ComPRESS / We’ve gotten so used to living in a “dot-com” world that we often forget to consider what that means for the nature of human connections. ComPRESS, the exhibition now at The ARTS at Marks Garage, asks us to rethink the implications of the way we connect, and the means–old and new–by which those connections might be made.
ComPRESS is a compelling follow-up to Slow News International, the previous exhibition at Marks Garage, offering a thoughtful response to the expansion of electronic media and the demise of newspapers and other print vehicles. ComPRESS, organized by the Honolulu Printmakers, invited artists to consider issues of community and communication. They explored individual and group identities, different kinds of relationships, the forms that communication takes and the nature of what we’re communicating. The one major stipulation was that all works had to involve some form of printmaking–that is, the use of some sort of matrix potentially capable of creating multiple impressions, ranging from an etching plate or silk-screen to a computer or photo-copier.
The exhibition initially appears to focus more on process than content. But in a historical context, one is reminded that printmaking has always functioned primarily as a populist form of art-making. The potential to make multiple copies of images on paper translated into the capacity to reach a broader audience and to market those images at a modest cost–the other end of the spectrum from the unique object available only to an elite clientele. One might say that printmaking, by its very nature, is a means of building community by providing a shared visual language that can circulate more widely.
In “Point Monger,” Gaye Chan and Lian Lederman leave us the evidence of a dart game in a large expanse of white paper punctuated with holes. Deborah Nehmad’s “Collateral Damage–June 2007” also distresses a sheet of paper with piercing and burning, juxtaposed with an expanse of mantra-like handwritten text.
Sometimes the artist’s marks become codified in various ways, as in Matthew Kawika Ortiz’s two woodcut prints “USB: Universal Serial Bus” and USB: Urban Services Boundary.” The latter’s grid-like arrangement of small squares and partial sections suggests a kind of map, providing a link with Scott Groeniger’s two screenprints, “The Morass” and “Lot Line Manifesto,” both of which also call to mind the mapping of ambiguous terrain and proprietary claims. Groeniger’s prints, each with a hint of a diptych format, also suggest a double-page spread of a book, subtly reinforcing the connection to another print-based form.
Perhaps the ultimate expression of codified text, however, is found in Erika Johnson Molyneux’s series of screenprints on hammered and painted steel found around the gallery. Each features a combination of conventional English text and Braille with location-based clues (“scenic view,” “sunset”) or behavioral directives (“do not touch,” “do not drink and drive.”) Those who can read both will find that the meanings diverge, a bit of an inside joke from the artist.
Themes of place are evident in Kimberly M. Chai’s reductive relief prints for textile designs, which use iconic elements such as a surfer, a shell lei, hibiscus to capture local ambience. The undercurrents of social tension in our island environment are brought closer to the surface in Jared Wickware’s “Our Day In The Sun,” a copper engraving that, in deceptively graceful lines, captures the marginal status of a homeless citizen. The tour de force of the exhibition and its dynamic center is Jackie Mild Lau’s mixed media sculpture “Made by the News, Swayed by the Wind.” Two larger-than-life figures, created from newspapers wrapped around steel armatures, appear buffeted by strong winds–but are also, perhaps, engaged in mutual struggle. Lau’s work very effectively brings together the tensions inherent in the human community, and the sometimes tenuous, even ephemeral nature of the connections between us.