Hull Literature Festival 2001 8th - 18th November
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IN-PRINT EXHIBITION
A radical look at the evolution in contemporary print making
Ferens Art Gallery in collaboration with Quay Art
Until 25 November
       

I have sadly never indulged in purchasing exotic underwear. My M&S; standard items usually end up a paler shade of grey and the bra I (metaphorically) burnt was probably well past its sell by date and definitely not fit to be seen in public. So Chila Kirman Burman's 'Hello Girls', a large wall panel of Canon laser prints depicting a diverse and abundant collection of bras, was a real eye opener. Not just because I'm sartorially challenged in the underwear department, but because I once trained as a textile designer and love the print medium and, in this case, its vibrancy of colour, texture and pattern. The more one looks at these assembled images, the juxtaposition of visual language and connotation, the more complex the narrative becomes. From leopard print clad pneumatic globes to slit-eyed nipples, the meanings are as complex as some of the images themselves.

This exhibition, curated by Rowland Box, aims to 'record and show recent changes in outlook and ideas towards printmaking…in light of (or possibly despite) new materials and new technologies.' The prints on show range from monolithic images (Hedley Roberts and Emma Stibbon) to the smaller and gently ironic (Stella Whalley). They include explorations of form (Henry Moore) and responses to universal and unresolved dilemmas (Elaine Shemilt). Hedley Roberts's 'Study for a Grand Design' (inkjet print and charcoal drawing) juxtaposes the timeless monolith of a decaying Stonehenge with the geometric, concrete expanse of an empty multi-storey car park. Both are symbols of their respective ages, rendered in heavy tone which emphasises the epic nature of their structures. But the Stonehenge image is a digital reproduction of Constable's watercolour and the car park image is produced using digital imaging software applications which offer a fixed menu of effects. The philosophical implications are fascinating, the work itself also raising the question of whether digitally-produced drawn effects significantly alter the visual impact and meaning of the piece. Emma Stibbon's woodcuts also explore the monolithic nature of structures. The traditional woodblock technique keys into the timeless quality of the mountainous landscape of 'El Chorro', while in 'Carrera', structure dominates the human figure in an exploration of scale. Meanwhile, in an etching which considers the relationship between the human and the mechanical, Stella Whalley places two hairdryers in an empty space and produces a tonal image which uses conventions of body language to indicate the imagined relationship between the two machines.

The section of the exhibition which I really savoured was the work of the book artists. Although book art is a distinct category of visual arts practice, it is still an underexposed and underused medium, especially as a focus for teaching art and design. The creation of works of art by adapting existing books or making new ones, presents exciting conceptual and technical challenges. This is the perfect medium for exploring the influence of new technologies on arts practice, as nothing has been more affected by technological development than the print and media industries. Once conventional notions of what a book is have been cast aside, the boundaries of form, structure and content are limitless. And yet whatever choices are made, these are likely to include those two bedrocks of print tradition, paper and alphabet. These two elements spin the thread of tradition whilst adapting themselves to invention. In this exhibition, the feel and smell of paper and ink offer comfort, familiarity and reassurance, a springboard from which the challenges of new technologies can be taken on with confidence and creativity. The breadth of style and variety of use of media demonstrated in this exhibition is both stimulating and informative and the 'In-Print' catalogue provides a rich source of information, both about the works in the exhibition and about printing techniques, making it an invaluable resource for artists and teachers. The exhibition is a real gourmet experience, providing tempting tasters to feed both mind and senses.

www.quay-art.org


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