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Connecting People Through Printmaking Exchange Programme

Updated: Apr 29, 2021

By Associate Professor A. Rahman Mohamed

I . Printmaking

Print helped the masses to communicate. The invention of paper in the 6th century in China spreading to Europe in the 15th century revolutionized the art of printmaking. Printed material could then be distributed everywhere.

Printmaking is a process of creating identical multiples image, usually on paper. Prints are created from a single or several original surface, called plate or matrix. Printing is a process of transferring ink from the matrix to the medium, usually paper either using a press pressure or hand rubbed using hard materials such as wooden laden or a baren. Each print from the edition is considered as an original, not a copy. Printmaking can be categorised according to the process or type of original surface used to get the images. These processes are known as, Relief where the ink is applied on the surface of the matrix, these include woodcut, linocut and wood engraving. Intaglio is the process where ink is applied beneath the surface of the plate, etching, drypoint and engraving falls into this category. Stencil is a process where ink is passed through a cut-out place such as screen printing. The other category is Planographic where the image is drawn using greasy materials onto the surface of limestone or metal such as aluminium or zing. The printing relies on the principle of water and grease does not mix.

II . Printmaking Community

Printmaking is one of the genre in Fine Art besides other genre such as painting, sculpture, and installation. The nature of printmaking itself is a hybrid between arts and sciences, between aesthetic and technology. Modern printmaking is a form of a compound media art that fuses artists concepts with the new technological knowledge. These techniques and technology know how act as a kind of adhesive that bound these printmakers together. Printmaking is somehow a communal type of art making. Knowledge sharing is common among them. Presses and other equipments and materials are needed, in these sense artist usually sharing the common workshop. This is either in the form of cooperative workshop where all of them share the cost of running it, or artist can choose to rent a workshop on time block basis. These sharing of knowledge and equipment's make the printmakers feel connected and live in one big community.

Joint Printmaking Workshop by Thakshin University, Thailand and Universiti Sains Malaysia

The classic case of sharing a studio was true and happened to Stanley William Hayter, one of the prominent and influential figure in the modern printmaking history. He started his own studio called Atelier 17 in Paris in 1927 for himself, then came two artists asking for permission to do their prints with him at his studio and asked him to share his know-how with them. He accepted them together with two other person. Later his studio became the breeding ground for printmakers that came not only from Europe, but also from the United States of America, India, Laos and even from Malaysia. When the world war two broke, he moved to Los Angeles and subsequently opens his studio in New York. There he kept sharing his studio with many more artists from around the world.

There are many printmaking studios all over the world now that are runs either as cooperative studios or open their studios for artists to come to produce their prints as well as sharing their knowledge with fellow printmakers. Guanlan Printmaking Workshop in China is one of the workshops that are active in promoting the printmaking collaborations. Guanlan Workshop has taken place as the workshop where most of the serious printmakers wish to be accepted for residency . Frans Masereel Centrum in Belgium; CHHAAP – Baroda Printmaking Workshop in Gujarat, India; Center for Contemporary printmaking in Connecticut, USA are among the printmaking studios that accepting residency for printmakers. Among the Asean countries, Chiengmai University in Thailand is known for accepting residency for international printmakers.

In case of Malaysia, there was an active studio in Kuala Lumpur during the seventies and early eighties with the facilities of a simple etching press. Studio Anak Alam initiated by Abdul Latiff Mohidin became the community studio for young printmakers in Malaysia then. The studio was run collectively by these young artists and printmakers. It also became the meeting place for artists and writers. They actively produce prints and holding several graphic art exhibitions during that period. Create awareness towards graphic prints to the Malaysian public. Unfortunately this studio defunct by the late nineteen eighties.

Nagasawa Art Park in Japan, has a mission of promoting Japanese Watercolour Woodblock printing. The centre accepting international artists for residency and disseminate the knowledge and techniques of Japanese Woodblock art or Mokuhanga. Printmakers from different parts of the world and nationalities enrolled in Nagasawa programmes. Mukuhanga reaches more and wider enthusiasts. Now the ancient art of mokuhanga flourish all over the world. One can now learn mokuhanga not only in Japan but in many classes by the alumni of Nagasawa Art Park runs by American in New York, German in Berlin and many more countries.

The sense of sharing among printmakers does not confined only within one particular workshop or studio. The exchange of idea and know-how also happen between these studios. Today, with the advance of internet, the printmaking community has become a truly global community. Printmakers could easily get access to tons of printmaking communities around the globe, without actually step away from their computer desk.

There are many printmaking communities on the web, some are national, other are either international or regional. Interaction is one of the web based printmaking communities that taking full advantage of free social media available online. Baren Forum is one of widely subscribed printmaking communities. Although it concentrates mainly on the art of Japanese Mokuhanga, this community accept all printmakers regardless of their preferred print medium.

