BAR B A R A F R E E MAN
from etching to digital print a creative journey
Strule Arts Centre 31st March - 2nd June 2012
From etching to digital prints a creative journey. This exhibition presents a journey from what is usually called ‘craft’ to what is now being called ‘technology’. This is an unsatisfactory terminology, but it is the one in use so we might as well go along with it, for the time being. The copying of pictures, their reproduction and dissemination, has been going on for a long time; it seems likely, for example, that etching and engraving derived from the craft practice of armourers and swordsmiths in the middle ages, who passed their designs around workshops by taking paper rubbings from the engraved steel surfaces of blades and breastplates. The vellum of ancient Celtic manuscripts show unmistakable signs of having been copied or transferred by mean of measuring devices, compasses and the like. The use of stencils and profiles are intrinsic to tile, terra cotta and other forms of architectural decoration. As a general principle, whenever something could be reproduced, it was. Weaving technology, from which digital systems ultimately derive, exemplifies the process of abstraction and mathematisation which every ‘technology’ employs. Each system of reproduction developed its own technical language, making it teachable. Each system can be in some measure transferable between materials. Each system of reproduction can also be developed for its own sake, as if for fun and pure playfulness, and along the way
photo etching ‘The Anatomy Lesson’ 1992
this requires and incites the development of special skills and its own categories of ingenuity. To enlarge or expand each system requires an opportunistic eye for possibilities, and an imaginative freedom. Imaginative freedom lies at the heart; a means of reproduction (and etching is a very good example) suggests new thoughts. One is incited to ask ‘what if’ or `what would happen if’. These questions come in the guise of technical questions, but actually are forms of thought; they enable the artist to have new thoughts and therefore new feelings. In the nineteen fifties, when Barbara Freeman was a student in London, the curriculum required her to undertake a ‘craft’ in addition to her main study (which was sculpture). She studied wood engraving. This is an exacting occupation, hardly practiced now, in which a boxwood block is
carved across the end-grain with an engraver’s burin. None of this student work has survived, and the artist abandoned wood engraving as soon as she could. It is a time consuming, beautiful and expensive occupation. But the pursuit of something inherently difficult is character building. After wood engraving nothing seems difficult.
Part of this means understanding what takes place at the smallest level – at the level of molecules and atoms for etching and photography, at the level of the ‘bit’ and the ‘pixcel’ for anything digital. What you must learn is how to think. It seems to follow from this that any particular skill is interlinked with a mode of thought.
Also, the experience of learning a difficult craft imparts something more than the craft; it teaches one how to learn. This artist has consistently learned several ‘crafts’ in this way, without ever taking any courses. She is sceptical about courses complaining that they are usually concerned with learning how to make a particular kind of thing, whereas what one needs for artistic purposes is to make the thing that only you can define. On the way new skills and new ‘crafts’ are invented. This imparts the craft of learning. Learning how to learn.
This includes how to recognize when skills are to be thrown way. As Wittgenstein famously remarked…’ one must, so to speak, throw away the ladder.’ A good deal of this exhibition is a lesson in throwing your ladder away to good purpose, the ultimate purpose being to increase freedom of action and freedom of feeling. A large number of these prints have been produced in response to the question… “what would happen if”? What would happen if I set the plate on fire? What would happen if I ceased to control the printing surface?
Or in response to more general questions such as… What is an edition? Where is the original?
To go back a few lines; in any activity concerning materials, the mode of thought is simultaneously a mode of action. You think through making; and every different mode of making implies a mode of thought. Consider, briefly, the question of cheirality (right and left handedness). Amongst the understandings required of the printmaker
is the capacity to think right to left in order to make an image intended to be seen left to right. Or vice – versa. This is what an engraver must do every minute. This is a psycho-physical feat of some complexity. Then imagine it performed by a right-handed artist. Can this be taught explicitly, or must it be grasped tacitly? The kinds of understanding required are extremely difficult to describe, because they cross conceptual boundaries; they are, in effect, ineffable. Words don’t help much. The understanding is demonstrated in the performance, as in sport. As Michael Polanyi expounds in his studies of tacit knowledge, we have to do with knowing more than we can tell.
