Mirror,Mirror – Review

MIRROR MIRROR OPENING NIGHT

by David Greenhalgh

The Mirror Mirror exhibition was lit by a sole source of light during opening night: an unassuming tungsten bulb lay in a corner awaiting destruction. Across the floor of CoFAspace stood Al Poulet, assuming the persona of the wandering flaneur: Like a character from a Beckett play, prone to boredom and a destructive urge, Poulet began to throw various projectiles at the light. With a balloon-like pop, a well aimed stone threw the gallery and all its patrons into darkness. While this wanton destruction seemed without purpose, the Throwdown Press residency, begun by Jason Phu and Ben Rak had a well-defined agenda: Explore the possiblities of printmaking, but not with seasoned printmakers. Three amateurs held the reigns of the inaugural residency, and the results reveled amongst a lack of experienced control.

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A lack of control seems an appropriate common ground amongst the artists Al Poulet, Patrick Cremin and Ramesh Nitheyendran: Poulet used the printmaking process to record the destructive acts he plays out; Cremin explored the intrusion of surveillance on our lives while Nitheyendran seemingly can’t control the sexual urges of his hedonistic idols.

Mirror Mirror is an example of what happens when a medium as full of history, tradition and decorum is hijacked by practitioners of other mediums: given printmaking’s tightly cloistered, proper world we might even be tempted to call them outsider artists.

To emphasise, perhaps even exaggerate the acts of appropriation these three artists engaged in, Mirror Mirror placed their previous mediums of choice, including painting, photography and sculpture adjacent to the prints produced over a few month in 2012. The Throwdown Press residency is an experiment in the act of translation, or of learning a new language and its intricacies. If art visually communicates, printmaking has a well defined vocabulary of it’s own, one of considered, patient chemical biting. Yet an immediacy to the images this residency produced is apparent, as though the vocabulary of a previous practice was transposed onto the plate.

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Cremin utilised the aspect of linework in printmaking to build a vocabulary of surveillance, the grooves etched into the zinc plates came to be one and the same as a security camera‘s assessment of every passerby.

Patrick Cremin

Patrick Cremin

Poulet pushed his plates to capture immediacy and gesture, two things usually lacking in the labourious printmaking process, as a trace of a hurtled projectile marked the zinc plate this residency gave him. The images produced read like a crime scene: suggestive, not telling.

Alexander Poulet

Alexander Poulet

Alexander Poulet

Alexander Poulet

 

Nitheyendran’s prints are comparable to the cocks they depict: brash, lacking conventional beauty, impulsive and graphic, yet you can’t look away. The subtlety generally favoured by printmaking has been cast aside for a hedonistic vision designed to displace sensibilities.

Ramesh Nithiyendran

Ramesh Nithiyendran

Ramesh Nithiyendran

Ramesh Nithiyendran

In his opening night speech, Michael Kempson, master printmaker and head of CoFA’s printmaking department asked why these artists have willingly worked with a superseded print technology. Why use an ancient method to speak to such progressive concerns? Perhaps this is answerable to the analogy of artforms as language: In a desire to further express themselves, Ramesh, Al and Patrick now have an expanded vocabulary. Old words now have a new currency with Throwdown Press’ adventurous dialogue with Poulet, Cremin and Nitheyendran.

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Interview : Al Poulet

 

Poulet at work

Poulet at work

Al Poulet once tried to sell himself on the streets of Beijing. Later, he replaced milk in supermarkets with his own breath and played a pokie machine from dawn till dusk as a way to meditate on a culture he saw as transactional rather than benevolent. As an emerging performance artist he performs ‘actions’ that invert perceptions related to trade, production, politics and sexuality. And, as one of the first batch of artists invited to take part in the inaugural Throwdown Press (TDP) residency, he had to take something active (performance) and turn it into something necessarily static (print).  

I’m in the first few weeks of the second TDP residency and, coming from a similarly ‘active’ practice in video, I wanted to ask Al about his experience wrestling with the unfamiliar medium, and how he managed to conjure images from the acid baths.


Hi Al. You have just finished the first Throwdown Press residency and are about to exhibit the works you made during that time, what is Throwdown Press?

Yeah it’s over… The first artists are through Throwdown Press ‘institute’ and we survived! I think that the directors had the biggest reality check. They actually pulled it off and it was sik!

