Interview : Patrick Cremin
By David Greenhalgh
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.