The Roma Prints, exhibited here, are a part of that work; which continued in Belfast when she found a rusted oil drum in the park. The top of the drum became the plate from which a series of Gongs were printed. This in turn led on to an interest in steel and rust and the practice of pouring neat nitric acid onto very large steel sheets which then became part of the visual-sound installation ‘Patina’ created with the composer Michael Alcorn at the Ormeau Baths Gallery, Belfast .
* * * * Barbara Freeman came to serious printmaking fairly late in her long career, when she took up a fellowship at the British School in Rome. Amongst the facilities was an old and dilapidated print workshop in which almost nothing worked. Lying out in the courtyard was a stack of old etching plates eroded by time and weather. She began by printing from these plates in a sort of homage to the ruins of the ancient city around her, and as a response to ‘found’ and ‘random’ art practices and ideas current in musical life. (She had, from early student days, been a close student of avant-garde composition and had, more or less by chance, been a participant in musical ‘happenings’ devised by John Cage in the nineteen sixties).
photo of ‘Patina’ at the Ormeau Baths Gallery 1986
What all these early prints have in common is, that the inking of the plate produced, as an integral process, a variable image. Thus a traditional ‘edition’ was impossible; every print, though it came from the same plate, was knowingly altered. This was taken further by printing from several plates at once, laying sheets of copper over a base plate of steel, with each piece inked up separately and all going through the press in one operation. The series entitled Psappha exemplifies this method. After inking up, the main plates were drawn upon with pastels and chalks which repelled the oil based ink, creating a visual texture that could not be foreseen. Other prints were executed employing smoky surfaces, and fire. Fire, for example was created by setting bitumen on fire and printing from the charred surface with appropriately fiery inks.
photography; she needed a steady supply of high quality images of her work, for the purposes of galleries and grant applications. So she taught herself photography from a book and built her own darkroom. Once engaged in taking pictures a similar process followed, of experiment and deformation. Amongst photographic outcomes were combined prints in gum-bichromate on etching paper – very nineteenth century – and photomontage. This lead to visits to former Yugoslavia where she acquired a silver medal for what was termed ‘interfered photography’ and a commission to photograph the sardine-fishing fleet; and many interesting life experiences. But digital photography rode in …. And chimed with her already existing interest in electronic composition.
Most of this work was done with contemporary musical composition in mind, using the terms and concepts of electronic composition as a source of ideas rather than images.
The long series entitled Ceilp was began at the instigation of a summer school for traditional music in Donegal, as part of a course in music technology. Carolan was to be introduced to the iMac. The theme that emerged from the group was the seaweed, kelp, treated both acoustically and visually.
