Phantom shapes & ghost events exhibition

Phantom shapes & ghost events

Leslie Mutchler & Jason Urban
6-16 March 2018
F-Block Gallery, Bower Ashton, UWE

These images are works by artists Leslie Mutchler & Jason Urban who exhibited ‘Phantom Shapes & Ghost Events’ in F-Block Gallery, Bower Ashton, UWE, from 6-16 March 2018. This was a must see exhibit for anyone who was interested in print, instillation, the materiality of memory, history, and the documentation of the ephemeral (and more). Bristol’s print girth is slightly rotund, but here we get to see print in a completely new way, one of the reasons why this exhibit is so timely and important. It rearranges our expectations.

A few months ago Paul Laidler planted a seed that was extremely weighty and has formed roots in my thinking when he said the words ‘conceptual screenprinting’. Of course, I fumbled along with some flimsy ways of trying to visually express this, but the work by Mutchler and Urban illustrates this concept perfectly and gave me an aha moment. 

Leslie Mutchler & Jason Urban are making conceptual works related to print, but not making work that we would typically see from printmakers. For example, on their website, you can see images from a project titled ‘UNIVERSAL’, there is one image that shows a rock sitting on a stack of printed newspapers. The rock references the history of lithography printing, and printing from slabs of limestone. Modern plates replaced limestone, and that increased production for the newspaper industry. Today we have print on demand digital print companies, such as the Newspaper Club in the UK, that allows you to print small editions and distribute your own newspapers. I suspect Mutchler and Urban used a similar company, or possibly printed their own small edition of newspapers that we see in this image. The pile of small run newspapers under the limestone rock gives you the history of print without having to show a framed work conventionally hung on the wall.

Babel Unbound and Babel Revisited, is another interesting project that you can see on their website.

The work disrupts our expectations in how we experience book(s). Whether in a library, bookstore, or how we turn the page. On a superficial level, I love how both Babel Unbound and Revisited look. And I can see how this project takes us to their recent project ‘Phantom Shapes & Ghost Events’, in how the instillation of an idea occupies and overwhelms beautifully.

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Work in process

10 October 2017

Photography

It became clear in the research practice module how important photography is to my art practice. And although I typically create digital abstract collages with my photographs, it is still important that the work remains a photograph, rather than a photo etching or a screenprinted photograph. In this way the photographs sit within the photographic historical landscape, even if the traditionalist contest against my process.  I am still traditional in the sense that I use my own photographs and will often photograph with a project in mind. It is in the post-production process where I digitally create my collages with cut-up pieces of my photographs, layering pieces of pixels like they are musical notes.  These scenes can be quite abstract, but I have more recently started incorporating figurative elements. The overall image hints at the digital in how they are constructed photographs, but I am also incorporating parts of the human body or plants to root the viewer into a familiar territory, but in a make-belief world.  I think a tension is formed when the photographic medium is cut up and reinvented, but the output remains as a photographic image, rather than using a printmaking process are usual fictional and illustrative.

Books

I am new to making books, but this is an area that I want to explore in this module. I want to create a small series of books that incorporate my photographic collages and text. Words that I might define as automatic writing. Text that appears in my mind similar to how a visual idea might form.  The photographs and the words have formed separately, but I wish to bring them together in a book to see how a relationship is formed.

At the moment I see these books to be archival pigment printed, with a simple stitched binding, an exposed knot. Probably in a category of photo zines.  I may add a hand printed element, just to remind the viewer and possibly myself that these are gestures of books within the larger category of artist publications.

I do have a preference for quite traditional books. Linen hardbacks, clean design. Simple books. I would like to eventually make my own cloth bound books. Perhaps using letterpress for the text. But I don’t want my books to look too crafty, or to appear DIY. I like those kinds of books, but I don’t want to make them. I am not sure if I can make books to the level of quality that I want them to be.  Therefore, they may need to be printed for me.

I also like the idea of digital books. This is an idea that is a bit odd for me, as one of the wonderful things about books is the tactile and intimate nature of them. The digital book could create experiences that are impossible to print, such as moving image and sound. This would be controversial to the communities committed to print and paper, but could offer some experimental elements that l am curious about. Whether the book is paper or digital, I think of them as a vessel for ideas.

