In Print: “In short, the minor” is a Major Event
By Jorja Rose '18
At the term’s end, art is everywhere. “In short, the minor,” a printmaking showcase, opened on Wednesday evening at the North Bennington Train Station. The show, which takes in the same location annually, is arranged by Thorsten Dennerline, and provides printmaking students the opportunity to put their work on display for the greater Bennington community.
Taken altogether, the show brings to life the range of possibilities within a single medium. Some prints are earthy; others, vibrant and synthetic; still others, dark and imaginative. Opening the show off-campus provided a sort of reprieve from VAPA’s display spaces, which are versatile but endlessly recycled. I had never visited the train station before Wednesday, and felt the change in location signified that the show had something new to say. Each artist I talked to glowed with enthusiasm, as much a subject to engage with as the work itself.
“I’m very proud. We worked very hard on this show,” Olivia Barnum tells me while standing in front of a series of her prints, all variations of one another, a seductive bath of dark blue. To gaze into the calming depths of her artwork made you feel clothed in it.
“It doesn’t have a lot of meaning other than it’s coming from me,” Barnum says of the series. “I improvised over the first planned image and did lots of reworks. I worked with that image as the foundation and structure for the rest of the imagery.”
These themes of multiplication and variation, which seem an innate property of printmaking, continue into the back room of the top floor, where three of Miranda Gibbs’ silkscreen prints hang flag-like over the walls. A smooth collage of naked bodies, her work seems to play on Renaissance imagery of weightless goddesses draped in silky fabrics. The work is aesthetically impeccable. But reading her artist’s statement later, I realize the pieces run deeper. The series is an exploration into female comfort and female danger, an important voice in a larger conversation the campus is having about sexual violence. Her art is both intimate and political.
Right off from Gibbs’ work is a bathroom, lit by a single candle and covered in black fabric bearing prints made by Isabella Adler. The small, dark space illuminated by flame is completely immersive.
“This is a continuation of works I did in my intro class,” Adler explains, sitting down on the toilet. “It has a lot to do with fire meeting metal. Metal has a strength that can’t be destroyed when it meets fire. You can only melt it and shape it and form something else. But this series is more about metal corroding, the process of erosion and deterioration. These are monoprints of collograph plates. They’re all symbols having to do with life or death.”
In the next room on I meet up with Kat Jagai, whose striking black-and-white print centers the entire room around itself. In it, Jagai portrays a fantastical monster, with a skull for a head and five fang-like legs. The fur coating the monster’s body has true textural depth.
When I ask Jagai for commentary on the piece, they say, “It’s a hand-carved wood cut and it took five hours to print.”
Over one space is another print by Jagai, this one a silkscreen piece, entitled, “Thirteen Years Is a Long Time.” A reference to the Iraqi war, the piece features smoke billows and underground oil reserves, printed over with New York Times images, juxtaposed with cicadas. Without knowing the context, the piece is enticing; with it, it’s jarring.
Other works, too, explore social and political themes on personal terms. Wallace Crehan displays a set of “Queerer” tarot cards, as well as two pamphlets, one about intersex genitalia and the other about gender dysphoria.
Back downstairs, I get another look at the work of both Isabella Poulos and Mary Alice Stewart, whose art takes up most of the main room. Poulos’s plant-like intaglio prints, arranged in columns of two, hang everywhere. Asked about their meaning, she responds, “It came from a place of thinking about not being able to call my childhood home ‘my home’ anymore.”
Stewart’s quilt is my last stop. Her work is reminiscent of the Gee’s Bend quilts, which I saw years ago in Arkansas. Small and hidden around the quilt are blocks of text, taken from an edition of Childcraft titled “How Things Work.” One such block reads, “Who would make that table? Your fathers and other fathers.” Stewart’s grandmother, described by Stewart as an “exceptional quilter,” inspired the work. My favorite sentence in her artist’s statement is this: “I slept under blankets that deceased female family members had made, and this odd, yet sweet, grotesqueness now satisfies me.” The work is an investigation into gender and domesticity, heritage, and coherency. Stewart stands proudly before it as I snap a photo. Asked if there is anything she wants to say about the quilt, she giggles delightedly.