None of this work involved imagery in any form, and all was based around the manipulation of materials. It required the design and building of several presses, one of which was so powerful it bent the steel girders out of which it was made. Nothing would seem to be further away from this foundry than the dainty craft of digital printing. The artist came to the computer by way of
Kelp has played a large part in the life of Donegal and it is a peculiar growth that seems to be half-eel and part fern. The students lowered microphones into undersea groves of the seaweed – soundscapes of living slime, while the artist took kelp’s own portrait; not by an orthodox camera but with putting the seaweed directly into the scanner. And then transforming
and transfiguring that material on the screen with programmes such as Photoshop, exploiting and enlarging the possibilities of the software, putting it to unexpected purposes which leave the initial material far behind. Good software will always do far more than it is designed to do. What emerged was that digital manipulation of sound has much in common with the digital treatment of visual material; the programmes are almost interchangeable. It seems to be assumed that the visual foundation of the digital print is always photography. The technology is based historically around visual media, and the scanner can always be considered a kind of camera. The software commands are written as if for a special-effects laboratory (what the film industry calls FX). But Barbara Freemanâ€™s recent approach takes the opposite direction, for her starting point rejects any kind of imagery. It is worthwhile spelling out some of the stages by which the Bach Series, named after seventeenth century dances, came to be. The first stages are always geometrical; she has a collection of regular grids from which irregular patterns are quickly derived. These form a basis for what happens next. The Bach prints, turning on baroque dance notation, involve symmetry, rotation and counter-rotation. (She has a collection of step-diagrams from the sarabande to the gavotte stored up on the harddrive along with the grids). Motifs are threaded through the grids to create a mesh of lines and spaces;
these are further complicated by cancellations and inversions and by the application of colour. Erasure plays a large part. Since what is seen on the screen is what is printed on the paper, there is no problem with right or left handedness. What you see is what you get. Erasures persist in the form of shadows or ghosts of previous configurations. The grids and motifs fade to mere residues of the stages in which they were used; like catalysts they enabled the transformations to take place without themselves forming a part of the result. The â€˜Saveâ€™ button is rarely employed, to maintain the element of risk right up to the end. Acceptance of risk and the unforeseen consequence are essential to this kind of working.
Though it would be theoretically possible to recover every stage of the process it is not a practical possibility. If asked if she knows how she got to the finished result the artist finds it impossible to say. The move from screen to paper is also a very delicate matter that requires considerable tacit understanding. These prints, especially the larger ones such as ‘Variations’ I, are as craftily finessed as a wood engraving.
Digital printmaking has two conditions that seem to differentiate it from ‘craft’ work : size and edition. A digital image has no necessary size and is also potentially available in unlimited numbers. Barbara would always maintain that the issue is not one of necessary size but the right size. Digital printing works best when your screen is the same size as your paper. (Her own screen is a 24” Mac OS. X, and her printer an Epson PRO 4800). This is straightforward, but costly to maintain. Edition size is also constrained by the need to maintain quality. The artist in this case is intensely bored by the repetitive work of completing an edition, and has only occasionally made a large edition of any work. Handing over printing to a workshop has rarely been successful, the particular pitch of perfection she demands of digital printing does not, in fact, survive. The plain fact of the matter is, that to put ink on paper well you must transcend the ‘technology’ and rely upon experience and judgement.. So you appear, to the thoughtless, to come full circle and return to an exacting craft. But had you ever been anywhere else? David Brett 2012
