ABOVE: Brooks Vessels, Reconsolidation
Photos courtesy of Swanson Contemporary
︎ Swanson Contemporary



Freeze State: Dissociating from the Here and Now

Review

Currently on view at Swanson Contemporary, the works that comprise Freeze State: Dissociating from the Here and Now are subtle, surprising, and unpretentious. Print exchanges like this are common practice for artists who work in multiples, providing an opportunity to share their work and collaborate with other artists. Eleven artists were invited by curators Nicholas Cook and KCJ Szwedzinksi to respond to the phrase “freeze state” and produce editioned prints for each artist involved and one for the exhibition. The resulting collection exists in the hands of many artists, allowing other viewers to experience the same body of work many times over, unprohibited by the limited time span or geographic location of this exhibition. Many of the artists in this group are from or have spent time in Louisville, building a grassroots network through which they exchange artwork and ideas. While coastal cities like New York and Los Angeles still function as epicenters for contemporary art, printmaking flourishes in middle America and resonates decidedly in Louisville.

In the identical frames that surround the space at Swanson Contemporary, the viewer finds tenderness, nostalgia, entropy, and danger. Interpretations of the show’s title range from literal to enigmatic. Rachel Singel’s Frozen Fiddlehead shows a fiddlehead fern in ardent detail. The intaglio lines form icy striations on the delicate handmade paper. In Souvenir, Mary Claire Becker depicts a vignette of a deer in a lush mountain landscape, neatly contained within a snow globe. The snow globe sits on a flat plane of dry, cracked ground, seeming to hold a memory of an idyllic past in a barren future. Nicholas Cook’s screen print Awake Awake is reminiscent of Warhol’s Car Crash series, with a crumpled car sitting at the bottom of the composition. The surrounding text is taken from a newspaper article about an accident, though large portions are blocked out, keeping the details veiled. The artists in this group are concerned with cogent imagery and technical precision, not transparency or empty aestheticism.

Historically, we think of printmaking as a means of spreading information quickly and efficiently. Processes like engraving and lithography democratized art images, making reproductions of paintings and sculptures accessible to larger audiences while the original artworks remained out of reach. In his 1936 essay, “The Work of Art in the Age of Its Technological Reproducibility,” Walter Benjamin expresses malaise at the spread of mass art consumption through print, photography, and cinema. He worries that “the here and now of a work of art” is lost in reproduction. “Here and now” refers to uniqueness, but for the twenty-first-century viewer this can also apply to tangibility. Moreover, printmaking is still strongly associated with craft and graphic design. While this link also positions printmaking as inferior to high culture, it commands new strength through its direct materiality.

What Benjamin underestimated is the way contemporary printmakers incorporate artistry, imperfection, and intimacy. This is where the works in Freeze State revel. Within Cassidy Meurer’s The End of the Story, the image from a woodcut is partially obscured by hand-cut, translucent abaca, revealing a second image overlaying the print. Jay Fox’s Bouyancy forgoes ink altogether—the print is simply an embossment of an envelope with chine-collé accents collaged to create the illusion of tape. In these instances, the artist’s hand is ever present in the finished work, as is a memory of the multi-step processes that go into each production.

Printmaking is a horizontal process, as opposed to the verticality of painting. For Benjamin and his contemporaries, painting represents culture as it stands parallel to the upright human body; the horizontal signals a previous, lower state like that of an infant or a less evolved species. Rosalind Krauss notes that the printing bed lies horizontally and the finished print maintains a “horizontal cast…despite any particular position in which it might be encountered.” The inherent relation to a book or newspaper—items which lie prone—cannot be erased. Krauss recognizes artists throughout the twentieth century repeatedly using the horizontal to “strike against culture,” as in Pollock’s drip paintings and Warhol’s even more subversive Piss Paintings.

Horizontality is not only found in the orientation of the process, but in disorder, baseness, and regression. Jackson Taylor’s HEART MELTER fuses nostalgia with abjection. The image of a classic car hovers over a graphic “X” amidst a field of muddy brown smears. A buildup of ropy, worm-like marks becomes almost scatalogical, and the eerie drips of translucent white ink are far more unsettling than sentimental. In Brooks Vessels’ screen print, Reconsolidation, an impenetrable matrix of contours fills the composition. The viewer can discern architectural elements like columns and vaults, but little else in the cloud of lines. The marks appear hand-drawn but controlled—deliberately repeated to generate chaos.

In art lore, the image of machine duplication stands contrary to the idea of the lone genius. In truth, artists make meticulous decisions at every turn of the printing process; the end product is something precious. Prints such as those in Freeze State offer viewers a glimpse of artwork that exists not in a vacuum but in a web. These works were created as a discerning exploration of the medium—not as spectacle—and they reveal careful planning, meditative precision, and conceptual acuity.

-

Freeze State: Dissociating from the Here and Now is on display at Swanson Contemporary until March 30, 2019.

Swanson Contemporary is located at 638 E Market, Louisville, Kentucky, 40202 and open Wednesday through Saturday from 12-5pm.


Notes:
Mary Clore
Development & Outreach Editor, Contributor
3.17.19
Install, courtesy of Ruckus




Mary Claire Becker, Souvenir


Nicholas Cook, Awake Awake


Cassidy Meurer, The End of the Story

Jackson Taylor, HEART MELTER



Rachel Singel, Frozen Fiddlehead