[The challenges of curating an international biennial : MTG 2015 Kracow]
The MTG-Krakow is grounded on an open competition. According with the rules the competition is held in two stages: 1st Stage (based on digital files of the works) and a 2nd Stage (based on the original works). 1105 artists submitted their works to the MTG – Krakow 2015 in the first stage. From them, 589 were selected in the 1st Stage and reviewed by an international jury in the 2nd Stage. Finally, 104 artists were included in the triennial: around 10% of the original number.
Dis means “not”, ambiguous means “unclear,” and the ending –tion makes it a noun. Disambiguation is the act of making something clear. In this way, the word disambiguation relies on looking ahead to identify possible senses. This introduction aims to share the international jury’s complex process of selection and debates conducing to choice the artists’ works who finally were included in the MTG-Krakow 2015 Triennial Exhibition.
First of all, it was an honor to be appointed as the president of an international jury comprised by a distinguished group of colleagues: Vladimiro Elvieri (Italy), Dorota Folga-Januszewska (Poland), Carinna Parraman (England) and Endi Poskovic (USA). I have worked before or at least have met most of them in different international events, related with the printmaking field, before. May be for this (or perhaps because of Marta Raczek’s magic stick that put all of us together), we functioned as a team from the beginning. There were different points of views, of course, but willingness to listen each other opinions as well as to generate a debate of ideas about contemporary printmaking and its expanded field possibilities.
The international jury reviewed 1886 works by 589 artists. The goal of the MTG 2015 is to include “what is extensively construed as printmaking and graphic art, that is works produced in classical printmaking techniques and works that make use of the latest achievements in digital recording, and ways of producing prints including inter-media, multimedia and trans-media projects, notably graphic installations”. To be evaluated, submitted works were ordered by technique: video installations, relief, chalcography, screen-printing, lithography, digital media and 3D proposals. This facilitated the vision of a final exhibition as a whole -rather as an assemblage of particular pieces- since the jury had the opportunity to compare prints made in similar media during the selection process. In this way, and from the starting point of this curatorial endeavor, the jury had in mind a global idea of the triennial itself and how the final exhibition would look like. And, yes, it was a Herculean labor but at the same time we were privileged to see a tangible “horizon” of contemporary printmaking practices in all their forms. Definitely, it was a unique and unrepeatable professional experience and, also, a learning opportunity to all of us.
Most of the works examined by the 2nd Stage Jury where remarkable. Among them, the prints presented by Polish artists –of course- where majority. They stated, once more time, the strong tradition and high level of printmaking in Poland. Ambitious installations, new techniques, large size linocuts and digital prints, 3D object…all of them reflecting the diverse possibilities of today printmaking. But this is an international exhibition that also has a limited area to be exhibited. Regrettably several good pieces stay out of the exhibition. In this context, we did not considered ourselves as demiurgos that put ours thumbs up or down in front of the individual pieces, looking them closely to check for a “well printed” flat black. Oppositely, we were looking forward the dialogue that can be generated among the different works. The final aim was to show how they could reflect the complex and rich panorama of contemporary artistic practices that utilize print media as foundation of their narratives.
We can say proudly that, in this occasion, the jury looked at the whole forest -instead of be focused on each tree- but having in mind how the separate “trees” would go together to make “the forest”. However, this “Forest/Triennial” looks more like a tropical rainforest than a European pines wood. Near of its 50th anniversary the MTG Triennial 2015 has been though by this jury as the rainforest of the printmaking field: a living organism in constant growing and change, encouraging transferences that are impossible in other artistic fields. “Tropical rainforests are home to over half the world’s species, all squeezed into a narrow strip of land (…) they are considerer as the central nervous system of our planet -a hotbed of evolution, life and diversity”. Both concepts are good metaphors for this exhibition and, consequently, a group of works that includes “different species of trees, plants and flowers” constitutes the 2015 Triennial.
