Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Screenprinting the ocean


I laid out the poem a fortnight ago for it to be set into a screen prior to last night's class, so I was already at one remove from it. It's a poem I wrote at the Manchester Art Gallery last year, in response to a drawing by Hondartza Fraga. We were to make several prints of it, in the first hour of the class, so picking colours of paper and then mixing up ink was a speedy affair, overshadowed by the enormous frame we were to work with. With no previous experience of screenprinting there seemed a lot of potential fuckup points to it. Throughout the hour I was focusing on the paint: flooding it, drawing it back; the frame: propping it, setting it; the angle of pull: tippie toes, forty five degrees, pressure. It was me and this large levering machine, which felt as far it might get from writing a poem.

Then the covers: more colour choices, more folding, cutting gluing, tucking, wiping. The poem was lost to my consciousness, hidden away inside quick decisions, physical activity and the desire to get it right. So when I came to open the completed book and read it, I was strangely moved, in a way I've not experienced with a piece of my work before. It was familiar but unknown; mine but also somebody else's (I hadn't chosen the design, after all). I opened the booklet awkwardly, struggled to find the start of the poem, read it slowly, unsure of how clear the ink was on the paper in the folds, and closed the book with the sense of the poem in my hands, the poem had become the thing it was describing, the thing I was holding. It was both an embodied and disembodied experience. Unsettling, sad. It was the poem. The poem had enveloped me. I feel that means it's active, sparking. I think I'm pleased.

Wednesday, 1 March 2017

Mermaids and other consciousness

This is a trace monoprint. Before yesterday I didn't know such things existed. We were introduced to it at the Hot Bed Press class as a simple way of making edition images. I was skeptical, I'm not an image maker and because of the process any text would have be written backwards. Now I love backwards text. I used to relish reading it (I still enjoy reading text upside down) but writing it backwards gives it a naivety I'm not sure appeals.

So I went with a simple mermaid. Simple? Well, yes the process is remarkably simple, a skim of pain on glass that is etched in reverse onto a piece of paper. Strangely absorbing. But the mermaid bit? I'm not so sure. I've been reading about posthumanism, expanded subjectivities and interspecies entanglement and am very taken by it as a way of writing a positive view on the crisis that is our world, a step towards a positive futuring perhaps, that decentralises the human while not dismissing ourselves, especially as fundamental to the current situation. So these past couple of weeks I've been reading Donna Haraway, this, Rosi Braidotti and Anna Tsing and finding my thinking charged.

Until I ran into the question of consciousness, and what exactly it is. I understand the mythological usefulness of creatures like mermaids, but to explore and step inside the consciousness of a fish, as a human, requires another degree of engagement. How do I shed enough of my own perspective to engage honestly with the perspective, concerns and physicality of creatures that breath oxygen through water, live in the near dark and move according to celestial bearings, chemical clues and, the totally alien to me, drifting with currents (as most larvae do). And do not speak. I love Les Murray's 'Translations from the Natural World', I think in it he manages to deconstruct language authentically to convey the consciousness of the animal, but how does this work if I wish to acknowledge the human speaker? If I wish to explore the potential relationship and dynamic between the two? If I want to acknowledge the human presence (and destructive capacity) alongside the animal. How do two consciousnesses interact? Where is that venn diagram? Where do the two awarenesses intersect and separate? How do the bodies know - on a chemical or physiological level - of the other?