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Residue: Tracing the Lore

Brendan Lee Satish Tang & Diyan Achjadi Residue: Tracing the Lore

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White gloves carefully lift and place each print; a meticulous choice of mat and frame sets the images in sequence, balancing scale, texture and focus; the artists’ studied, judicious selection of final prints, the tiles and their place on the light box bring the assemblage into being and allow it to resonate. Diyan Achjadi and Brendan Tang bring a vigilant attention to craft to this body of work. Their gestures are finely tuned to the moment of installation. The objects and social relations represented in this work—photographic prints, tiles, and apparatus, but also the performance or exchange these represent—thoughtfully evoke and extend the language and processes of print making. “Tracing the lore” of a master’s craft, this collaboration explores primary notions of surface and impression: the initial imprint or the act of imprinting. And yet, this project torques convention to draw attention to that which lies beyond the print—the residue wiped from the finished work, the oil of a finger print, droplets of ink, bits of varnish, or other surface imperfections, as well as the social contexts that situates both artists and their work.

As much as each print is an artwork, the installation a collection of beautiful objects, the project asks viewers to imagine a passage through the surface of the print, to remember and respect the tender, awkward touching of flesh that gives the work meaning. With each artist selecting bits of design or personally significant fragments of pattern and then digitally printing a selection of these as three-dimensional tiles, Tang and Achjadi created an intricate system for marking skin or imprinting flesh. Working through this process, returning an emergent technology (3D printing) to a primary form of mark making (pressing skin), their project deftly links state of the art printing with a highly personal study that involves experimenting with the texture and elasticity of the individual’s skin (surface organ). Initially testing their process on themselves, the artists then enlisted members of their families, (im)printing their designs on the bodies of loved ones. The prints included here document a painstaking performance or interfamilial exchange. As the photographs suggest, the technique is somewhat uneven and highly personal in effect. The relatively short lived printing on the skin, which might last up to ten minutes, belies a much more significant or longer lived social imprint that will, we can expect, live on in the lore of the artists’ respective families.

Residue: Tracing the Lore recalls an ephemeral imprint. We are reminded that marks on flesh photographed and reproduced after the fact remain long after the initial prints have faded, disappearing when the tourniquet is removed and blood flow through the capillaries regulates and returns to normal. The remainder or residue this project evokes is achingly personal. The intimate (and we might imagine odd) interactions documented here involve the artists’ families in a way that speaks back to a dynamic of genetic imprinting. Working against the grain of well-worn narratives of individual genius, by relocating creative practice in the realm of domestic relations, this collaboration between Achjadi and Tang (or better Achjadis and Tangs) blurs the lines between individual and family, and troubles the separation of artist or artwork from an immediate social context. Their installation returns viewers to basic assumptions about the nature and origin of the print, inviting us to think about the process by which the object becomes a work of art. Is the print the end product of the artistic process? Or is it a byproduct of a larger set of social relations, that which is cast off? Here the print exists an imperfect reminder of familial harmonics, each reverberating with the residue of table conversation, habitual greetings, and rituals of goodbye—all matter of everyday endearments. Silent, these prints echo terms of affection that mark us long after the moment of utterance. They resonate with the words and patterns of speech we long to hear again.

Following this line of reasoning, Achjadi and Tang’s installation invites viewers to trace the printing process backward, to think about how it is that images come to mark us. The work asks us to think about how patterns imprint themselves on us. Sometimes in passing, sometimes through repeated exposure, certain designs enter our bodies through the eyes—say the floral motif of a table cloth, or the pattern of draperie. Others, like that of a familiar accent, melodic phrase, or inside joke, are caught in the ear. Still others absorbed by the skins: linoleum pressing up against the soles of your feet; the worn brocade soothing the palm of our hand, a cushion folding into the small of my back. Without thinking, we feel a need to reach out and touch their textures, our fingers follow the line or a curve—tactile. The submerged memory of our interactions with pattern and motif represented here take us back to the depths of consciousness and childhood. These works remind us of other forgotten or half-remembered designs that have wired our bodies and our minds, that have tuned our organs to highly personal differences of experience or memory. These patterns, related as they are to joy and to trauma, imprint us, rewriting our DNA in concert with the experience of social structures and interpersonal code sharing.