The canopy of this forest represents the core of the triennial. It comprises an interesting group of works that introduce comprehensively what is happening currently with contemporary printmaking. Among them, and just focusing on a few, Magdalena Stawarska-Beavan’s (UK) conceptually complex installation “From Krakow to Venice” puts together a series of polished screen-printing with an interactive map and audio that involves the viewer. While bonds traditional printmaking processes with new technologies, the artist investigates connections between thought, language and communication. Michelle Murillo’s works “DNA Maps in Letters: South America and North America” are glass prints. She employs an innovative method of screen-printing with frit (powdered glass). In her work the print rejects its traditional support (paper) looking for new substrates that also express the idea of what is rooted in the DNA (the artist is an American with Colombian and Irish background), encouraging the public to play with the piece and to construct its own DNA. Maps are also the subjects of Irish artist David Lirburn. Combining watercolor, dry point and Chine collé, he represents maps and coastlines, which are loaded with historical and contemporary references as well as personal memories. “Unbridled_07”, Agata Gertchen’s 2.90 m linocut, earned the award for young Polish artists. The piece represents the current tendencies that we can find in Polish contemporary printmaking: large size, black and white perfectly carved and printed linocuts. But Agata´s work stands above the others -and even goes beyond her own refined technique- when she presents a layered piece that obsessively denotes both microscopic and macroscopic universes
There are not only trees in the rainforest where others interesting species exist. Embraced under canopy’s crown there are small size but gorgeous ferns. They add a flavor of what the traditional printmaking used to be, related with illustration and books (Danielle Crenaune, Australia) but at the same time full of strong political meaning (Heamagi Inga / Ingaar Toomas from Estonia). We can include here Puerto Rican Martin Garcia Rivera’s suite of exquisite engravings, which re-cites Picasso’s “Vollard Suite” and, slightly, Goya prints. In “Guided by Smell”, while mastering old technical skills, Garcia Rivera quotes the avant-garde artist’s masterpieces in an ironic context, representing both the Western art tradition and the African heritage in the island’s culture. Marc Frising (Luxemburg) and Alberto Balleti (Italy) prints are some beautiful orchids included among the flowers. Juxtaposing elements that appear to be contradictory, their well-done velvet mezzotint and lithographic surfaces oxymoronically attract the viewer to discover their hidden mysteries. Aerial plants, gathering nourishment from the air itself, are represented by the American Jill Parisi’s small fragments installation. The work epitomizes hybrid botanical species made by hand cut components, and a combination of centuries-old making printmaking techniques. Similarly, Croatian Ana Vivoda presents an ethereal installation on Japanese paper whose its large size, instead of react to viewer proximity, allows examining the interaction between the subject and the space in which it is installed. Conjunctly, we can find unique ecosystems as those of Roman Klonek (Germany), Katarzyna Risek (Poland), Puritip Suriyaparatun (Thailand), Dominik Cierplaá (Poland), Cygan Michaá (Poland) and Paulis Liepa (Latvia). They can be displayed -as Dorota Folga-Januszewska suggested- like a “Cabinet of Wonders” (Kunstkammer), as a collection of images whose categorical boundaries are yet to be defined.
Finally, there is a layer that emerges over the canopy, containing a small number of large trees. ˝The Flood”, Sean Caufield’s stunning outsized woodcut, stands among them. It follows the direction that the artist developed in a recent piece -installed in Knoxville, USA- in occasion of “Prints in Peculiar Places”. The Canadian artist creative exploration has involved a rich production including artist’s books, prints and drawings. Currently, he is moving on a direction that comprises prints installations (some of them in public spaces) while continuing investigating the impact of technology on the environment and our bodies. In this piece we can find references to XIX Century scientific illustrations together with biological forms, while simultaneously suggesting an imagined world of religious cosmology. Witold Zaręba’s (Poland) women and dogs bring out old illustrations and memorabilia as well. Using respiratory mask, with a II World War savor, he gives to these subjects a strong emotional charge, full of drama and nostalgia. The artist expands the boundaries of the traditional print utilizing felt and board for printing and cutting out anthropomorphic shapes. The final result is an object that can be either taken with the hands, hung in the wall or stand in a pedestal: a sophisticated graphic image, understood as a spatial form. Oppositely, Chinese artist Minjie Zhang does not broke the limits of technique. He follows masterfully the rules of traditional Chinese woodcuts incorporating lithography as well. His works are time consuming, with hundreds of small details. However, his discourse does not stay in the technique achieving that his prints involve a mysterious mix between the quality of contemporary art and the expected Chinese way of representation. The artist was in Tangshan when a devastating earthquake hit it in 1976, where he was trapped under a collapsed house. This traumatic experience, together with the culture of Chinese Mao where the individual has not value (both in his teenager years) had an important influence on his art. You can easily recognize his works through the mass of people parading, jumping or flying, all of them packed in suffocating places, going nowhere. Zhang’s important contribution to contemporary printmaking is to use traditional procedures loaded with cultural references full of significance, which rank his works among the most powerful pieces in contemporary Chinese art.
Last but not least, “Reflecting Place” was not only the piece awarded with the Gran Prix but also the work selected by the jury to post a message. It is an installation that embodies collaboration with scientific and composers and juxtaposes several digital “matrixes” in the form of sound, image and actual prints on paper. Deborah Cornell (USA), its author, states “I combine new forms of printmaking that are digital and multi-layered, based in remotely transmitted images that colonize cultural and visual space, which for me relates to a vision of science and technology, with its questions on the shape and shaping of the real”.
Cornell, Chair in Printmaking in Boston University in the United States, is an artist that holds a career of teaching and research on old and new technologies, including virtual reality projects. Her last works connects voices of science, music and art using layered digital matrices expressed in several media, including a printed substrate and video projection. “Reflecting Place” is a complex piece that surrounds the viewer spatial and conceptually, posing aposes a reflection on contemporary world technologies, migrations, ecology and culture.
“The triennial is a lean, muscular body of work”, Endi Posovik defined. There is no “fat” in here (defining “fat” in printmaking as the technique’s Mannerism and lack of conceptual strength): all is energy and substance. In this way, the MTG 2015 is an exhibition featuring many voices, each of them with an independent melody that harmonizes or confronts in a contrapuntal with the other voices, but all together constituting a polyphonic chorus about the current possibilities and bright future of contemporary print media.
President of the International Selection Jury