Print

A new project I am thinking about is called ‘Feeling plants’. There is some background research I want to do with nature and affect, but I thought that this might be one project where I could be more representational with my photographs. At the moment I see black and white photographs of pants printed as archival pigment prints or riso prints, and then either screenprinted or lino printing with some minimal shapes to act as barriers and distance between the viewer and nature.  I do want there to remain a photographic element, which is why I was thinking of adding printed elements on top of a pigment print. But I thought that this might also be a project where I could incorporate some field recordings.  I think this speaks to the poetic yearning for the landscape. The sentimental and romantic sense of loss. The desire to feel it, to get close to it, to be it.

Sound

During the research practice module, I focused on sound, photography and affect. I used affect and sound to guide the creation of my photographic montages/collages. It was sound that allowed me to think of print in a fragmented way. Layering sound, like a screenprinter might layer colours on a print, or in my case, layers of photographic images. One of the artists that I focused on was Jez riley French. He is a sound artist, photographer, composer, field recordist, writer, book maker, and educator. He combines all elements harmoniously. He also is a sound geek and makes microphones. I would be keen to take one of his workshops for the professional practice module, so that I could make my own sounds.  Although I am slightly daunted by his experience, and the lack of mine. His work in my mind is perfect and is highly respected in his field.

 

 

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Laser Cutting

5 Jan 2017- Practical Workshop, Introduction to Laser Cutting, with Zarya Moskowits and Richard Falle.

There are endless examples of laser cut objects, usually in gift shops, where you stumble around trying to find something just right in a sea of disposable consumption. I think my first introduction was seeing heart felt messages engraved in wood picture frames and various other saccharine gifts for Mother’s Day or to celebrate the birth of a child. It is with great relief that I never received a gift like this, as I do tend to keep the gifts I am given. More recently I have received some interesting laser cut specimens. Although upon receiving them, I never really thought of them as laser cut, just appealing in the way that I couldn’t have made them myself. There is always going to be a group of people who can see the potential of a medium, to experiment with it to create something new, and that is what is so thrilling about laser cutting. Moving beyond the inscribed sap, and into the world of concept and craft. Infinite possibilities.

What was fascinating was seeing a sample print in the fabrication centre by Arthur (Arthur Buxton?), where he laser kissed the surface of a painting. This added another interesting layer to an already beautiful print. Here is an example below, but seeing it on the screen does not do the print justice as the haptic nature of a laser cut needs to be felt. In this example, I would be inclined to call it a laser whisper rather than a kiss, and could easily be missed, but this visual treat was rather grand to me.

Arthur Buxton (?) Laser cut (kiss cut) sample in fabrication studio.

This could be a way of creating a hybrid print, by adding the digital layer (the laser cut etching) to the handmade print. I am currently thinking of two possibilities here:

  1. My idea of glitching William Morris Wallpaper.
  2. Creating visual sound samples and loops referencing the etchings of John Cage.

Both can start as traditional printmaking techniques, such as etchings, but then could be laser kissed to add the digital element I have been wanting to experiment with. In this way it could be much subtler, as I have been worried that both techniques could compete with one another and disjointed and look more like two separate prints rather than a combined effort.

Laser cut sample in fabrication studio.

The only negative is how technician dependant most of us would be at the beginning stage, and I hate having to ask for help. This is probably the reason for my hesitation with a few of the different print areas. I come from a photography background which is usually a solo pursuit, and of a can-do generation, and would rather not have my hand held or spoon fed, at least not for another 40 + years, I hope.

Chrystal Cherniwchan- Laser cut test

Textile Printing

1 Dec 2016- Practical Workshop, Introduction to Textile Printing, with Andy & Duncan.

Textile printing

This workshop was in two parts, longer than the other workshops planned for us, and an optional sign up instead of required. I really did struggle deciding whether I should use this time in textiles or spend the time working in one of the other print studios expanding on some ideas I haven’t brought to life yet. I just thought that so far, there has been some really unexpected results when trying something new, and my curiosity took over. When else will I get this time to explore.

