I recently attended the ‘Redefining Print’ symposium at the Exeter Phoenix arts venue and wanted to share with you some of the topics and ideas covered. The day was organised by the Double Elephant Print Workshop located within the Phoenix. What was amazing about the day was the way it set out to expand our understanding of print within a contemporary arts context. It might be a fair generalisation to say that print is predominantly seen as a workshop based activity, with the aim of creating multiples and artists arriving at the “house of printmakers” might feel intimidated by the technical expertise and mastery of processes required to enter into this fraternity. The Double Elephant team wanted to open up these preconceptions by inviting 4 performance artists into their world and asking them to produce new work over the course of 12 months, the result was an exhibition at the Phoenix titled ‘Surface / Contact’
The artists had very little or no understanding of print and its processes, the most interesting thing about their approach to the situation that they were thrown into was the way in which they interpreted the physical aspects of working with print. I can sum-up some of the themes that emerged is a series of words: haptic, physical, digital, taxonomy, organic, body-action, surface, gesture, weight. These are just some of the keywords that came to mind and it’s important to note that the symposium wasn’t aiming to discuss a hybrid approach to printmaking but instead sought to consider how artists might approach print as a complementary form and method, developing insights within artists practice to create something new. For example Bryony Gillard was interested in the sense of improvisation and chance that she discovered within the physical process of print, which she translated through frottage in the creation of an immense installation of printed rock like surfaces on draped fabric. Katy Conor became interested in the elements of print that exist in a more industrial complex. Using data gathered from analysing her own blood she translated her bodily self into the language of print in a digital age.
In the afternoon we were fortunate to hear from a variety of guest speakers, I wanted to highlight with you the work of two of them starting with Elizabeth Tomos. Tomos’s practice was fascinating in the way that she explored the body in space and how the physicality of labour becomes a performance that embodies the print, which she described as ‘liebeness’ a live-body process of research and making, that results in a haptic knowledge production of printing processes.
We were finally privileged to hear from Jo Stockham, professor of printmaking at the Royal College of Art. Stockham showed us her own work alongside her students use of print. What was interesting to me was the way in which new artists were exploring the materiality of print in an almost sculptural way. I did ask Jo if she felt that in current art practice there was a blurring of the boundaries between the Sculpture and Print worlds. She did feel that this was the case and in her teaching she was interested in the way we use print to capture the world, as well as seeing print as a form of time travel!
There is so much to discuss here and I feel that I need to leave you with the many valuable resource links I gathered from the day. I was pleased to meet up with one of my students Lynn Derriman, who travelled all the way from her home in France to research in relation to her own creative practice. The final stop of the day was to the new cinema in the Phoenix where artists Catherine Cartwright and Filmmaker Joshua Gaunt presented a series of animations using print including their own collaborations. We had a discussion after the screening to explore the fascinating use of print as a method for animating as well as a tool for developing powerful themes and research, including women effected by domestic abuse, explored in the work of Cartwright. The key for the animated print works here was to do with distribution, and actually that was something that I felt linked back to the origins of print as a tool for reaching out to a mass audience. Let me know what you think!
The four exhibiting artists in Surface / Contact: