Print+ at Moca-Jacksonville

Published July 20th 2023
By Danielle Bernten

Print+ Sameness and Otherness in Contemporary Print Media, March 17, 2023-August 27, 2023

The Print+ Sameness and Otherness in Contemporary Print Media exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art-Jacksonville is a small but impactful group show on view from March 17, 2023 to August 27, 2023 and curated by UNF Associate Professor and artist, Sheila Golobortko. A variety of artists including Alison Saar, J. Leigh Garcia, Sangmi Yoo, Lesley Dill, Emily Arthur, Cai Quirk, Sara Carter, Imin Yeh, and Cassandra Gunkel employ one or more elements of print and its processes to engage our senses and sense of time. This exhibition follows the original 2021 exhibition, entitled Multiple Ones. The utilization of seriality in the contexts of dissent, black identity, Cherokee identity, and gender does reign supreme in its general thematic discourse, but the questions evoked in repetition are unsettling ones. From protest to nostalgic concepts of process and film and photography, it appeared as if we were only invited to formalist feasts until we scratched the print’s plate.

Print+, Installation View, MOCA Jacksonville, Jacksonville Florida.

In Ode to Trayvon IV, textile and fiber artist Cassandra Gunkel, creates a quiltlike pattern of the recognizable hooded image of the young, deceased Trayvon Martin, by block print on applique denim in various shades of blue, brown, white and gray. The saintly, haunted image of Trayvon is apotheosized in an almost monastic medieval stamp of suffering and sorrow over the young, black man. It repeats itself three times vertically and three times horizontally. The genius of this work also lies in its Warholian facial adaptation of the Disaster series as the death of the young man was nothing short of a disaster over pocket Skittles and walking while black; but worse, it brings to visual surface the countless young black faces who have suffered the same fate since his death from excessive force and racial prejudice; over and over and over again. A quilt evokes in us a desire to feel warm and comforted. Here, the artist utilizes the quilt like display and patterns to provide us the familiarity and ease of denim and its associations with youth culture and style. Yet, this print does not warm us. In fact, her pointed selection of browns and blues within the face, provide a sinister rendering of loss, hauntings, death, and grief in a heavy way. This piece brings to mind tears of a mother and father wholly enveloped in the loss of their child on a daily basis, and us in the loss of another young, black promising life. While his face or story may fade for the public a little each day, in the artwork, his face symbolizes a repetitive and distorted mask of societal pain. An artistic obituary, funeral program, and memoriam, Gunkel abstracts his face with each rendering. Towards the end of the denim print, facial recognition almost completely disappears from view. The Travyon captured in the youthful photograph has become a looming iconographic spiritual messenger. The pervasive death of young black males by physical violence, gun violence, and drugs continues to plague our culture in our neighborhoods and in media culture and needs ongoing repetition of successful government and corporate measures particularly in blighted communities. The Cubist brown hood is now a solemn cemetery tombstone and grave marker. Masterfully, Gunkel victoriously stiches Trayvon’s brave face and fight into Elysian glory with her adept use of contrasting colors and blue values.

Sara Carter’s 2016 Protective Hairstyle, screenprint and kanekalon reflects seriality in overt and subtle manifestations. The braiding of a black woman’s hair is a protective hairstyle, enabling her natural hair to grow, providing her scalp and hair a break from the damaging heat of electric dryers, curlers, hot rollers, relaxers, texturizers, weaves, dyes, just to name a few.  At the viewer’s right, but artist left, we have a black female figure in total black holding a portion of the braided hair above the hot pot which seals the fake hair utilized in braiding hair. This hot water will seal the braid properly from unraveling.  However, this scene is more about female kinship, about keeping it together with the help of your sisters in an oblique circular rhythm. The braid is partially unravelling on the wall. The pressures which force women to feel the need to straighten or lighten our hair are immense, not unlike the pressures needed to begin and keep the braids intact. Repetitive heat and/or chemicals are necessary to deviate from the natural tight coils of our hair. Like a scientist, the black woman painted in red above closely braids the green seated black woman, who does not grimace in pain. She waits patiently. She is not tender-headed. The artist has chosen to portray a common scene and ritual among black women, from salons, to kitchens and bedrooms. Instead of depicting the sitter’s desire to straighten and damage her hair with Eurocentric products, the fake green hair (kanekalon) is actually braided and attached to the screenprint. The choice of green hair gives it a theatrical flair which captures our attention. The sitter wears contemporary sneakers, but the other women provide an anachronistic rendering, with possible antebellum or 1980s references in clothing and style. Nevertheless, this sense of protection. beauty and hair maintenance reach further back than our African diasporic mindsets, but to ancient African practices of self-love and femininity.

In Imin Yeh’s Paper Paper Film, we see the precise polished replica of film strip, artist’s book, two cassettes, and original receipt of instructional audio technology regarding graphic communications, paper and gravure printing. Yeh’s paper’s remakes of formerly cutting-edge technology are cutting edge. Her careful study of drawings, templates, and older technology is evident in her inventive homage to the history of paper, archival history and technology. The futility of the original object makes us ponder on the futility of learning outdated methods of craft and technology in today’s new and only new obsessed world. Yet, Yeh’s formalist and ideological takes on the archival object and the life of the printmaker mesh in hot red feminist fashion, as red hot as the color of the cassettes. She has not made us hair covered plates and saucers for Surrealist contemplation; she has recreated highly technical objects with simple materials with exactitude, forcing us to consider the skill and difficulty in making these replica objects from scratch in these times. They are essentially junk objects because unlike the originals, they do not play, they do not work, even though they are shiny new replicas. They provide an extra layer of vanity because we don’t listen to audiobooks this way anymore either, even if her wrap paper remixes could talk. But what happens when this perfect and seamless junk becomes functional for art discourse? Yeh answers it eloquently with her faux Film Projector (For Paper Paper Film), screenprint and acrylic, piece. She shows a world in which the formerly sophisticated advanced object becomes a fun but unique and handmade duplicate, a reminder of a past where playing cassettes and film projections were first eventful, then mundane experiences. In the physical and literal hands of Yeh, they have become imaginative vision and sound landscapes once more. The copy becomes more original than the original.  She toys with us materially, and we play it right back.

Seriality in this intimate and potent exhibition provides us space in which to contemplate enviable advances in print process and production, but also the opportunity to view what practices of social cohesion and division we continue to perpetuate in healthy and toxic patterns.

Danelle Bernten is an art historian residing in Tallahassee. Artist Imin Yeh