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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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