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My first Print Exchange

For our final semester of Art School the students and staff are making a print exchange portfolio. Everyone will make thirty 20 x 20 cm prints, meaning there will be thirty exchange portfolios produced. Everyone will get a box set of each other's prints, a pretty special souvenir of our time together. It is also excellent training for a print artist: making an edition of thirty is a genuine technical, creative and logistical challenge, but the experience and acquired skill set will be invaluable for future exchanges we partake in.

I wanted to build on the photographic etch and stencil work that I had developed last semester. The image of the ruined war memorial from 1937 spoke to the changing meanings assigned to the ANZAC spirit over Australia's history and I wanted to incorporate it into my piece. I'd found the image in Ken Ingles's extensive book, 'Sacred Places' where the development of the Anzac cult is traced and those who rejected it are highlighted. Ingles examines a paradox: why, as Australia's wars recede in memory, have these memorials and what they stand for become more cherished than ever? In my work, I also ask, in the elevation of some historical figures, who, past and present are neglected.

This is the photographic etch that I completed last semester from the photo found in Ingles's book.

I decided that I would screen print the image because I was interested in seeing how this medium would create a rapid mass of ruined memorials. I transferred the pixilated image of the memorial to a silk screen:

I trialed different paper and ink colours - bronze and brown to reflect the typical bronze and stone look of memorials, as well as different tones of black and ocher. Even a pink mist colour to represent blood spilt. In the end I decided to use a fine metallic dull-gold stock paired with black gouache ink. The dull metallic paper alluded to the memorials of old. Like in the philosophy behind the counter monument movement, the lightness of the paper was opposite to the supposed immortality of traditional monuments, its ability to be vaguely transparent when held to light alluded to forgotten stories that are not documented in history. I liked the way the black gouache created a matt, chalky finish to the prints. It wasn't glossy like a flashy new memorial, it talked to the less shiny parts of war which can never be glorified and are rarely commemorated.

My prints differ from Clayton Tremlett's prints of memorials in his Immortals exhibition, which was held at the Bendigo Soldiers Memorial Institute and Museum this year. Whilst clearly corroded and definitely depicting nuance in emotional, gender and age representation, his images still lean on a heroic narration of war.

Another local artist I have recently discovered has been exploring monuments over the years. Last month I met Melbourne print-based artist Kelly Manning who investigates survival and war. I like how works from her 'Mon-u-ment-al' exhibition are sculptural, even the two dimensional pieces. Though it is gouache, ink and graphite on paper, her work 'Fort' (on the left below) has an amazing feeling of contortion, mass and depth.

I also liked the playful light installation 'monument' (1966-1969) by Dan Flavin currently showing at the ACMI Light exhibition at Federation Square. Flaven described his 'monument' partly as a joke, aware of the disparity between its modest materials and the traditional grandeur of monumental sculpture.

I wanted to both maximise the amount of print I could achieve on the 20 x 20 cm allocated. I decided to include another image of the corroded monument, which could be viewed on the flip side of the print, and also when held to the light. The image would be based on my stencil etchings and collages from last semester.

Inspired by the recent William Kentridge exhibition at Australian Galleries, I wanted to explore linocutting again. Kentridge's exhibition had an incredible image of a widow made of layered relief printing, as well as collaged prints of monuments that challenged enshrined grandiosity. His texture and varied mark making was something I wanted to emulate.

I made two matrixes. One was of a traditional 'digger statue', and the other was of two figures; one being a small, retreating 'digger statue' whilst its 'shadow' loomed threateningly. It spoke to the 'Anzac Spirit Monkey' which James Brown writes about in his book 'Anzac's Long Shadow', a phenomenon whereby the contemporary veteran feels as if they can never live up to the legacy left by the original Anzacs, nor will they ever be 'understood' by the general public like the original Anzacs have been.

I experimented with both matrixes over the course of weeks. It seemed I constantly felt that I was grappling to find the best way to articulate my message within the small scale, via medium and image. I found that sometimes I was helped by talking to others about my ideas, and other times, I needed to reassess what I had time for and could technically complete in the timeline that I had. This assignment was definitely a stretch project for me in this way, but I felt that the process of talking, thinking and doing finally seemed to result in a final piece that both speaks to what I want it to, and extended my skill set.

After talking to my teacher Jazmina Cininas, I looked into corroding the lino with caustic acid so that the statues would have a more three-dimensionality and it would reflect the sometimes corrosive nature of the myths around war commemoration. I talked to my classmate Chiara Zeta, who generously lent me her caustic soda etching kit and shared what she had learnt via her blog. This plus 'The Printmakers' Bible' were helpful in my finding a way to safely (gloves, goggles, mask, outdoors area are essential) etch my matrixes. I ended up using a toilet cleaner gel as a mixer to keep the the caustic soda on the lino, and leaving the matrix overnight to be thoroughly etched. Both times after I had neutralised the soda with white vinegar before rinsing off the etch safely, I was convinced that I had destroyed the matrix. They had turned into a gooey mess that I needed to let dry completely before I printed. When I did eventually print , I decided to carve away more of the background to make the statue images stand out more.

I played with the inks and decided against the straight black ink. It took a week to dry and was overly shiny and jarred against the gold paper. I wanted the look to be more subtle, so after some experiments with coloured and transparent ink, including using a shoe polish brush, a tooth brush and a brayer to apply ink like a collagraph print, I decided on a metallic blended roll to create a subtler, more ghostly (Anzac Spirit-ly?) effect. I had to choose which matrix to use, and I selected the sole statue because it equated to the one broken statue on the flip side. Whilst I liked the relational aspect of the statue and overbearing ghost image, I felt that it was maybe a more complicated concept for the simple work I was trying to produce. I have used it for further works progressing from this project.

It seemed like the weeks of experimenting made way to just a few days of actual printing. I had to press the prints after the screenprinting step because the paper curled. I decided that a custom made stamp would make a 'plaque' of my edition information. I decided to name the piece 'Ruined' because of the deteriorated and collapsed statues, and how so much of the mythology around Anzac commemoration is ruinous to the telling of a complete and truthful story of war. I think that together as an edition of thirty they depict a visual image of mass and repeated loss, but as a singular piece they also reflect the individual story in relation to commemoration, myth and world history.

It felt good to stamp my edition, and have successfully completed this body of work. I have tried so many new techniques in this project and am proud to have successfully resolved each of the images and techniques into something worthy of exchanging with my class.

Complete piece is quite tactile in real life, rough and smooth like a real monument.

Front of print:

Back of print:

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