To Break and to Build / Suzie Smith
Aceartinc. June 7th to July 26th
“In the lithographic process, ink is applied to a grease-treated image on the flat printing surface; non image (blank) areas, which hold moisture, repel the lithographic ink. This inked surface is then printed—either directly on paper, by means of a special press (as in most fine-art printmaking), or onto a rubber cylinder (as in commercial printing).” (Encyclopedia Britannica)*
During my undergraduate years I did not take a lithography class, daunted by its seemingly interminable number of processes, but I did take a screenprinting class. My first project was a small black and white colouring book. When I proudly displayed it during our first critique, the teacher asked; “Is it a photocopy?” I emphatically denied that it was, recalling the many hours spent designing, drawing, cutting paper, lining up crop marks and printing. I was put off by the notion that something that took so much time could be mistaken for such a seemingly meaningless reproduction. Artist Suzie Smith might not be so concerned.
Smith’s most recent exhibition To Break and to Build, at aceartinc. features a selection of work from ongoing projects that ask the viewer to question how the work is made. “Is that really a piece of crumpled paper?” “Is that scanned?” Some of Smith’s work might even beg those with less artistic knowledge to ask, “is that a photocopy?“ During the opening night, several observers thought some pieces might be hand drawn. Smith might be unconcerned with the varying interpretations of her work, judging by the variety of processes that she engages in, and the ease with which she places a variety of mediums side by side. She embraces their differences and, in many cases, dares us to compare them. All manner of print media is revealed in the image list provided: lithography, silkscreen, digital prints etc.
The handbills for Smiths To Break and To Build are the first example of the humour in Smith’s work. Untitled (Hands Holding) is the image of a blank piece of paper held up by two hands nearly covering its entire surface, giving us little indication as to who or what hides behind. At first glance, the image could be a black and white scan. But the real work, placed in the back corner of the gallery, is a CMYK screenprint (a four colour process) and the blank page in the image is the actual paper the work is printed on. This self-referential piece remains my favorite. Its neighbouring counterpart is a set of screenprinted eyes (the artists own) that look out at you from seemingly cut out slots. The viewer is fooled by Smith’s fake cuts, crumples, and folds, and the maker will be fascinated by the differing processes on exhibit.
Smith makes many somethings out of near nothings. Reminding me of the work of German photographer and sculptor Thomas Demand, whose hyper-real photographs of indoor and outdoor environments are made with construction paper, Smith uses the same modest materials: paper, ink and glue, and juxtaposes them with some not so simple printmaking techniques to tackle ideas of ‘transformation’.
“The work plays with oppositional ideas such as strength and weakness, order and chance, sameness and difference, as well as, mass production and the handmade.”
Within the myriad of different production techniques in To Break and To Build, there also lies a bit of trickery. Lines To… are pigment prints (or digital prints), and are placed next to similar renditions Circle Imitating Square and Square Imitating Circle, which are hand printed photo lithographs. The different mediums beg to be compared. Lithography is a time consuming, process-oriented craft, while digital printing is, to many, an easier reproduction strategy (although this could and certainly has been argued). Both series are reproductions of folded paper sculptures, which produce different shapes or markings: an arrow, a line, a squiggle. By placing photo lithography and digital prints shamelessly side-by-side, and in identical frames, Smith seems to point to their equal value while makers might look for the individual qualities that distinguish each technique.
The labour in the making of Smiths screenprinted paper sculptures titled Hammers and Bricks also remains secondary, as the works are downplayed by their placement on low lying pedestals. Smith’s fascination is with materials, the handmade, and their relationship to technology. But the processes remain secondary to the artists’ desire to talk about other things. The success of To Break and To Build lies in how these works live beyond their own materiality, allowing them to be containers for something more.
* http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/343748/lithography, accessed June 11th, 2013.
Kristin Nelson is a Winnipeg based artist currently competing her MFA at Concordia University in Fibres and Material Practices.
Medium: Silkscreen prints and glue