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The pace and planning did frustrate some of the other students, as they thought that perhaps too much detail was given to some elementary areas, as most people already had screenprinting experience. I on the other hand felt fine with this, and thought that this could be the one area where I might feel the most confident going back to.  But I probably have the least printmaking experience compared to the other students in my cohort, and therefore didn’t mind more information and time spent preparing to print.  Once we could roll up our sleeves and start printing, everyone thought the wait was worth it.

I was also apprehensive, as I tend to think of textile printing as being quite applied and or commercial. T-shirts and curtains come to mind. Decorative arts. Making things for people to buy. And, by-the-way, I love to buy these things, and do wish there was more of it. But do I want to make them? What about the conceptual in textiles?  I just don’t know if it is a medium for me. To use for making. I do love printed textiles, in particular Marimekko. I recently read an interview with Geoff McFetridge in Huck Magazine, who also went to the same art school as me, I guess all the successful people graduated in his year…  He offered some good advice.  He loves tennis, but he doesn’t make art about tennis. Helpful to keep that in the back of my mind, because I love many things, and it can be distracting at times to not want to incorporate it all into what I make, but we can’t do everything, and like the Hiut’s philosophy who started Hiut Denim, and only make jeans, ‘Do one thing well’.

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I do think it is interesting, so far the workshops that have been most satisfying, have been the ones I have had the lowest expectations and enthusiasm for. Enamelling and textiles. I was initially apprehensive, and wondered what on earth will I make, but we achieved results almost instantaneously, which was very appealing. Some of the printmaking processes can take so long, so it is appealing to have something to take with you at the end of the day.

We knew ahead of time that we would need to create an image to print on an A3 Folex prior to the workshop.  I rather enjoyed creating reductive scenes inspired by architecture, transport systems, and quasi-cityscapes. I had three possibilities, but had to go with one, and this is the result.

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Andy was very helpful and suggested to flip the screen for a layered effect which was fantastic advice, it made the piece much more successful.  I would like to explore textiles more. If I have a bad stretch of not producing work that I feel good about, I will head over to textiles. Colour and shape is rather jolly.  And sometimes we need that.

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Enamelling

3 Nov 2016- Practical Workshop, Introduction to Enamelling, with Rachel Davis.

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Wow, wow, wow! This was a fantastic workshop. I had no idea what to expect, and was so pleasantly delighted. It was possible to get results in a very short period, which is always pleasing for those with little patience. I had in mind that it might be similar to ceramics and the pieces would need a longer time in the kilns. But not so, 2-5 minutes and the little particles of glass melted into a solidified shiny piece of beauty. Okay, maybe not all of our tests were truly beautiful, but the reflective brilliance of the glass at work, does in fact enhance. Not quite a silk purse, but it does have an effect.

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Rachel showed us some examples of artists who used enamel in their work. From the historical decorative arts to contemporary pieces. I was very taken with the work of Laura Boswell. The large enamel pieces she did for Aylesbury town centre, really triggered some ideas for my own work, which I will go into greater detail in my concepts/ideas section. Because the work was so large she needed to work from AJ Wells and Sons Vitreous Enamellers. This is a company that would normally produce industrial, architectural, and/or commercial signage, which is why they are set up to do the large enamelling work. It would be fascinating to visit.

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She also talked about screenprinting with on-glaze enamel, and using decal transfer papers if you are looking to “print” on enamel. There is also the possibility of sending artwork to Digital Ceramics if you have the money and are not interested in attempting this yourself. I am very interested to do some tests with some of my photographs and getting them made into decal transfers. If they work well, then it would be interesting to explore larger possibilities at A.J. Wells & Sons, but I would hate to guess what the costs would be. Might be worth searching for funding now, if one wanted a large enamelled piece in 3 years time!

Typesetting

27 Oct 2016- Practical Workshop, Introduction to Typesetting with Ben Goodman.

Typeset from typesetting workshop.
Typeset from typesetting workshop.

At a loss for words, not worbs. The letter ‘d’ and ‘b’ so easily misused in this process. Hopefully I will only make this mistake once, as it was not a quick job changing the letters squeezed by the quoins and furniture. And of course the mistake was only noticed after the letters were pushed through the ink and rollers and onto the page for everyone to see. If you are terrible speller, this is unpleasant.

Found pointing.
Found pointing.