‘FIRE’ carborundum print
four intaglio prints 64x64cm. each
‘COUNTERPOINTS’ II digital print
SELECTED CURRICULUM VITAE SOLO EXHIBITIONS 2011 ON THE SQUARE visual/sound exhibition at the F.E. McWilliam Gallery, Banbridge; also at An Gailearai, Gweedore, Co. Donegal 2011 A SET OF 30 GICLEE PRINTS Fenderesky Gallery, Belfast 2010 THE BACH SERIES prints and drawings The Alley Arts Centre, Strabane 2009 NEW WORKS - Four artists Fenderesky Gallery, Belfast 2006 NEW PAINTINGS Fenderesky Gallery, Belfast. SELECTED PAINTINGS 1996-2006 Gordon Gallery, Derry. NEW PAINTINGS Vanguard Gallery, Cork. 2005 THE BANKS OF THE BANN collaboration with composer Paul Wilson at the Miillennium Court Arts Centre, Portadown. 2004 TIME FRAMES collaboration with composer Paul Wilson at the Fenderesky Gallery, Belfast. Also a new series of paintings. KHAZARIA a book of combined images and text with writer David Brett. Arttank Gallery, Belfast and the Saint Patrick Centre, Downpatrick. 2002 CEILP collaboration with composers from Foinn Chonallacha at An Gaileari Donegal. Also at The Old Museum Arts Centre, Belfast, NEW PAINTINGS at the Eigse Carlow Arts Festival and the Boyle Festival 2000 MILLENNIUM IMAGES - Ireland / America, Seattle U.S.A. (invited artist). PAINTINGS AND PRINTS AFTER BOULEZ Fenderesky Gallery, Belfast. 1999 PAINTINGS AND PRINTS AFTER XENAKIS Rubicon Gallery and the Original Print Gallery, Dublin. PAINTINGS Keller Galerie, Weimar, Germany (European City of Culture) 1998 THE CITY DREAMING large drawings at The Waterfront Hall, Belfast. IN PARALLEL Ormeau Baths Gallery, Belfast collaboration with four composers Michael Alcorn, Ian Wilson, Nicola LeFanu and David Lumsdaine for the Sonorities Festival at Queens University. PAINTINGS AND PRINTS Hart Gallery, London. 1997 TWO INSTALLATIONS Moon Gallery, Berry College, Georgia, U.S.A. PAINTINGS AND PRINTS Context Gallery, Derry. 1996 INSTALLATIONS AND PAINTINGS Model Arts Centre, Sligo, Ireland. in association with Concorde Contemporary Music Ensemble. 1995 PAINTINGS Fenderesky Gallery at Queens, Belfast. 1994 PAINTINGS Hart Gallery, and the East-West Gallery, London 1992 THE ANATOMY THEATRE installation at the Orchard Gallery, Derry 1991 THE ANATOMY LESSON paintings and prints at the Hart Gallery,London and the Fenderesy Gallery, Belfast. 1990 DE HUMANI CORPORIS FABRICA paintings and prints at the Arts Council Gallery, Belfast, the Butler Gallery, Kilkenny, the Orchard Gallery, Derry, Monaghan County Museum and Art Space Gallery, London 1988 TWO CITIES: ROMA- NEW YORK paintings and drawings at Art Space Gallery London, Solomon Gallery, Dublin, Fenderesky Gallery, Belfast. 1986 PAINTINGS at the Fenderesky Gallery, Belfast. 1983 PAINTINGS AND PRINTS Imperial College, London. 1981 ANNALS OF THE MACHINE sculpture and prints at the Industrial Museum, Bradford and the Istvan Bathory Muzeum, Hungary 1975 ASSASSINS constructions and drawings University of St. Andrews and Wolfson College, Oxford University 1974 HOMAGE TO DURER drawings Cartwright Hall, Bradford 1973 CONSTRUCTIONS University of Bradford and the University of Leeds. 1966 BRONZES the Jefferson Place Gallery, Washington D.C, U.S.A. and the Manor House Gallery, Ilkley, Yorkshire. SELECTED GROUP EXHIBITIONS 2011 CONTEMPORARY ARTISTS FROM NORTHERN IRELAND, Brussels Platform 2009 BOYLE FESTIVAL of IRISH ART, Ireland 2008 TWO PLACES Ormeau Baths Gallery and Limerick University Visual/sound collaborations curated by Sean McCrum Contemporary Irish Art Boyle Arts Festival, Ireland 2007 HEAL Naughton Gallery, Queens University, Belfast WORKS ON PAPER Fenderesky Gallery, Belfast 2006 PRINTMAKERS Gordon Gallery, Derry. 2005 CONTEMPORARY IRISH ART Boyle Arts Festival, Ireland. 2004 CULTURAL LANDSCAPES print exchange Northern Ireland and U.S.A. NEW IRISH PAINTING Ormeau Baths Gallery, Belfast. THE REALLY BIG PRINT SHOW Ormeau Baths Gallery, Belfast.
2001 2000 1999 1998
THE LAST LINES OF WAITING collaboration with composer Paul Wilson Fenderesky Gallery, Belfast. EXPERIMENTAL PRINT Seattle Pacific University, Washington, U.S.A. FONTANA MIX after John Cage Claremorris Arts, Ireland. SHADOWS (sculpture) Fenderesky Gallery, Belfast. ACADEMY WITHOUT WALLS R.H.A. Banquet Exhibition, Dublin. PAINTERS PRINTS Fenderesky Gallery, Belfast. TRIBUTES Queens Council on the Arts, New York, U.S.A.
