Art South Africa

art south africa nathaniel sternDirty Hands or Hands-off? – The Print Matrix in a Mediated Milieu
by Dominic Thorburn

Since the very first images were made by dipping hands in natural pigment and pressing them on cave walls in Lacaux and Altamira, artists have been getting their hands dirty to make their mark. These simple images have to be some of the most economical, powerful and evocative symbols known to us. I believe it helpful to revisit visual images of this nature, to regain perspective and seek solace in them.

Just as language cannot be defined as alphabets, words or syntax, printmaking cannot be defined as a series of technical processes. It is defined by its function, its philosophical approach and the ideas and images it generates. Print may stake claim to creative territory that goes beyond any map; the meaning of the images produced by print media are the expanded terrain, the mediate milieu of the dialogue, the larger picture.

Nathaniel Stern is a prolific experimental video installation and time-based artist and writer who harnesses printmaking to extend his repertoire:
“I combine new and traditional media to create unfamiliar experiences of that which we encounter every day. My art attempts to intercept taken for granted categories such as ‘body,’ ‘language,’ ‘vision,’ ’space’ or ‘power.’ It works to refigure fixed subject / object hierarchies as unexpected and dynamic engagements…
Through performance, provocation and play, my work seeks to infold our unfolding relationships with the world, and with one another. I invite viewers to explore, to embody, and to re-imagine.”

Compressionism is a digital performance and analog archive started in 1996 [sic] where Stern straps a desktop scanner, laptop and custom-made battery pack to his body and performs images into existence. He might scan in straight, long lines across tables, tie the scanner around his neck and swing over flowers, do pogo-like gestures over bricks, or just follow the wind over water lilies in a pond. The dynamism of his relationship to the landscape is transformed into beautiful and quirky renderings, which are re-stretched and coloured on his laptop, then produced as archival art objects using photographic or inkjet processes. He also often takes details from these images and reinterprets them as traditional prints: lithographs, etchings, engravings and woodcuts.

Michael Smith comments that “Stern’s entire process expands to encompass fairly traditional printmaking techniques, and a great tension is established by this…. The results are compelling, an amalgamation of visual languages from two very different ends of Western Art history…one that accrues a salacious, lo-fi quality that adds another dimension to Stern’s repertoire”. It is interesting to note that these works are not only painterly but undoubtedly printerly in their aesthetic; in addition the notion of compression and pressure that is so vital to printmaking is central.

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Related artworks: Compressionism documentation, Printing Time, Call and Response, response, at interval
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