

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.

Teelah George Poster!

Teelah George, Lessons from Craigslist Mirrors #2, 2016, offset lithograph, 42 x 29.7 cm. Image commissioned for the cover of Imprint Autumn Vol. 51 No. 1 and produced as an unsigned and unnumbered edition of 100 posters, $15 each. Photograph: Tony Nathan. To purchase visit the PCA website or contact the PCA office on 03 9416 0150.

The Print Council of Australia is pleased to announce that posters of Teelah George‘s beautiful artwork Lessons from Craigslist Mirrors #2 are now available to purchase on the PCA website.

The work was specially commissioned for the cover of Imprint Autumn 2016 Vol. 51 No.1 and produced as an  unsigned and unnumbered edition of 100 A3 posters. Check out Imprint‘s interview with the artist here.

Artist’s Statement

Lessons from Craigslist Mirrors #2 employs an object made from the peripheral residue of other processes as a way to suggest the many layers and unseen narratives of image making. The intimacy suggested by the stitched object is expanded through the printing process of magazine production in a way that enables it to be at once big and small. Original agency of the textile is retained yet morphed, as it picks up other connotations from its new manifestation.