In celebration of Malaspina’s 40th anniversary, Tang and Achjadi have occasioned an exploration of highly particular notions of image and surface. By inviting members of their family into this collaboration, taking them through the (im)printing process, the artists capture fleeting, raw markings. Their work takes on questions of intimacy and the symbolic meaning of domestic relations in ways that work against a series of antiseptic expectations or a sterility of gallery space. The gestures presented—the process and chosen instruments—evoke a surgical precision, but in ways that crowd and overflow the grid. As one moves from image to image, the markings on the body, on the skin of an arm, a foot, a shoulder remind him of medical curiosities: a bygone era, but these are living tissue. Form and content, both reminiscent of scientific taxonomies of the strange—call it an exotic practice, call it another culture—take us back to the roots and ratios of European modernism, all the while teasing viewers to look (feel) beyond its systemic limits. Contemplating these wrought pressings, the artists’ beautiful imprimatur on skin (on paper, on our eyes), we enter a space between the white cube and surgery, between theatre and showroom. We are returned to living rooms—kitchens and dining rooms, but also sitting rooms and bedrooms. The haunting and intimate interactions of childhood, their faded and not-so-faded influence on us as we age, the residual imprints that set each of us apart in our differences break open this perfect installation. Achjadi and Tang offer an inclusive ontology of objects that speaks to differences, our differences, to families and elastic flows of blood and sense. Their work moves across circuits of being that connect the eyes to our other sensing organs.

Catalogue essay by Glen Lowry

Achjadi received a BFA from the Cooper Union (New York, NY) and an MFA from Concordia University (Montreal, QC). She has exhibited widely at galleries and film festivals across Canada and beyond, most recently at the Katherine Nash Gallery (Minneapolis, Minnesota) and the Bieniale Internationale d’Estampe Contemporaine de Trois-Riviéres (Trois-Riviéres, Québec), and including solo presentations at Art Gallery of Greater Victoria (Victoria, BC), Oboro (Montreal, QC) and AIR Gallery (New York, NY), among others. In 2014, Achjadi was an artist-in-residence at Malaspina Printmakers (Vancouver, BC); Fanoon: Centre for Print Research (Doha, Qatar); and the Frans Masereel Centrum (Kasterlee, Belgium).

Born in Jakarta, Indonesia to a West-Javanese father and an English-Canadian mother, Achjadi grew up moving between Jakarta, Hong Kong, London, and Washington DC. Her formative years were spent negotiating different educational, political, and cultural systems, leading to an ongoing interest in how our understanding of ideologies is influenced and informed by the visual popular culture that surrounds us. Achjadi currently resides in Vancouver, BC where she is an Associate Professor of Visual Arts and Material Practice at the Emily Carr University of Art and Design.

Brendan Tang was born in Dublin, Ireland, of Trinidadian parents and is a naturalized citizen of Canada. He earned his formal art education on both Canadian coasts and the American Midwest, where he learned to appreciate the ceramic medium. Tang has lectured at conferences and academic institutions across the country, and his professional practice has also taken him to India, Trinidad, and Japan. He has been a resident artist at the Archie Bray Foundation for the Ceramic Arts (Helena, MT) and will participate in an international residency at the European Ceramic Work Centre (‘s-Hertogenbosch, NL) in 2011.

Tang’s work has been showcased at galleries and in printed and online media. He has been exhibited at the Seattle Art Museum, the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal (as a Sobey Finalist 2010), Art Labor in Shanghai, the Surrey Art Gallery, and the Kitchener-Waterloo Art Gallery. He has been profiled by The Knowledge Network, and featured in printed publications including The National Post, Wired (UK and Italy), and ELLE (Canada). The broad appeal of his work is evident online, where he has received attention from prominent blogs around the globe, including Boing Boing, NotCot, and Design Boom. Tang dedicates his full attention to his professional art practice, where he continues to explore the interface between culture and material.