It was a relief, not literally into the paper, but a relief in the sense that I didn’t have to test my drawing skills this week. I like to draw, but I am not brilliant. But drawing does come easier than words, so it is really saying something for me, when I say I was relieved to use words this week.

Or this way.
Or this way.

Actually, when I think more about it, words are less difficult when they can be a sentence or less. And I don’t mean a long, meandering sentence with no punctuation that fills a page. I mean, 10 words or less, would be my preference, if I could choose. It is wonderful when people are good with words. But not me. It is a slow and laborious process. And the slowness doesn’t help with the quality. How I start the sentence if often how it should end. You have probably noticed his. Perhaps using words could be compared to playing an instrument. If you want to play well, like in a symphony, something serious and classical you would have had to practice, for almost as long as you have used words.

Giving a bit of space.
Giving a bit of space.

I have a feeling that Scrabble players would enjoy typeset. The sound of the furniture was a familiar wood sound heard in a scrabble match. The individual tiles of Scrabble type are like the individual typeset letters. The arrangement of type on the composing stick could be similar to composing words on a Scrabble composing rack. Oh, and another similarity, the cleverness of coming up with a good word, spelt correctly, definitely scores high.

I wonder about the writer. What feeling do they have when they write? What would be their yearning? Is it the same as any artist, the desire to make? Rather than paint as the descriptor, the words and the choice of words paint the scene. Or is that a poet? Would a poet say, I am a poet not a writer?

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Type-ing.
Type-ing.

If typesetting/letterpress is your medium, what makes your words or my words worth printing? I guess not different than printing a drawing. But I guess it is your mark on the paper that is unique. If we all print the word Hello, does it just come down to typeface, point or picas, and the careful craft and paper stock that makes our Hello’s different? Is that different enough? But, there is a difference when we mix letterpress with our other prints, to create a layered and a very individual piece. Or, I suppose when words are not just one word, but one’s text that has been created and crafted. It is not just the investment of time, because printing Hello, does take time.

Points or picas, points or picas, points or picas, points or picas…

Backwards messages.
Backwards messages.

Etching

20 Oct 2016- Practical Workshop, Introduction to Etching, with David Sully.

What could be better than having a golden twinkle revealed as one draws through the black hard ground into a copper plate. Even though I am not an illustrator, there is something about the physicality of this process that is very satisfying.

Etching work in progress.
Etching work in progress.

I will want to experiment more with the timings of the plate in the acid-bath. Some of the examples of long exposures in the bath, produced some interesting results. And as you can see below, extremely long exposures can eat right into the plate, which are sculptural objects in their own right.

Effects of a long acid bath.
Effects of a long acid bath.

I can see some limitations in this process if one wants a layered final image. If you are working in black and white or with one colour, the end result is beautiful (if you ink the plate properly!). In this process the paper needs to be wet to print, and you cannot do layered printing, like you could with screenprinting. But, I suspect some interesting experimentation could be attempted here.

I recently took an intro photo intaglio course at Spike Island, the results were more photographic than my attempts at screenprinting from a photo stencil. I think more experimentation is needed, but the embossed edges around the image from the plate being squished into the paper, is one of the best features of this process. It brings a tactility and dimensionality, that you don’t get from many of the other printmaking processes.

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In the etching studio.
In the etching studio.

One could add layers to the image with embossing or debasing rather than color. A quieter and more-subtle way of building on an image. Although you could also play with this understatement, by using controversial and unexpected text.

I am not sure if it is because I have taken a couple of intro courses in etching that makes the etching studio feel at home, but it is definitely a space I would like to spend more time in. Perhaps it is the cosiness of the think felt blankets on the printing presses, or the scrim hung up like an art instillation. The almost mid-evil way of using candles to deposit soot and blacken the plate for etching also adds the atmosphere.

Print from the etching workshop.
Print from the etching workshop.

Relief

12 Oct 2016- Practical Workshop, Introduction to Relief, with Frea Buckler.

I was highly apprehensive as the relief workshop drew near, I had no previous relief experience prior to this, which seemed a bit strange, as it’s often an introduction to printmaking. Children do it, even with potatoes. But sadly not me, not even with the humble spud!

