A new exhibition at RMIT Gallery focuses the spotlight on the outstanding traditions of RMIT printmakers and reveals new work that challenges, surprises and delights.
With 2016 declared “the year of print” in celebration of the Print Council of Australia’s 50th anniversary, the gallery is celebrating the university’s 65-year printmaking tradition through Out of the Matrix.
All practitioners in the exhibition have a connection to the RMIT printmaking studio either as staff or alumni.
Their work reflects the University’s strong history in printmaking, through students, artists and former educators from the 1970s and 1980s such as Grahame King, Tate Adams, Hertha Kluge-Pott and George Baldessin who have helped shape what printmaking is today in Australia.
With art work that ranges from the analogue, digital, spatial, traditional and conceptual, Out of the Matrix highlights the universal nature of printmaking today.
Curated by Dr Richard Harding, Senior Lecturer of Print Imaging Practice at RMIT, the exhibition doesn’t just reference the university's past strengths and history in printmaking but also showcases work that pushes the boundaries of the field, playing with the idea of how the matrix can be virtual or actual.
“RMIT is very proud of our tradition, which we maintain through specialisation and technical and conceptual development for our students, who all have a really good base in their traditional, technical, analogue and digital mediums and techniques,” Harding said.
“RMIT has always pushed the boundaries of printmaking. Print-informed artists bring another perspective to their work even if they use traditional techniques.
“It’s is not just about hand scratchings on a plate anymore. It has greater relevance.”
The matrix – Latin for womb or mother – is a term used in printmaking to refer to the plate or block that forms a template that enables a print to be replicated.
By evoking printmaking’s “mother” matrix through reproducibility, Out of the Matrix reflects back into printmaking’s multiple pasts to extend and thus project out to imagined futures, playing with printmaking qualities such as sameness and difference.
In her opening address at the exhibition launch on 5 May, guest speaker Cathy Leahy, Senior Curator of Prints and Drawings at the National Gallery of Victoria, said that print culture had transformed as technology has advanced.
“Print practice is an expanded terrain of activity that is presented and displayed in Out of the Matrix, which plays with the idea of how the matrix can be virtual or actual.”
In the exhibition, print-informed artists use the matrix to springboard to wider concepts such as gender, sexual orientation, the original and the copy, and notions of the multiple, ready-made and mass production.
The works challenge traditional notions of printmaking by incorporating many 3D elements.
Street culture will meet printmaking when an anonymous skateboarder performs a new work outside RMIT Gallery on 21 May.
The work, Bearings beauty and irrelevance, is by the collaborative development Performprint and cross-references Philip Auslander’s theories of “Liveness” regarding the original performance and its documentation or recording.
Rolling back and forth over a single spot of ink, the wheels of a skateboard offer the point of contact and the matrix of the performance.
Marian Crawford’s Blood antiquities, 2015, employs found images in the media, downloaded from the web, that reference the recent destruction of historic sites in Palmyra.
Combining the analogue with the digital, she makes photo etchings of internet images on polymer plates and adds sourced text using Letterpress, which has hardly changed since 1440 when Gutenberg developed movable type.
Questions of looking, movement and surveillance are played out in Harding’s work Queer, 2016, in which a giant mirrored barcode installed along a corridor highlights a “between” space that captures, inverts and replicates the viewer in a Foucauldian discourse of power.
Andrew Tetzlaff’s large-format digital photographs engage viewpoints beyond the everyday.
In Yarra (suspended), 2015, an image of Melbourne’s Yarra River flows up the gallery wall bringing the viewer closer to the work as it continues overhead.
In launching Out of the Matrix, RMIT Vice-Chancellor and President, Martin Bean CBE, said the exhibition illustrates the way a university art gallery can play a significant role in teaching and research, while also drawing together artists and their audience.
Out of the Matrix is at RMIT Gallery, 344 Swanston Street Melbourne until 11 June.
Story: Evelyn Tsitas