Wednesday, October 06, 2010
I keep talking obliquely about printing big and my upcoming exhibition with Megalo. I started really getting motivated today, and decided to document my progress in the same way I did for my NZ residency.
So: a bit of context. Megalo, our fabulous, unique, community-enlivening Canberra print access studio, is moving premises, from its current (shared) location in Watson at the old Watson High School site to a very prominent heritage site in Kingston that will enhance its position in the local arts community: a short walk from the National Gallery and right next door to the Canberra Glassworks and the Bus Depot Markets.
On the weekend after next (15/16/17), the National Gallery of Australia is having its annual printmaking symposium, with the theme of MATERIALITY. If you're interested in any kind of printmaking, it's going to be a good thing to attend. Anyhoo, Megalo has the opportunity to use its new building before the actual move, and so is putting on a gala print exhibition in conjunction with the symposium, and it's called PRINTBIG. Artists taking part have had some teaching connection with Megalo: GW Bot, Robert Boynes, Julian Laffan, Mike Parr & John Loane, Annie Trevillian, Minigraff, Surya Bajracharya, Liam Garstang, and myself.
There's a reason why it's called PRINTBIG: we are all producing printworks to be installed, mounted or printed onto walls that are 3.6 x 3.6 metres or 4.8 x 3.6 metres in dimension... eek! When I was invited, I was only a week or so from leaving for New Zealand, and I didn't have much time to think deeply, so my first instinct was to pick up the phone and ring my friend and casual collaborator, byrd, who scales up his work on a daily basis. I asked him if he'd do s formal collaboration with me.
Often my first gut impulses can be wacky, more often they are quite insightful in ways that I hadn't first realised. In this case, I sat down after the first rush of adrenalin and thought about working with byrd on a wallpiece. I also thought about why I was asked to participate in the first place -- I mean, I'm a book artist. I work quite small scale. I had a show at Megalo last year in which I used the space in an interesting way, and maybe that is what gave Alison (head honcho of Megalo) the idea that I could work with a large space here.
I love collaborating with people, whether they are present or absent -- I know that last word sounds strange, but when I work with text I don't just take the text and mould it into my shape; I research the writer, think about what they're saying, and try to enhance it or pair it with something sympatico, and if they have/had strong opinions, I work with them. If it's a full-blown collaboration, with full participation of all parties, there's a dance that you do to give and take your wants and desires with theirs (this is what I'm talking about at the print symposium, amongst other things). In the case of byrd, I need his experience with scale, and I wanted this to be more than just him helping my upscale my work. I wanted a FULL collaboration.
I rang a poet friend who lives in Qld, Angela Gardner (who is also a printmaker) and asked her if she had any spare words about, say, chaos or destruction, or societal breakdown or something similarly chunky and interesting. Angela is constantly writing interesting things, and I knew that she'd be up for a bit of textual wallplay. She sent me a long unpublished series of chunks about architecture, and right at the end there was a fabulous bit called Demolition, which I knew was perfect for gelling the wee scraps of idea in my head. Angela was originally going to come down for the symposium and have a play during the installation, but she's had to cancel, so we're just going to pretend she's standing behind us when we're working.
That's my pile of 'sketches', working out what the text means to me, and rough ideas of what I want to text to do. Byrd is doing his own undoubtedly more artistic sketches, of the imagery he and I will create together alongside and amidst the text.
I'm treating our wall as a page spread of a giant book, like a big textual billboard. I'm taking the words of a poet and using an artist to help me bring them to life. That's what I do with books and broadsides, and that's what I'm doing here, and that's how I'm rationalising working at this scale (so that I don't panic).
I did some printing in Dunedin on the last night of my residency, using their wonderful large woodtype letters, and some of their fabulous brown paper (that is so much better than anything I've found in Australia). I've got various bits of brown paper around the studio, and I posted back to myself all the brown paper lunchbags that the college gave me for lunches during my residency. And now I'm using my wood type to print the words I need.
I'm printing a few copies of everything, and working from the top down. It's a very organic process; I'm squeezing as much onto the paper as I can, and will tear down once they're dry. I'm working with the words in a loosely concrete style, using hand-rolling the paper surface to create meaningful texture, such as in the word breakages.
Angela has, bless her, given us complete creative freedom with the text, so the formatting is totally up to me. I have given byrd complete creative freedom with my layout, and we'll be using collaged overprints, stencilling and graffiti spray to hopefully make it come alive.
The trickiest thing about this project is that we only have one night to install. The cubes (each artist in PRINTBIG has a side of a huge plywood cube to work with) won't be build until the afternoon/evening of the 14th of October, and the media launch of the show is on the morning of the 15th. So we're pre-preparing as much as we can, but it will be a big night, working in situ to get the piece finished. Which in itself is apt, since a chunk of the (visual aspect of the) work is about the scuttle of street artists to get into a fresh site at night before it disappears or gets totally worked over.
More photos (ongoing) here. I will try to keep documenting this, but as you can see, there's a LOT to do. It's scary, but this is to date one of the most exciting projects I've worked on.
PRINTBIG is only up for three days. If you can get to it, do... there will be live projection works, fabulous installed art (cross fingers) and also an audience participation piece, making Australia's largest monoprint, right over the weekend. Doesn't it sound terrific?