The basis for the residency is to introduce emerging artists, who don’t usually use printmaking in their practice, to the print medium and let them interpret the tradition with their particular slant! Throughout the residency we were directed, even guided, by Throwdown press directors Ben and Jason. And this relaxed process, in and of itself, made way for some interesting prints! Hanging out around the acid baths and with the other residency members was an added bonus of the residency.

Jason Phu and Al Poulet, editions

Jason Phu and Al Poulet, editions

What is your usual practice?

I came to the program with a background in performance art. During my 2012 Honours year at COFA I tried to understand my process, which was hard and even impossible. This led me to look historically at others who had reflected on the difficulties of ‘making’. This inquiry got me interested in desire lines and the characters and habits of the hobo, the surfer and their relation to the Flanuer (a wanderer and observer) and the practice of La derive, French for ‘The drift’, an idea expounded by The Situationists. One of performance works from this period Desire Action #1-3 became an etching, which will be in the TDP show Mirror Mirror at COFASPACE.

Small prints - starting off point

Small prints – starting off point

How did you find using a medium that you weren’t used to or skilled at? And how did you turn Desire Action #1-3 into a print?

In Desire Action #1-3 the action was to smash a light bulb by throwing stones at it. The light bulb was lying on the ground on top of a zinc etching plate. The desire was to turn out the light. The marks left on the plate and subsequently printed are representational of this desire. The etching process acts as a form of documentation capturing the whole action. These prints are ‘static’ but are a framed grab with action and desire, just as in a performance video.

The focus on process that printmaking demands turned into a thrill, similar to the study of Zen Buddhism. Lengthy tasks such as ‘straddling the line’ (the process of applying bitumen to a plate) produced a mindset familiar to me from my endurance performances. This type of meditative action was slow but not yet ‘static’. The outcome, I decided, was the thing to focus on. I tried not to control the many processes, having minimal ideas of what my prints would turn out looking like. The resulting print, deriving from a performance was fitting as I was commenting on the direction our actions have. I think that desires known and unknown are one example of forces that direct action. I used the print medium to demonstrate and instantly record this notion. Luckily Ben and Jason knew what they were doing with the chemicals and the moment of action was successfully recorded as an etching.

Desire Action etching

Desire Action etching

Will you continue to include printmaking as part of your practice?

If the opportunity arises I will ‘Throwdown’, but I’d take a different approach; I don’t like using chemicals in my practice and all that equipment is intimidating, but the lessons I learnt will be absorbed further into my practice.

Large multi-plate etching

Large multi-plate etching

How did Throwdown Press manage your expectations? And did you have to compromise?

As Throwdown Press was brand new, I arrived with no expectations, and this is what they wanted. I hope they haven’t burnt themselves out with us inaugural jokers. Both Ben and Jason are ‘master blokes’, their energetic approach ensured a good outcome was reached by all. I made no compromise, except perhaps on time.

Stella Rosa McDonald and Al Poulet

Mirror Mirror Opens Tuesday March 12th from 4:30- 6:30 at COFAspace gallery. Artist talks – Saturday the 16th of March, 1pm.

Stella Rosa McDonald is a Sydney based artist and writer

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Interview : Patrick Cremin

Interview : Patrick Cremin

By David Greenhalgh

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It’s no surprise Patrick Cremin is interested in surveillance. Its a sweltering Summer morning when we meet at a cafe. Patrick, the Sydney-based photographer sits beneath a plastic sunshade in a pair of dark-rimmed glasses watching the parade of people move by. As I make my way over to him he disarmingly sips a chocolate milkshake. Pat is one of Throwdown Press’ inaugural artists in-residence. He seems very pleased with how such a change of disciplines has altered his practice. We had a conversation as follows:

Pat, you’re primarily a photographer and you’ve moved into printmaking with this residency. How was the change of pace?

Coming from photography, it’s very much about the immediate snapshot. It’s a snapshot and then you have a digital image. If you’re like me you take that to a computer and mess around with it. Printmaking and etching I found incredibly refreshing because my practice moved back towards the primacy of the mark of the hand. It’s a slower process but I’ve always been interested in moving my art practice in that direction.

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Did the use of the hand and the lack of immediacy that photography usually provides change the way you thought about making art?

Definitely, just before Throwdown Press began my interest turned back to drawing and this helped me transition into the printmaking process. Through my art I investigate ideas of surveillance of those outside of myself. But this brought my practice back to myself and made me listen to my own voice and gave it a bit more power. That’s what printing has done for me that the camera couldn’t do.

