PROJECT SPACE SPARE ROOM / 18 November to 15 December 2011
Artists embrace the current state of printmaking in diverse and distinctive ways. They combine old and new print technologies, engage in repetition and its variant as well as unpack the print process to include process as the content of a print. The burgeoning presence of Indigenous prints, creative collaboration between custom printer and artist, changing art and print-related hierarchies and international print portability all inform contemporary print culture. A specially commissioned print from each artist is included in the exhibition.
Placement of inscriptions in the landscape have meaning, particularly for traditional Indigenous artists. At Injalak Hill, Gunbalanya, in the Northern Territory Graham Badari can look at the heritage of centuries of overlaid rock art but he may not add his contribution or reinforce a fading image; there is an agreement to make no further additions. To negotiate this lesion in continuity the option of another medium, such as etching, is an alternative on which to inscribe and reinscribe an ongoing culture. Not at all sustaining like the innate connectedness of culture to place, the prints are displaced—born for travelling.
Andrew Sinclair regularly commutes between Melbourne, the Northern Territory and the Torres Straight Islands, working with Indigenous artists to produce editions of prints. As an artist in his own right he keeps sketchbooks, recording his travels through Western eyes as well as capturing his respectful listening to Indigenous cultures. He developed the rock-textured etching plates that underlay the imagery of many of the Indigenous artists he has worked with, including Graham Badari. His aim is to deliver a context for imagery, the integration of culture with being on country. As travelers from across the world leave Gunbalanya in the shadow of the rock art of Injalak Hill with prints under their arms, perhaps they take away some experience of that original context of artists, the artwork and its environment. Through collaboration, Indigenous artists’ cultural practice is mediated through a Western approach to embedding context.
When Erik Mark Sandberg arrived from Los Angeles as an international Artist in Residence with the School of Art this year he visited the early twentieth century collection of bark paintings from Gunbalanya at the Museum of Victoria with Graham Badari and Andrew Sinclair. Barks were not collected at the ‘right’ time, nor prepared in an exactly conventional manner. What other modifications were made in the delivery of imagery? Some powerful images, such as the lightning spirit have not been rendered in recent years, but this spirit is still alive for Graham Badari. Erik, through his engagement in the Printmaking residency, will take Graham’s powerful and dangerous spirit man hiding in wait in a termite mound and be able to display it on his apartment wall in Los Angeles. He takes away a small fragment of Indigenous knowledge through this cross-cultural engagement. Erik’s own practice is founded in commentary on Western consumption. The recent trend for production of Indigenous prints for international distribution meets a knowing critique and celebration of excess in a bizarre confluence. Such is the nature of print portability that Erik chose to make some of the prints in his home studio, which have been flown back for this exhibition.
Michael Florrimell sets the stage for examining various roles of print production, with a focus on the interface between old and new print technologies. His multimedia man can slip from digital image manipulation to baring an inky forearm as he heads for the etching press. His related portraits, including one where he is perched on an etching press, candidly presents one of a range of print roles. Joel Gailer through his practice also enquires into perceived print hierarchies. He activates printing through carving his beach thongs and making performative prints as he walks. Taking print mobility further, his carved vehicle tyres track across the gallery floor and leave behind their newly formed imprints of text. He ventures into street art and mass print publications to examine, critique and expound on the relationship of print to art in the gallery, street or bookshop.
Heather Shimmen playfully incorporates the printing process into her works, often printing on etching press felts that have seen better days. By extension other fabrics are co-opted into the printing process and her specimens burst out of the confines of the second dimension but without ever denying their flat bed-press origins. She confidently cuts and collages her prints to assemble creatures: creating her own tactile natural history. Kate James too has a passion for the natural world and brings to it a meticulous reweaving of sculptural form through often obsolete crafts. Stitching, hitching and cloning share a repetitive activity with the process of producing a print edition. Kate uses an obsessive manual approach to her advantage, creating a transformation through process, whether it be sculptural production or digital printing.
Collaboration, where not invasive to traditional Indigenous mark-making and iconography, is a reference point for examining how traditional imaging methods are mediated through Western contact. Multiples and multiple connectedness through our print-laden world is a thread that runs through all of these artists’ work. Artists selected for Print Culture capitalise on flexible and portable print media, seeking out permeable and contemporary contexts for their art practices.
Dr Ruth Johnstone is a Senior Lecturer based in the print studios of the School of Art, RMIT University
Artist as Print Curator: the RMIT Experience, by Ruth Johnstone
Curator Ruth Johnstone selected seven artists for their contribution to the reworking of media in contemporary print. These artists were allowed access to the RMIT School of Art Printmaking studios to develop a limited edition of 25 prints for Project Space/Spare Room gallery. These prints are available for purchase for $200. Each print purchased assists in the continuation of Printmaking Summer Residency Program and facilitates upgrades for the print studios and galleries.
Heather Shimmen is represented by Australian Galleries, Melbourne and Sydney. Kate James is represented by Daine Singer, Melbourne. Joel Gailer is represented by Dark Horse Experiment, Melbourne. Graham Badari is represented by Injalak Arts and Craft Association, Gunbalanya, N.T. and along with Andrew Sinclair and Ruth Johnstone supported Graham Badari’s residency in Melbourne. Erik Mark Sandberg was a guest of RMIT University through the School of Art international Artist in Residence Program—SITUATE—and is represented by Jonathan LeVine Gallery, New York. Thanks to Andrew Tetzlaff and Stephen Gallagher for their advice and assistance in managing this project.
The Gallery would like to thank our Technician Malcolm Llyod; Interns Adriane Hayward, Amanda Airs, Join Liong and Jess Sutton; all of our Volunteers for their assistance in this exhibition; Ruth Johnstone, Richard Harding and all the staff of the Printmaking studio. Stephen Gallagher and Andrew Tetzlaff would like to express their appreciation to Omnus framing and Baddaginnie Run boutique wineries for their ongoing support.