In 2013 I began a project which aimed to explore what we understand as “life” in the 21st century, when advances in science and technology seem to be changing the meaning of life and death. The project developed into something which dominated my practice for three years, culminating in an exhibition, The New Immortals which I curated at Phoenix Brighton in 2016.

Now, after a period of reflection on what exactly my practice is and what’s important to me, I’ve started revisiting some of the ideas which had to be put to one side while The New Immortals took up all my energy and brain power. With the invaluable support of a professional development bursary from a-n, and an informal partnership with the Printmaking department at the University of Brighton, I’m learning some new printmaking skills and planning a solo exhibition of new and recent work which can bring some of these ideas together.


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It was great to visit the BA Printmaking degree shows at Brighton recently and see some of the work made by students who I’ve had the privilege to work with at times during the past three years. The shows were a great reminder of the huge diversity of printmaking from low-tech monoprints and collagraphs and traditional etching, screen-printing and lithography to the wider interpretations of printmaking through mould-making and casting, installation, book-binding and the use of non-traditional materials and digital technologies. It was also a great reminder that no matter how long we’ve been artists, how much experience we might have, it’s still all too easy to be blinkered and narrow, settling in to an over-comfortable routine or forgetting to explore new avenues or open new doors.

Image above: Abby Mullan

Below Ruby Bateman, www.instagram.com/ruby__bateman/

 

 

Image above: Ben Egan Clements www.instagram.com/benjamineganclements/

Below: Gina Benn-O’Leary, www.ginabennoleary.com

In my last blog I wrote about my work in progess, Pink Spread. I’d been feeling an only too familiar uncertainty about this piece of work which although almost “finished” seemed still incomplete. Taking inspiration from those graduating students I reminded myself to push things a little further, exploring combinations of images and objects alongside the work to add another dimension.

 

 


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I should definitely do more blogging. I find it hard to keep it up sometimes when I’m busy, but when I do get into the routine of doing it regularly, I find it really invaluable to be able to pop back to old posts and remind myself of what I was thinking at the time. I’ve just been reading my first post from this blog in March this year when I wrote about Richard Dawkins in The Selfish Gene, the bit where he talks about the improbability of life and the “exceedingly improbable” occurence of “The Replicator” – a molecule which had the ability to create copies of itself. I remember when I first read that phrase, “The Replicator”, thinking what an evocative expression that is, conjuring up thoughts of sci-fi horror movies and the evils of cloning.

When I began enhancing my printmaking skills earlier this year, I started by bringing together some images from my research for The New Immortals. I was using images from a range of sources put together in a sort of lithographic collage – united through a single print process. Here’s one –

– but this didn’t seem quite finished to me so I’ve started drawing on top of it, in a way that is quite familiar to me, a repetitive process based on a simple motif – in this case a little shape which refers to the molecular structure of oxygen (O2). So I’ve been drawing lots of these little O2 symbols in white ink, forming a sort of cloud of O2s – repeated… replicated over and over again.

And of course I’ve also been repeatedly making large numbers of small paper tubes for my Pink Spread work.

So… The Replicators… of course printmaking is perfect for replicating, so I must give this a bit more thought and consider where this might take me.

Also, recently I’ve been writing my Grant for the Arts funding application for my new project, Only Once in a Universe and referring to another quote, a notion expressed by Hans Ulrich Obrist, “Extreme Present”… “a time in which it feels impossible to maintain pace with the present, never mind to chart the future”* – the time in which we now live. So I’m thinking about how this affects my reseach which “begins with the origins of life and goes on to explore possible futures”. I’ve been reading The Age of Earthquakes: A Guide to the Extreme Present.

I’ve also been re-reading my GFA application and wishing I’d written more about the ideas behind my work – they somehow got over-edited in order to meet the vicious word restriction. Ho hum. I feel a re-submission coming on.

*Hans Ulrich Obrist, The Future of Art.

 


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For a couple of years I’ve had this thing hanging about in my studio. It’s a paper construction made out of hundreds of small tubes of rolled up brown paper gummed strip ( I like low-tech materials). They are glued together in a sort of conglomeration which is formed around one of the rafters in my studio a bit like a wasps nest or one of those strange growths that you sometimes see on trees. It’s another one of those things like the Stones which doesn’t go away, and so, like the Stones, I decided it was time to confront it. So a year or so ago I started making a new, more purposeful version of it. It’s very labour intensive (first I have to make the tubes, then paint them, then glue them…) and it’s a bit complicated, there are a lot of things involved – too many – so it’s perhaps a bit confused. It’s attached to a piece of furniture, a small table, and it’s pink. I’m calling it Spread, Pink Spread – I’ve made quite a lot of things/drawings which I call Spread, because that is what they seem to do.