Relief prints are lovely, highly detailed illustrations or strong graphic ones, but this process does seem to suit those who can draw. It also does your head in. Not only do you have to remember that the image will be printed in reverse, but the layers of colour you may want to add, requires you to subtract more from the material you carve from. One must make further reductions from the image to preserve the colour already printed. The opposite to how I think about screenprinting for instance. I am squinting as I write this, as it is still difficult to comprehend.

I did learn that it is possible to laser cut an image into the material you would normally carve from. So, if drawing is not your strength, fear not, you can still produce the relief printing effect that is wonderful. But, I have to say, craving away into lino was marvelous. Very moreish, which is handy I guess, when it is a reductive process.

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Linocut in progress.
Linocut in progress.

I would fancy having a go at woodcut. I have come across artist Christiane Baumgaetner’s woodcuts, that are of contemporary scenes of digital screens, but using a traditional process. The results are impressive: Here is a short interview of her discussing this process: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1hWdJV86f9w&feature=share

I still remember Kathe Kollwitz’s woodcuts from art history courses. They were expressive and emotive. She seemed to just as easily create an image by carving in wood as she could draw with charcoal.

Linocut hanging out to dry.
Linocut hanging out to dry.

Screenprinting

6 Oct 2016- Practical Workshop, Introduction to Screenprinting, with Dave Fortune and Frea Buckler.

Dave Fortune Screenprinting Workshop.
Dave Fortune Screenprinting Workshop.

It is easiest for me to think of screenprinting as an additive process. The adding of layers. This feels natural to me, as many things we do in life involves building. Like a recipe of sorts. It also may feel natural as it is a process that is in the vocabulary of most people, especially these days. Quirky and humorous anthropomorphic creatures are often created through this process. Cards, prints and T-shirts are made this way. Perfect for illustrators.

I am not an illustrator, and have attempted to screen print photographic images. I have had mixed results, but have since learned, and am eager to test, that simple decisions like using a fine mesh screen will provide more detail, perfect for photographic imagery.

Print dryer

Adding a bit of warmth to black ink was a trick that Dave Fortune showed us, perfect for one colour printing. Black can be harsh when the only colour, and softening it with, in this case a touch of Aubergine, was well considered.

I have not colour separated a photographic image yet, I have only used one colour, but I am keen to attempt to create an image like this:

One of my photographs I would like to screenprint.
One of my photographs I would like to screenprint.

So far, my biggest difficulty has been creating photographic transparencies. Probably because numbers are involved and it is slightly technical when it comes to dithering, halftones, and outputs, but I must crack this nut. And of course, if I want to introduce layers of colour, then I need to master one colour first. Watch this space.

Screenprint from workshop.
Screenprint from workshop.

 

Lithography

29 Sept 2016- Practical Workshop, Introduction to Lithography, with Phil Bowden.

If you are a fan, like me, by the way that watercolour or India ink pools and dries with a halo of pigmentation, then you will highly appreciate the reticulation effect when Tusche dries on a limestone slab. It requires many steps, but I am sure these would become second nature over time, and certainly worth it for the quality of prints made through this process. The tonal range forms like a cumulus landscape- beautiful.

And now after paying more attention to lithography as a process, it is more obvious why prints from Daumier, Goya, and Redon (just to name a few) are so impressive, and of course etched or rather off-set into our brains. It is not just the illustrations that the artists created, but the printing effect in conjunction with the image has contributed to the overall impact of prints.

I have to say that I do prefer the effects of drawing directly on to the limestone, rather than creating a positive on mark resist for the more “modern” plate lithographic process. But, the preservation of detail from the positive exposed to the plate is rather encouraging, so I would like to do further tests to see how a photographic image responds to the photolithography process.

There is also something quite nice about the machinery. The way it grasps the paper and holds it in place. Watching the inked image on the plate off-set onto the roller and then finally cloned onto the paper is curious and satisfying. I would also like to explore how registration might work with this process, as the mechanical grasp might assist in positioning the paper, just right.

I wouldn’t dream of trying to over complicate the already complicated lithography process when printing from limestone. One colour is not a sacrifice, and I did learn a colour trick that could be used in this process, from Dave Fortune’s Silkscreen workshop. I will discuss this next.

Lithography tools

Reticulation on limestone
Reticulation on limestone
My workshop print