Double Elephant Keynote: Redefining Print: 13th November 2015 Exeter Phoenix

The presentation began with:

Who am I? Artist, one-time printmaker, producer of exhibitions in non-gallery locations, writer, project Manager, consultant

Why am I here? I was contracted by Double Elephant to engage with the artists throughout their residency and observe the project as it evolved – writing as a commentary to the development of the final commissions. Also to critically and creatively evaluate the process of “Redefining Print”.

I would be lying if I didn’t admit to finding the experience of being in a print room again, after some 15 years out of one, seductive, emotional and slightly traumatic. I urgently wanted to do it – get messy, inhale, hang paper up in orderly lines, grab the wheel and roll the bed through.

What am I talking about? I’m starting with a series of questions, and will work through my thought processes during the talk. It’s not a straight line – just as the works shown here in the Phoenix are not hung in a straight line, as they are in the RAMM Café.

I will wander, move around, step backwards and forwards.

If we are to redefine print, we need to understand what we are redefining.

Printmakers make prints – but what happens if performers make prints?

Do performers make prints, or do they perform prints?

How can we talk about these things?

Does traditional print also involve performance?

How do viewers encounter print in exhibitions? Do they perform too?

The term ‘redefining print’ infers a change of direction, a shift in approach.

The original brief: A commission opportunity for artists working in visual arts, digital media and time-based media/performance.

Double Elephant Print Workshop is offering 4 artists the opportunity to explore the role of printmaking in relationship to practices of body/site/digitality. The invitation is to develop hybrid approaches and challenge traditional boundaries of printmaking, enabling audiences to see print in a new light through its relationship to your practice.

Body/site/digitality: Enabling audiences….challenging boundaries……these are the thing I wish to speak of….. Looking back at the applications submitted by the artists at the beginning, there is a powerful logic of language and body revealed……..

Body as sensing

Tapping my body

Organic and machine

The body opens up

Body, action, performance, document

The public act of performing

Body-site-text

Tacturiency – the desire to touch

Imagery that speaks of/to the body

The above phrases are from the initial artist’s application forms – even my own application for the role as writer stated: “The printmaking process is embedded in my memory and my body.

After a year of working together, the common thread of words and body are what bind their works together as a curatorial whole. The artists defined the keywords as SURFACE/CONTACT:

The slash mark between SURFACE and CONTACT in the show’s title allows for a range of operation between the two terms. The immediate sense of surface contact suggests a spark, or the transmission of a sensation, as one person’s skin is touched by another’s skin, as one material comes into contact with another. When a mark is made on paper, the intentional tool and the mark-making material come into contact with the receptive surface and material of the paper.

The selected artists all hail from non-printmaking backgrounds. The artists have responded well to the brief – they have achieved all of these things in their work, and carried the challenge through to the audience in the gallery. For them, working in the print studio meant learning a new language, of materials, of process and protocols of space, all of which draw attention to the body.

There are protocols to working in the print room….. of behaviour in the print workshop – bodies in the workspace

I’ve been thinking a lot about how we act and behave in specific places, and the protocols of working in a print studio. Everywhere we go and everything we do involves some form of framed behaviour. We usually know how to act in a particular space. Not just in the arts – but anywhere – you behave in a particular way when you go into a restaurant, or a shop, a cinema orenter someone’s private house.

I hope I am correct in presuming that many people here today, if not all, will be aware of how we act in a printmaking studio. We understand how people move through the spaces, how fast they might move, how they navigate around machines, or between the sink and the work table.

The machines are often very large and the space around them quite small. There are giant wheels that we physically need to rotate, we use our bodies to stretch and bend and move the large print bed through the rollers. We also respect each other within that space.

I haven’t worked in a print room myself for some years, so for me, on returning to the space, these behaviours were very evident. I’d forgotten the order of things – so what hit me was the way the gloves were hung in rows on the wall, the way the rollers were neatly positioned in racks, and the way the paper was hung by that wonderful structure of wooden frames with glass marbles. The marbles allow the paper to slip into place and be held firmly by their gravity. I made me smile to see Clare use this method as a form of display in the gallery, just as I smile when I think about the ‘clean fingers’ kept in the drawer near to the printing beds.

These things say so much about how meticulous and precise it is when we work in the print room.

So……the history of the project is that it all began in May 2014 when the artists got together for a week. On the Tuesday and Wednesday during the first week of the project, the artists spent time in the print room with Suzanne Ross and the Double Elephant team, learning about the processes, playing with materials. On the Thursday I joined them in the Drama department of Exeter University for a ‘collaborative workshop’ with drama tutor Fiona Macbeth.