I don’t find colour easy and I do love black and white, but I’m interested in what colour can do, especially when you use big blocks of it, or completely cover something in it. While I’ve been learning some new printmaking skills I’ve been working in quite a disciplined way, focusing on one thing at a time and trying to get better at the actual printmaking, but now I’m beginning to feel more confident about that and starting to think about how the work might develop.

Last week, Scarett was producing a marvelous new reference resource for students, printing this great image of Jimi Hendrix on a variety of papers to show the different end results created using different quality papers.

She made these sample swatches which are now pinned on the notice board in the workshop.

This is my favourite and has set me thinking about this very simple way of beginning to introduce colour into my prints. One little step at a time.

 

 


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I was just re-reading my blog entry and looking at those images which I’ve been thinking about printing. I suddenly realised what has been the subliminal influence underpinning the way I want to make those images look. Here again is one of my images…

… and here is an image which I’d printed and stuck in my sketchbook a while back…

This sketchbook image is a photograph from the Rosetta Space mission of Comet 67P. It is also stored on my computer in a folder called “Modern Miracles” and represents the miracle which was the landing of the Philae lander on Comet 67P as part of the historic Rosetta mission in 2015. These miraculous events involved the Rosetta spacecraft traveling into deep space for 10 years to reach Comet 67P (a distance more than five times Earth’s distance from the Sun), and flying alongside the comet at exactly the right speed and trajectory to dispatch the Philae lander and land it on the surface of that massive rock hurtling through space. This extraordinary technological feat  created an opportunity for Philae’s instruments to send back information and images from the surface of the comet and provide us with information about what it is made of.

Earlier studies have shown that comets contain complex organic molecules – compounds that are rich in carbon, hydrogen, oxygen and nitrogen – the elements which make up nucleic acids and amino acids, the essential ingredients for life as we know it. However, it still seems incomprehensible to me how life can be created from a bare rock . As Richard Dawkins says, the creation of life is so improbable that it seems almost impossible; an occurence that might happen only once in a universe.


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“Immanence refers to those philosophical and metaphysical theories of divine presence in which the divine encompasses or is manifested in the material world. Immanence is usually applied in monotheistic, pantheistic, pandeistic, or panentheistic faiths to suggest that the spiritual world permeates the mundane.” Wikipedia

I went to a lecture once about “immanence” and stones. I looked up the notes in my sketch book to see who gave the lecture – it was Susanne Kuechler, Professor of Material Culture in the Department of Anthropology at UCL. I decided to Google “Immanence” and “Susanne Kuechler” to see if I could find a transcript of the lecture, but instead what came up at the top of the search page was a link to my previous a-n blog in which I had already written about this on the 6th December 2013. Ha! I think I have mentioned before that there are some things which just won’t go away. Here’s what I wrote in 2013 in an entry about The Stone (the same Stone that I posted an image of only last week):

“I’ve been searching for The Stone for some time now and yesterday it presented itself to me. It’s a difficult size – bigger than a heart, smaller than a brain. I can carry it in one hand, just. It is heavy. It is a Flint. According to my ageing Observer’s Book of Geology, “Most chalkpits contain nodules of Flint… a form of the very common mineral silica (silicon dioxide). Like the chalk, it is derived from material in the bodies of sea-living creatures.” Interesting (though perhaps not so surprising) that it has already had a life. Look at it – with its scars and gashes – this Stone has seen some action. I carried it home and looked at it and photographed it. Now I have carefully packed The Stone away until everything is ready. It is in a glass vitrine, wrapped in a double layer of black lining material, covered in foil and sealed in polythene. It is dormant.

I went to a talk once by Professor Susan Kuechler in which she talked about immanence and stones which take on a sort of metaphysical life of their own. I didn’t really understand it but it’s in my mind.”

I still don’t really understand, but it is still in my mind. I’ve also been remembering the Trovants of Romania – stones which appear to grow and change shape responding to changes in the weather. I don’t know whether the stories of these stones are true or fake.

Last week I took a small collection of my other stones to my friend Axel to be photographed. Properly. Now I’ll have some more images to print and I’m thinking again about a change in scale and removing any references, so that the stones might appear as rocks, or planets, or monoliths when there is nothing to allow comparison with other objects or bodies.

 

 

 


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