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Your previous practice revolved around surveillance which is an idea very suited to photography, in turning your practice from outward surveillance to drawing, has it become a surveillance of yourself?

It is. rather than a universal, objective take on surveillance, its an individual reaction. I’ve been looking at a lot of theories from Liquid Surveillance, a book by the philosophers David Lyon and Zygmunt Bauman. This is the driving force behind my research for 2013: A shift away from an ‘us and them’ type of surveillance by a major controlling power to the surveillance that comes from social media, Twitter especially. Here, in our connectivity, any act can immediately be seen by thousands of people, just as any person can observe thousands of others. This shifts the power of surveillance to a ‘liquid’ form. But by creating by hand, these line drawings are like giving myself an ability to create as opposed to observe and manipulate.

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Did you get a kick from the danger of printmaking? It is a huge task involving acid baths, turpentine, bitumen and other toxins.

It brought out the handyman in me, I’ve been used to sitting behind a computer or a camera lens. It’s become a buffer between myself and the outside world. You can easily lose that connection with the object of art-making. I despise the term ‘screen-based media‘ — the artworks created with computers can easily be boring. I don’t want to get lost in that world. Etching has a place. It’s given me a real kick in the arse and is a brand new tool for me- a skill, a way for me to put my ideas across.

The upcoming exhibition with Throwdown Press will see you displaying photos from your usual practice alongside the prints you’ve editioned. Did you find a harmony between two such different mediums?

My prints have two separate styles — one set is chopped up, fragmented faces, The other set is based in line work. You could say the plates represent our use of biometrics [the identification of people from their distinctive traits, usually by computer] in modern surveillance. Alongside my photographic practice, which uses blurred faces the prints become part of a chronology of surveillance.

Do you find it strange to be using such a traditional medium, etching, to talk to modern biometrics?

Absolutely not, biometrics in 10 years time may itself be an ancient technology! Facial recognition is moving so fast- we have cameras that can recognise faces, even Facebook has a facial-recognition ability.

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Was there an engaging dialogue working at Throwdown Press with artists from different fields?

Not so far as with the technicalities of etching, I have Jason and Ben at Throwdown Press to thank for that, but creatively, yes. We all come from such different mediums and the variety of processes we all applied was inspiring.

David Greenhalgh is a Sydney-based artist and writer who has recently graduated with honours from the University of New South Wales College of Fine Arts . David regularly writes for DasPlatforms, and exhibits around Sydney.

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Fundraiser print

BUY A PRINT FOR 40 BUCKS, HELP OUT A GOOD RESIDENCY PROGRAM.

We’ve just completed our first batch of artists: Ramesh Nithiyendran , Alexander Poulet, and Patrick Cremin.  Our first exhibition, of the results of this residency, will be held in CoFASpace Gallery, opening on March 12th, 2013.

Fundraising print for Throwdown Press.  Etching.  Image size 10cm x 15cm

Fundraising print for Throwdown Press. Etching. Image size 10cm x 15cm

In order to raise funds for this exhibition, we’ve commissioned Ramesh to create a limited edition etching. It’s a very generously priced print at $40 that would look great on your bedroom/kitchen/toilet wall. We operate not-for-profit, all funds will go towards the show (catalogue, drinks ect.) and any excess funds will be used to negate costs to future artists participating in the program.

So get your 2 twenties out and give Throwdown Press and all the students we support a helping hand!

To order your print, please contact Ben Rak or Jason Phu at throwdown.press@yahoo.com

Postage anywhere in Australia will be $7 and international $12.

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Back in action – Al Poulet editions

After being away for nearly 4 weeks, Throwdown Press is finally back in action.

We spent the other day processing plates for Patrick Cremin, and printing a couple of editions for Al Poulet – both artists from our first group.

You could say that this first group was the guinea pig for our abilities as ‘master’ printers.  But hey, that’s how it goes…   All up, I think the results were pretty good and we learned a lot about managing artists (their interaction with the technical procedures, translating their usual work process to a print medium and mostly, managing their expectations).

Here are some photos from the day:

 

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First edition. Ramesh Nithiyendran

The first edition printed at Throwdown Press. Tryptich etching by Ramesh Nithiyendran

After three months of working on plates with Sydney based artist Ramesh Nithiyendran, we’ve managed to resolve most of the works and even edition a few.