It was the first time I had met all of the artists and the Double Elephant team. Together we explored how we held our bodies, how we spoke, then went outside to sharpen our senses and record, note, document our experience of being in the world. We then split into groups and made ‘objects’ or ‘sculptures’ for want of a better word.

I don’t recall doing ever doing these things in a print room before!

During the following months we met regularly at different locations – mostly here at the Phoenix in the print room, but also at Spike Island in Bristol, who was a partner to the project. Since that day in the drama department, I think we have all held the notion of the body at the centre of the journey. All forward motion was propelled by the conversations we had, the thoughts that were shared. I was primarily witness to this process. An onlooker. I made notes. I listed words.

The words I witnessed played large in the process, because they were a little different to what I had expected. The first text I wrote for the project flagged this up:

To me, these overheard words are the foundation of Redefining Print.

And the artworks in the show are the outcome.

We talked about conditions: subordination; obsolescence; permanence; utopia and inconsistency

We talked about actions: controlling; drooping; draping; folding; gesticulating; embracing; rolling-up and collaborating

We talked about sound: swish-swish; of fixing speech; the visualisation of speech and dialect

The artists selected for the commissions & their titles:

Katy Connor – UntitledForce

Bryony Gillard – On Frottage

Mark Leahy – Communicating Object; Ellipsis Gill Sans Regular 442pt & Parenthisis Cochin Bold 222pt

Clare Thornton – Triadic Croquet; Untitled

 

Working with the core Double Elephant team:

Simon Ripley

Catherine Cartwright

 

The research period evolved into a fascinating dialogue between the artists, the Double Elephant team – and the medium. What the artists share in common is that they all have varying levels of academic background and they arrived with little or no experience of printmaking methods and practices. They are also established artists in their fields with substantial experience of making works. This residency aimed to bring contemporary sculptural, digital and performance based practice together with the processes, facilities and expertise of the print workshop, offering the four artists the opportunity to explore these in relation to their own practice.

My own focus has been on

Words

Body

And behaviours

The descriptions of the artists works to follow are from the gallery handout, summarising their practice. All of the 4 artists commissioned for redefining print have made works that explore their bodies in some way. I am going to share some brief film clips with you, some made by the artists prior to taking their commissions, others closely related to the development of the work you see here. They reveal inspirations and processes, external influences and actions. I have elected to show movies because their work is rarely static in its presence.

[film clip of Katys video work]

Katy Connor uses cutting edge data visualization based on microscopic samples of her own blood to generate works that operate across video, sculpture, print and installation. Her animated fly-through video renders this sub-atomic data as navigable landscapes reminiscent of early video game graphics while a series of 3D printed objects draw out the aesthetic and experiential flow between digital and physical forms and modes of representation, also highlighted by the breakdown in print quality in her massively enlarged, wall sized print.

Katy refers to a comment by Laura U. Marks: “by engaging with an object in a haptic way, I come to the surface of myself”.

Katy states: There is something to be spoken of here that undoes any notion of ‘techno- progress’ and simply talks in terms of a (sensual) bodily engagement with the materials / process / time

This footage is created digitally with point cloud data. It is of Katy’s blood, which takes centre stage to all her work in SURFACE/CONTACT.

Katy’s work reminds me of Helen Chadwick, who made a very intense work , Blood Hyphen made in 1998/2004 with her blood, which was an enquiry in to the cells taken from a cervical smear test. Chadwicks work was very visceral, of body, of flesh, yet somehow uncannily beautiful.

Katy’s work does something similar but in a different way. The digitisation of the microscopic image of her blood is amplified by process – providing emotional distance.

Or Mona Hartoums exploration with a camera of her body interior. Mona Hartoum , ‘Corps étranger’ (1994), was a video installation that depicted endoscopic journeys through the interior landscape of the artist’s own body. Again, the flesh-body, but distanced through technology. Using the notion of the technology and logic to remove emotional attachment. But not quite body as machine.

[film clip by Bryony of frottage]

Bryony Gillard presents new works from ‘On Frottage’, an ongoing body of work exploring the medium of frottage — whether as a means of artistic production or as a sexual act, and its conceptual links to other practices, objects and times. Her large, frottaged fabric panels are layered with sound, projected concrete poetry and performance.

I have thought a lot during the RD-print residency about the similarities between frottage (or the act of making a rubbing) and print making. Both have to do with the making of an image from a matrix, but involve a kind of moment of blindness, a contact of surfaces.