III. Print Exchange

Print is the most versatile of the visual mediums. Because of its multiple editions, a print can be shown at different locations simultaneously. It is easily transportable, a vehicle to establish communications worldwide. As these printmakers produce multiples for each of their editions, artist also share their prints among them. Print exchange is a common thing done by printmakers. Exchange took place either on an individual basis, or in many instances, it is a well organised activity. Prints exchange between universities printmaking departments or workshops are the commonest of all. Many printmaking organisations are also managing exchange among the members as well as between these organisations.

The simplest concept of print exchange is sharing certain numbers of prints among the participating artist. For instance a group of twenty artists agreed to form an exchange, so each of the artist will produce twenty prints for his or her edition. A coordinator will gather all these prints from each of the participants. The coordinator will redistribute the prints, so, each of the participants will received twenty different prints from twenty different artists. In this way one will have a collection of a complete portfolio by twenty different artists. Some exchange will set particular theme for the portfolio, so each artist will produce print according to the given theme. On the other hand there are some exchanges which are without any theme, but they are usually still have some restrictions, may be in term of uniformity of the paper size so the portfolio of different theme but still have common feature in term of size of the paper.

Having an international print exchange and exhibition will give opportunity to the printmakers and the audience alike to gauge the changes and trends in the field. More than that, the dissemination of verbal and or visual information contains in the prints is more important. Those prints communicate to the viewer. These activities promote a better understanding among printmakers and viewers from different parts of the world. Indirectly, both participants and audience learn about other culture and geography as well. There are many instances that these exchange programmes foster lasting friendship, even if, they do not have the opportunity to meet each other in person.

IV. Universiti Sains Malaysia’s Experience

The School of The Arts Universiti Sains Malaysia ( USM ) is considered fortunate to have a good facilities for printmaking. Our printmaking studio known as Studio Terap Ulang ( literally translated as Repeated Pressed Studio ) has the facilities for all the printmaking processes. The studio is equipped with five etching presses, one lithography press with a collection of bavarian lithographic lime stones, silkscreen facilities such as vacuum pressured printing table and exposing units. With all of these good facilities we were able to run a few programmes to connect with other printmakers and bring them to Studio Terap Ulang.

We brought Juhari Said, a Malaysian printmaker to stay and work at Studio Terap Ulang for a year. With his vast networking with artists and printmakers alike, his stays at USM attracted several other printmakers to visit us and share their knowledge with USM community as well as to the general public. Professor A.D Pirous from Indonesia, one of the big name in art circle in Asean region came to visit us and gave a very thoughtful talk about art and about printmaking in particular.

Elizabeth Briel, an artist and writer from Minnesota, United States of America made Studio Terap Ulang her home for three month in the year 2011. She worked on her cyanotype prints, absorbing the spirit and images of Penang. Concurrently she did her research on handmade paper in Southeast Asia. During her residency at Terap Ulang, Elizabeth conducted several workshops and demonstrations on cyanotype to students at the School of The Arts, USM as well as to the communities off campus.

Several collaboration workshops were also done with local universities as well as universities abroad. Not long ago Manee Menak, an assistant professor from Faculty of Art and Design Thaksin University, Thailand, ran a workshop on plate lithography for students of both institutions. Besides enriching the students’ knowledge on the process of lithographic printmaking, these workshops had built a close friendships between students of these two countries.

One of the big projects done by us to connect printmakers all over the world was Penang International Print Exhibition ( PIPE ). The School of The Arts, Universiti Sains Malaysia in collaboration with The Penang State Art Gallery, organised the ” Borders Crossing ” Print Exhibition in 2007. as part of Penang International Art Festival. This show gathers fifty-nine international artists who produced ninety works, all of which, overtly or otherwise, touched upon the theme of “Border Crossings”. In a sense, these artworks have literally transcended geographical boundaries. Works from overseas reached Penang through the mail or currier services: crossing borders. Local works crossed the Thai border to the Hatyai Art Gallery, Thailand, made a U-turn and re-entered Penang.

Printmakers from Studio Terap Ulang also participated in several printmaking exchange programme including print exchange in-conjunction with Impact IV, Printmaking Conference in Berlin, Germany and Poznan, Poland. In the year 2012, USM part take in Print Exchange conducted by Xitang Art Museum in China.

Several other active international printmaking exchange include Cascade Print Exchange organised by Oregon State University, USA. International Print Exchange IPE Greendoor, United Kingdom. Southern Graphic International Member Printmaking Exchange. All these exchange gives opportunity for printmakers to get connected and foster a closer ties without any borders.

Printmaking is a truly democratic art medium, not only communicating information but also bonding people beyond the physical borders. With this paper I hope we will have more

connections among printmakers in the Asian countries.

by Associate Professor Rahman Mohamed

School of the Arts Universiti Sains Malaysia

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