Ramesh’s practice spans across painting, drawing, sculpture and ceramics.  He has been awarded several prizes for his works, including the Tim Olson Drawing Prize and the Freedman Foundation Traveling Scholorship.  He is currently undertaking a Masters of Fine Arts at Sydney’s College of Fine Arts.

From Phallic Feuds series (2001)
Oil Pastel, Acrylic, Enamel, Resin, Glitter, Liquid Paper, Oil Paint, Clay and Pyrography on Plywood. Dimensions Variable.
(Planar Works)
Fluorescent Acrylic, Fluorescent Enamel, Masking Tape, PVA glue and Clay. Dimensions Variable.
(Spatial Works)

Ramesh was happy to sit down with us and answer some questions in regards to his practice and how he felt about the printmaking residency he undertook with us at Throwdown Press.

Interview with Ramesh Nithiyendran, July 15th 2012 :

Since you’ve done very little printmaking before, what was it that drew you to the residency program at TDP? And what do you hope to get out of it?

Despite working primarily with paint, acts of drawing are integral to my creative processes and the way I construct marks. Particularly, linearity and the linear mark are integral to the aesthetics of most of my ‘paintings’. In this respect, etching seemed to be a natural extension to the various mediums I work with. As printmaking processes have always seemed elusive to me, the TDP residency program seemed to be an opportunity to gain skills and extend the vernacular of my current practice in a meaningful way. Especially at this time as I am attempting to shift the ‘default’ settings which dictate the material and conceptual outcomes of my practice. With these thoughts, I also thought it would be an enjoyable and challenging experience.

Are you finding it easy to translate your normal process to a printmaking process?  What are the biggest difficulties you are encountering?

I have found myself confronted by the limitations of my abilities and patience with processes I deem highly technical. I often find myself intimidated by technical processes that demand precision and fastidiousness. I do find the etching processes I am engaging with slightly challenging. Yet, the more I print the more I realize there are endless possibilities associated with the technologies. In this sense, the ‘translation’ of my typical painting processes – which involve layering, material experimentation, scratching, removing, splatting, pouring – and overall, the immediacy of the expressive, painted/drawn mark is something that can feature adequately within printing processes. I’m glad I’ve been offered the technical support in guiding this process.

Briefly describe what your work is about and what’s going with all those penises?

My current research is theorized a quasi-pilgrimage through various phallocentric contexts in efforts to establish a celebratory discourse of penis worship. That is, I aim to elaborate a queer, homo-erotic visual discourse, which while being centered upon the phallus, is liberated from the rigid and oppressive frameworks of patriarchal, heteronormative principles. With that being said, I’m unaware if this is even possible. Yet, I must admit that there is significant pleasure and hedonism in transcribing penis after penis and I really just love to paint and explore materiality.

In what direction do you see your work heading in the coming years? And do you intend for printmaking to become a steady part of your practice?

 I intend to construct large-scale, orgiastic narrative paintings that conflate what I perceive to be ‘temples’ of penis worship in ancient, contemporary, Eastern and Western contexts. That is, I plan to produce (postmodern) architectural ‘maps’ that amalgamate the shared indexes of Roman bathhouses, beats, sex on premises sites as well as Shivaite temples within India to construct narrative paintings around.  Yet, I am also dabbling with ceramics, coarse animations, sculpture and of course, printmaking. I hope printmaking will become an ambient feature of my future creative endeavours.

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Finally. Throwdown Press.

Finally, after talking about it for months, we’ve set up a blog to follow the exploits of Throwdown Press.

Throwdown Press is “not-for-profit custom printing model that has an emphasis on open dialogue, broad relationships with the artistic community, informal teaching processes and support for emerging artists.”  What this means, is that we invite emerging artists with no printmaking background, to come and make prints with us.

Multi-plate etching by Patrick Cremin

Normally we’ll invite 3 artists as a group, for a three month residency – resulting in a series of prints from each artist.  The results vary, depending on the concepts and methodology the artists are used to dealing with.  We facilitate them with our technical knowledge of etching, lithographic, relief and screenprinting techniques.

Al Poulet sketching out some drafts for his etchings

Our first group (Ramesh Nhithyendran, Al Poulet and Patrick Cremin) have almost finished their residency and the results are encouraging.  We’ll be posting often with images, interviews and general stuff…

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