With a broad definition of what constitutes “print”, the Fremantle Arts Centre Print Award’s openness to boundary-pushing work is one of its greatest strengths, says Miranda Johnson.
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Fremantle Art Centre Print Award, Various artists ·
Fremantle Arts Centre ·
After a COVID-induced hiatus in 2020, 2021’s Fremantle Arts Centre Print Award exhibition is a return to form, presenting expansive works that variously reflect upon lockdowns, personal histories, politics and the definition of print itself.
The Print Award is one of the nation’s longest-running and most prestigious print-making awards, attracting hundreds of entries from artists working with printmaking across the country.
From 262 entries, 51 finalists were selected for inclusion in the exhibition by a panel of experts, including Curator and Director of Art Collective WA Felicity Johnson, artist and printmaking lecturer at Curtin University Rachel Salmon-Lomas, and artist and Curtin University Collection Manager Lia McKnight.
With Print Award Coordinator Emma Buswell, the panel has brought together a diverse array of works that engage with printmaking in numerous ways, to reflect on both the upheaval of 2020 and the possibilities and capacities of printmaking to respond to this turmoil and consider how we communicate, process, and respond to our current climate.
The Print Award’s definition of what constitutes “print” is generous; in the case of some works it took me a minute to understand their connection to the form. This is a fundamental strength of the Print Award for me – that it is always open to new interpretations of the meaning of print and encouraging of practices that are questioning, engaging with, and pushing the medium to new areas.
This is particularly apparent when considering both of the winning entries, with Victorian artist Alison Kennedy’s work ICU (pictured top) melding the laborious process of printmaking with a 3D-modelled image of herself in her studio. A large-scale reflection on the hidden labour of women’s work, the work was awarded first prize.
Walmajarri man John Prince Siddon’s 3D printed cow skull, Purlkartu (Spider), upon which he has painted one of his signature joyful and psychedelic commentaries on station life and modern Australia, was awarded second prize. Both prize-winning works successfully mesh new technologies with more established techniques.
Other works in the exhibition remind me of the malleable nature of printing and the way in which it has impacted the nature of communication for centuries. Justin Trendali’s The Aldine Press, for example, reflects on the historical impact of print arising through the shift from manuscript culture to print culture in Early Modern Europe.
The accessible nature of print to communicate messages to the masses, variously considered dangerous and liberating throughout history, is also apparent in Lucas Ilhein and collaborators’ work EXTRA!EXTRA!, a newspaper project originally commissioned by Kaldor Public Art Projects and the Art Gallery of NSW. Produced collaboratively with a group of artists and featuring audience letters to the editor, the work allows critical engagement with the issues of our time, including climate change and the gig economy, in a fun and engaging way – a far cry from anything produced by Rupert Murdoch.
The diverse and engaging works on display in this year’s Print Award are not only testament to the accessible and continually evolving nature of the medium itself, but also to the accessibility of the exhibition for artists at different stages of practice. It’s refreshing to see artists who have recently graduated or are beginning their careers, such as recent Curtin University graduate Nina Wright, exhibit alongside previous Print Award winners or finalists, or artists with established careers, including Andrew Nicholls and Susanna Castleden. Wright’s work In His Image and Likeness in fact has echoes of Nicholls’ piece Demon and Martyr; both works grapple with themes of faith and the existential search for meaning.
A huge effort, this is also the last year that the Print Award will be presented at FAC on an annual basis, as it is moving to a biannual model. Looking at the quality and quantity of works on display it is clear that this isn’t due to lack of interest either from artists or audiences, as the Print Award continues to generate a wide and diverse range of responses, interest and enjoyment from audiences across the city and indeed the country. The Print Award will certainly be missed next year, but as this year’s exhibition clearly shows, a year in isolation, with plenty of time to make, think and consider, produces rich rewards.
Pictured top: Alison Kennedy (VIC) ‘ICU’, 2019, 240 x 300cm, white ink screenprint on 30 high impact polystyrene panel 1/1.
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