In a small, unassuming attic at the Edinburgh Printmakers lives the vibrant New Edition exhibition curated by Sarah Lowndes. Whilst radiating modernity, there is a paradox between the modern subject matter and the traditional process of printmaking. Created by artists Emer Tumilty, Museums Press, and Poster Club, each different work is bound together in synthesis, as each artist celebrates the manual process; a contrast with our mass-produced factory orientated society that presides today. There is certainly more than meets the eye on first viewing this charming attic, communicating the mantra of the power of art to convey valuable contextual information about the environment in which it was created.
In 2010, the Turbine Hall was covered in Ai Wei Wei’s tiny porcelain sunflower seeds, each of which was handmade by individuals in the porcelain capital of China (Jingdezhen). Wei Wei subverted the factory image of China by bringing back hand-made processes, just as New Edition also does. While walking around the smaller of the two exhibition rooms, a large window reveals the vista of an expansive print-making factory en media res. This immediately brings the exhibition to life in what could, prior to this, have been perceived as rather too gentle a show.
The title, New Edition, is a reference to the way in which the practice of screen printing renews itself through continued use. Lowndes writes, “each completed work becomes a springboard for the genesis of its successors.” This is a resonant and engaged comment, coherent with the genre of pop art to which I would compare the exhibition content.
Artists such as Lichtenstein and Warhol were using print techniques in the 1960s, and their work conveys much about the periods and places they were working in: a western world obsessed with consumerism. Their methods were perfectly syncopated with the colourful freewheeling mood of the late 60s, just as the provocative works shown in New Edition portray the non-existent boundaries of art today. The works consist of bold fonts, bright colours, and modern slogans. Pastel coloured abstractions are contrasted with lazy reclining cats and steaming Sports Direct mugs. The artists combine obscurities with simplicities, provoking a range of familiar feelings in the viewer, whilst also reminding each viewer of the importance of keeping print alive. In a sense, one might categorise the exhibition as still-life.
The copious array of objects depicted in the prints reminds us of these obsessions with consumerism, reinstated by the factory riddled with people making things. We cannot help but be obsessed by ‘stuff’ and this has been represented in art for years (take the wall paintings in the house of Julia Felix or the inaugural works of Tracy Emin).
The creative muscle powering the exhibition is commendable. Both artists and curator have created a charming and politically engaged show which was more effective than I had expected. Whilst the works were by no means spellbinding, they communicated instances about the ethics of our society, and you also can’t fault the pleasure of having an exhibition to yourself, can you?
Until 21st October
Photo credit: Issy Carr