Bryony makes reference to Paxton’s theory relating to ‘contact improvisation’:   Paxton was influenced by the experimental arts and performance scene in New York in the 1960s and 1970s, and he was interested in how the body could create a physical playground. Contact Improvisation developed out of an exploration of the human body and under the supervision of Paxton

In terms of the works connection to contact improvisation – both rely on the contact of surfaces – the transference of one thing to another ………..With the larger frottage pieces in the show, these have an even more direct relationship to C.I – made with friends, they became almost dances, contortions and manipulations of bodies working together to hold the fabric over the stone and make the rubbing. Working with and against the wind, rain, the angles and gravity of the rocks.

Her process requires that her own body, and those of others under instruction, necessarily stretch around huge stones and rub up against them. The imprint of that intimacy of body against stone is captured by her mark-making on huge lengths of flowing, fabric that folds and ripples. Whereas Katy looks deep inside molecular structures of body, Bryony makes the viewer very conscious of the external layers of the body – the skin, the surface.

On Frottage is an ongoing body of work exploring the medium of frottage  as a means of artistic production, a sexual act and the conceptual links that this process might have to other practices, objects and times.

This statement reminded me of a recent work by Katrina Palmer….

Extract from End Matter by Katrina Palmer: “It was like he was riveting us all into place and we were coming together, fixed in that contorted arrangement, in relief. There were sharp hard edges of cold stone against my naked backside. The island under my feet was pressing into me and scratching me from behind.”

Palmers investigation into the landscape as having agency reminds me very much of Bryony’s approach to her work.

[film clip – link]

This film is a precursor to the work Mark has done for his commission. It is performance. It is language. He will explain much more about it when he speaks. His work is about the action of speaking:

These works examine questions of language, speech, gesture and body across a 3-channel video piece where speech and gesture are isolated from each other, in a set of posters that play with the task of describing a voice in text and image, and in wearable paper objects that prevent or disturb speech.

Mark Leahy presents works that examine questions of language, speech, gesture and body. He is interested in pedagogical modes of display such as teaching aids, instructional videos or examination situations and explores relationships between the spoken word and the speaker, between the body speaking and the body of speech. In his 3-channel video piece, speech and gesture are isolated from each other, while a set of posters play with the task of describing voice in text and image. A further edition of wearable paper objects have been designed to prevent or disturb speech and are made available to try out and take away.

Marks work relating to gesture and performance bring to mind two very different works…..

[film clip – link]

Film by Yuri Ancarani made in marble quarry in Italy.

This connection comes from my experience of working on-site with heavy plant and drivers – the notion of the banks man. The banks man is trained in using specific hand gestures – like these:. To guide huge machines within tiny parameters of movement. Like a dance.

[film clip – link]

And Ceal Floyer’s nail biting performance: Nail Biting Performance (2001) in Birmingham before an audience of classical music devotees.

Ceal Floyer took to the stage of Birmingham’s Symphony Hall on the evening of 7 February 2001, prior to performances of Beethoven’s Overture: Leonore No. 2and Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, performed by the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra. Her ‘nail biting performance’ took stage-fright as its subject, as the artist bit her fingernails into a microphone for five minutes. The sight of her alone amongst the musicians’ empty chairs, accompanied by the amplified sound of nervousness, was affecting and tense.

These examples of how we use our bodies in particular ways, to convey emotional states, to direct people, to communicate, are endlessly fascinating. Few people don’t have some sort of behaviour that we can relate too. It’s the universal body.

Mark Leahys work is not dissimilar in approach to that of Clare Thornton’s – but the inspiration behind the works is very different.

[film clip – link]

Clare Thorntons work begins with dance performances, not of her own body, but the bodies of others – the Bauhaus Ballet Dancers. This work is about rhythm, pattern and systems, but it’s still very much of the body. Her quasi-figurative croquet hoops make reference to costumes designed by Bauhaus artist and designer Oskar Schlemmer for his avant-garde, Triadic Ballet. Using processes of computer aided design and more traditional printing techniques Thornton has flattened and miniaturised his geometric, abstracted human forms back into two dimensional planes. Between these anthropomorphic forms, and the implication of sharp contact between mallet, ball and hoop, it is unclear what the rules of engagement may be and where boundaries of play might lie.

Clare’s work is playful, she has taken three-dimensional imagery from the ballet as a starting point and flattened them into simple childlike slot and stand systems. The designs are available open-source over the Internet to create reproductions. Print has been employed as a process of production, reminding us of dress me dolls that you can cut out of books. And the croquet set looks like it has leapt out of Alice in Wonderland with it’s fantastical colours.