1995 PUBLIC COMMISSIONS 2009 Two large giclee prints for Ward D at The Royal Hospitals, Belfast 2008 Two large digital panels for the Imaging Centre, The Royal Hospitals, Belfast. 2007 Large digital panels for the new Maternity Unit, Ulster Hospital, Dundonald 2006 Three digital panels for the Decontamination Unit. The Royal Hospitals. 2005 Ten prints for the new Muckamore Abbey Hospital. County Antrim. 2002 The Narrative of Pain research project with staff and patients at the Royal Hospitals, Belfast SELECTED PUBLICATIONS AND REVIEWS 2011 ON THE SQUARE exhibition catalogue with introduction by Riann Coulter 2008 TWO PLACES exhibition catalogue with introduction by Sean McCrum 2006 BARBARA FREEMAN : WORKS ON PAPER 1966 - 2006 ed. by the artist and David Brett, Black Square Books, Belfast 2005 THE BANKS OF THE BANN exhibition catalogue with essay by David Brett 2003 REVIEW Circa Art Magazine, no. 102. 2002 CEILP exhibition catalogue with introduction by Cathal O Searcaigh. 2001 DIFFERENTIAL AESTHETICS edited by Dr.Penny Florence and Nicola Foster, Ashgate 1998 MIXED MEDIA edited by Michael Wright, Royal Academy of Arts. 1998 WORK IN PROCESS Circa Art Magazine, Winter issue. 1997 IN PARALLEL exhibition catalogue with essay and notes by David Brett, 1996 TRANSCRIPTIONS exhibition catalogue. REVIEW Circa Art Magazine, no. 73. THINKING LONG Contemporary Art in Northern Ireland by Liam Kelly. Gandon Editions. 1995 A CRAZY KNOT print collaboration with Seacourt Print Workshop. PRECISE MOMENTS profile of Barbara Freeman, The Georgia Review, 1979 NOVEKVO STRUKTURAK Muveszet, Budapest. GROWTH STRUCTURES Visual Art, Mathematics & Computers/Leonardo edited by Frank Malina, Pergamon Press. AWARDS AND RESIDENCIES 2002 Residency at The Visual Studies Workshop, Rochester. New York, U.S.A. 2000 Residency at The Centrum Foundation, Seattle, U.S.A. Residency at The Virginia Centre For The Creative Arts,U.S.A. 1999 Guest Artist The Keller Galerie, Weimar, Germany. 1997 Residency at Fundacion Valparaiso, Mojacar, Spain. The Cill Rialaig Project, Co. Kerry, Ireland. 1995 Abbey Fellow, The British School at Rome. The Tyrone Guthrie Centre, Co. Monaghan, Ireland Arts Council of Northern Ireland awards 1992, 1998. 2004, 2006. 2011 PUBLIC AND CORPORATE COLLECTIONS AerLingus, New York, Claremorris City Council, Ireland The Boyle Civic Collection, Ireland. Royal Court of Justice,Belfast. The Royal Hospitals, Belfast. National Museum of Fine Arts, Hungary. National Museum of Art, Macedonia. West Yorkshire County Council. The Office of Public Works and IAWS, Dublin. Norwich Union, Dublin. S.K.C.,Dublin. Lincoln Buildings, Belfast. The Arts Council of Northern Ireland, Northern Bank, Belfast. Life Association of Ireland. Contemporary Irish Art Society. Allied Irish Bank Computer Centre. Trustee Savings Bank. Department of the Environment.N.I. University of Cork, Mestna Galerie, Koper, Slovenia University of Debrecen, Hungary, Greater London, Leeds City Council, University of Bradford, Cartwright Hall, University of Leeds