I am still deliberating over the ‘success’, at least in terms of having positively communicated some ideas and questions, of a project I exhibited earlier this year at Artlink Hull, and carried through to the Hull Print Fair last Sunday. ‘This Is _ Land’ grew out as a branch of my research last year, when I realised that my interest in social ecology in relation to migration was very much interwoven with my concerns about geological change, and a number of broad questions bloomed from that: how do we respond to climate change or resource driven migration in humanitarian ways in an age of rising nationalism and an intoxication with borders?
Part of my objective with the project was, possibly, to have more of an objective. It is part of the nature of my process as it stands, that I simultaneously try to distill, while naturally abstract information. This is perhaps not especially unique, but my aim here was to explore a slightly more ‘direct’ aesthetic - to utilise saturation in order to comment on saturation, and I wanted to play with a type of visual counter-point reflective of the binary modes we are conditioned to process feeling through politically, with at least reductive and at worst catastrophic - and unwanted - results, as a way of opening up questions on what we are being fed by sensationalist news feeds and agendas. The idea of, on some level, subverting convenience was present in this as well. This began to take the form of screenprints from digital manipulations. I am always interested in the suggestion of the halftone as being a mediator, and the screen as a mechanism for processing and transferring information, conferring emotive material, the basis even of an agenda, through the code of black dots (or something like that). This is obviously ingrained in the ‘press’. In parallel to the physical work, I created a separate instagram feed for the project, and as I worked through a range of different combinations and churning of those into screens, it became increasingly clear to me, especially after the Artlink show and in evaluating that, that the digital work seemed much more potent and engaging in it’s digital form, and with the print based work I received better feedback for the pieces that were less busy, with fewer layers. In designing the digital manipulation layers for the screenprint series, drawing from sensationalist tabloid cuttings, screen grabs from pixelated propaganda films and news reports, iOS function symbols, I realise now that they became overwrought and slightly laboured, whereas the digital pieces did what I had originally intended much more effectively. This has brought about a real sense of question for me now as I move forward - what is the physical ‘stamp’ of the print doing that the digital representation isn’t. The question of what it means to digest print digitally is something which I am now thinking about a lot. This context might be creating an interesting ground for innovation in print. In an article from July 2009 on the site Printeresting, exploring a web-based program which allowed the creation of protest-poster style graphics, designed in reaction to the aftermath of elections in Iran of the same year, the term Metaprint was used to describe the generation of the work:
“At the risk of overusing the ‘meta’ prefix, the Internet seems to be creating an era of Metaprint. Historically, images had to be distributed by physical means to affect change. Now, distributed is executed through an electronic network and reaches the audience without a printed component. The print (if there is one) is the last step, a step farmed out to the audience as an optional souvenir.”
The word ‘souvenir’ connotes a number of things and if they tend to be keepsakes or tokens, then there is an element of souvenirs representing memories, or as being ‘reminders’. This is something that also fed into the act of participating in the Print Fair last weekend. Back in the lead up to my spotlight show earlier this year I labelled a number of pieces ‘Reminder’s - postcard size screen prints on reflective card representing geological change and excavation, and these were exhibited beneath larger, more densely layered collage pieces at Artlink. That particular choice of wording ‘souvenir’ in my reading of the article has a slightly negative tone which suggests that the physical piece would essentially be the inactive, obligatory object. This is interesting in itself, and while that’s not necessarily representative of how I feel at this point about print work (the physical piece can ask of a small investigation from the viewer, is a gestural communication, is a space, and is an important mode of presentation in so many ways whether this is referring to a mounted piece, a print in a smallholder’s display rack, a publication), the argument is compelling and something I intend to be mindful of in my process - the pursuit of making work engaging in a saturated environment, and using those platforms which are now very much a mainstream visual currency, inside and outside of the gallery; the screen.
In evaluating the project now, I can identify a few important action points for moving forward. The work I have made so far has bloomed into a broad collection - probably broader than I had originally intended, interrogating a range of visual sources from life rafts in online museum collections and tabloid articles perpetuating misinformed immigration hysteria, to technicolour renderings of oil spills and ecological catastrophe in 1970s National Geographic issues and photographs of thawed animal remains from the Siberian permafrost. This wide, exploratory approach both in terms of subjects and mediums has led me to reshaping my intentions. In a return to the basic questions I had at the beginning of the year, I have recently begun discussing social ecology and political myth with regards to nationalism and climate change, with Dr Jeremy F. G. Moulton, Associate Lecturer in Environmental Politics at the University of York, and these discussions are having a significant impact on my knowledge of the issues surrounding my concerns. In a collaborative spirit we are continuing to ask questions of one another’s concerns from the perspectives of our individual practices and experiences, and I am planning on publishing transcriptions of these conversations online soon, as part of a dedicated This _ Land __ site. The site will also feed from the project instagram account, and be a screen-based experience and space for continually developing visual work, as I learn more about the specific contexts I am addressing and how my experiences of those have been shaped, through related ideas and possibilities arising from collaboration.