The audience encounter in the gallery spaces: So we have had a brief look at the artists work, which they wull tell much more about after this presentation. The other key people to talk about are the audiences that visit the exhibition. Maybe that is where the outcomes of Redefining Print present the challenge …..

Protocols of visiting an exhibition of prints – this is a diagram of how we usually approach an exhibition where pictures are hung on walls in frames. It’d how the show is hung in RAMM.

The show in the gallery at Phoenix may not be what you expected to see in a print show. If you visit the two different destinations in Exeter – the prints in the RAMM café and here, you will spot the difference, as a visitor/viewer.

walking gallery 1

In the cafe gallery the prints are hung on the walls, like this. They are framed and hung in a line, in a row, and as visitors to that space we read the information on the left, and then we move across and around the space. Our bodies trace the line around the wall of the images and we conduct small actions of of gesture as we look at the art works. We stand back and step closer, to read the name of the artist. We spend some time with each work, we may look at different angles and then we move onto the next one, we move in a clockwise direction. The exhibition has been laid out to respond to this habitual behaviour. Then there is the scale of the works. They could be said to be of a domestic scale. We understand them easily and can imagine them and them on our walls. If we buy the prints in their frames, we understand what we will be getting, we are comfortable with the scale of boundaries.

I left RAMM and went next to the Phoenix, where the show was in the process of being hung. I had of course had an insight into what to expect of the show and had become intrigued by the fact that the artists had approached Matt Burrows, the gallery curator, and asked if they could work together collaboratively to decide on how the show was going to be hung. I think you’ll agree with me that the work in the gallery in Phoenix presents a strong dialogue between the works by each artist. There is definitely a relationship there and I propose that relationship has evolved through the dialogue and the exchange of the artists within the physical space.

During the residency the artists had sought to develop their own individual practice, but they’ve also developed a collective practice. And navigating those dynamics involves the audience to some extent.

 

walking gallery 2

Here’s my scribbly diagram of the layout of the show in the Phoenix gallery.

It’s different to the one in the RAMM

The works aren’t framed, are rarely hung on the walls in lines, they protrude into the room, they make you walk around them.

 

They are not at the same height – they make you work to see them, look behind things, underneath things, through them.

In short, they are demanding that you physically perform in the space, you are actively choreographed around it.

You become an active agent in the work, you are welcomed into the work, not as a passive viewer but as a collaborator. If you wish to, you can download the open source data for Clare’s work and make your own copy of the work. No edition numbers.

Maybe this is what redefining print is? Matt Burrows said he got a real pleasure from hanging the show…thinking about navigation and encounter. I identify with that, because my work as a producer considers how audiences, and/or participants, enter a work in an open space.

The little nuances in the SURFACE/CONTACT show seem to relate to each other through coincidence – and Matt enjoyed negotiating the placing of the works with the artists.

There is the very shiny reflective black Perspex used on the plinth on which Katy’s 3D print sits. Nearby is a disk, like a dark moon leaning on the floor and that is a mirror is the same material, which kind of throws you back to yourself and your own body. This in turn is echoed in the black shiny ball in the next space, of Clare’s croquet ball.

Marks body language reminds me of the gestures used by the dancers in the Bauhaus ballet.

The scale of the drapes that Bryony has printed onto remind us of huge standing stones, we look up at them, we are made small.

The projected text is poetic, as is the fact that Clare’s geometric cutouts are suspended by the marbles of a print drying rack. Words and dance, bending bodies, stretching viewpoints, the action of navigating the exhibition is physical.

Does print need redefining? Some questions…….The mode of presentation in the Phoenix is slightly corrupting and disruptive – is it a challenge for the print audience?

Are we happy to accept these works as what we know as ‘print practice?

If not, why not?

Printmakers make prints – but what happens if performers make prints?

Do performers make prints, or do they perform prints?

How can we talk about these things?

Does traditional print also involve performance?

How do viewers encounter print in exhibitions? Do they perform too?

This text is taken from a presentation and adapted slightly for the page.

Download the entire document, with images:

summary of redefining print presentation carolyn black 2015

 Carolyn Black works as Flow Contemporary Arts as a producer, writer, consultant and mentor. She has a post-grad diploma in printmaking; an MA in Fine art and won an Arts Council Award for critical writing.

http://www.flowprojects.org.uk

 

 

One thought on “Double Elephant Keynote: Redefining Print: 13th November 2015 Exeter Phoenix

  1. Pingback: Exhibition – “Redefining Print”. Visited 16.11.15. | suesprintmakingblog

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