Although many of us envisage a physical geographical location when thinking of place, it’s more often than not a complex synthesis of feelings and memories that ultimately defines our relationship to a place. Printmaking artist and academic Monika Lukowska argues that notions of place are inseparable from the human experience, referencing geographer Yi-Fu Tuan’s theory of “topophilia” whereby place only comes into existence when meaning is attached to a certain location resulting from time spent between the person and the space (2018). The exhibition Thinking of Place II is an impressive cultural exchange project where over 60 artists from 9 printmaking collectives across 5 countries have been invited to make works exploring questions of place. Artists were encouraged to reflect on the relationship between place, memory and time, using a range of traditional and contemporary printmaking processes and techniques, resulting in a rich and engaging conversation, as diverse in perspectives as in the collection’s visual presentation.
Background to the project
Thinking of Place was initially conceived as a cultural exchange project between five artist groups from New Zealand and Australia. Members of each group had met at the IMPACT 8 Conference in Dundee, Scotland, instantly striking a lasting friendship and giving birth to a trans Tasman collaborative print project. After a successful first edition of the exchange, which was exhibited in each of the host cities, the organisers decided to continue the momentum with a second iteration of the project to be exhibited at IMPACT 10. In the spirit of the printmaking community, which is marked by a distinctly inclusive, collaborative approach, the project expanded to include four more groups from Canada, Ireland and the UK. Whether a group is based on a shared geographical location or print studio, each one is committed to advancing printmaking and supporting artists working in print-based media. Collaborative projects such as Thinking of Place give printmakers the opportunity to not only exhibit their work on the international stage but to foster professional and personal connections across the printmaking community, globally. Participating artists have been selected by each group either by invitation or open call.
The exhibition has already been on display in Santander, Spain and is presently showing in Cairns, Australia. Looking ahead, the third iteration is already in the pipeline. It was due to be exhibited at IMPACT 11 in Hong Kong (Sept 2020, but was sadly postponed due to the pandemic), and it will include a total of 17 artist groups from over 10 countries.
Theories of place have often been examined in relation to concepts of home, belonging and identity. Place identity is a concept that has been used by social theorists since the 1970s that consists of two elements: one being an individual’s relationship with a physical setting, and the other being the memories, thoughts, values and ideas about that setting (Qazimi 2014). Cairns based artist Nadia Kliendanze touches on questions of both tangible and intangible aspects of place in her work In Situ (2018). Human figures seem to be infused into a rocky, mountainous landscape, almost indistinguishable from the pockets of forest dispersed throughout. She invites the viewer to consider to what extent the physical environment and our relationships with the people who reside there give us our sense of place.
Environmental psychologist Clare Twigger-Ross proposes there are two main ways that place relates to identity, the first being an individual’s identification with a particular place, such as nationality and the second being a person’s attachment to a place which can “function to support and develop aspects of identity” (Twigger-Ross & Uzzell 1996). Several of the works in the collection address the complexity of place as home in light of our increasingly globalised world where many of us live transient lives, calling many cities and countries home as we move from place to place. Scottish Memories (2018) by Canadian based artist June Emery depicts the natural landscape of her birthplace, Scotland, which acts as an anchor to her cultural heritage and identity. Fading into the distance a hazy blue mountain range sits as a backdrop to a selection of various rock formations, which could be semi-precious stones, lumps of coal or river rocks, that appear to be floating, unattached but present within the landscape, sitting in single file as if navigation or migrating through to the next place.
As well as highly personal responses about place, a number of the artists have chosen to highlight stories of social injustice and global inequalities connected to specific sites. In Forlorn Longing (2018) by Edinburg based artist Leena Nammari, a pile of keys fills the frame, seemingly abandoned, giving the viewer an acute sense of absence and loss, a reoccurring theme in the artist’s work in direct reference to her Palestinian heritage and the ongoing occupation. Memory can be a tool for remembering and forgetting, with places often being vessels for social and cultural memory (Levent 2017). Deborah Klein, based in the Goldfields region in western Victoria, also explores themes of loss and absence in her work concerning the gold rush which brought thousands of Chinese immigrants to her area, many of whom had to leave their families behind often never to be seen again. In Detritus (2018) a female silhouette painted on a eucalyptus leaf is a symbol of the many women left behind as their men sought their fortunes in a foreign land. Klein keenly observes the scars of history in the terrain, stating that “the forest floor is still pockmarked with holes, enduring evidence of its gold mining history”. The physical impact of human activity on the natural landscape, is a theme that reoccurs throughout the collection bearing witness to the alarming rate of habitat destruction, pollution, shrinking habitat, environmental degradation, loss of diversity, fragility and sustainability.
New Zealand artist Jane Schollum alerts us in her work Rockstar Economy (2018) to the rapid encroachment of irrigation circles in Canterbury as a result of the intensification of farming in the Canterbury region. Similarly, Jo Ogier, also from New Zealand, comments on the plague of plastic packaging used by the fast food industry that is polluting our landscape. In An Altered Reality (2018) a waterway is littered with plastic, fish-shaped soya sauce bottles underlining the urgency in preserving our natural environment. It’s both a warning and a lament; will the collective memory of that place be enough to preserve it for present and future generations? Given that the relationship between self and place is dynamic, interconnected and not fixed in time and space (Qazimi 2014), some artists have chosen to reflect on the power certain places have on individual experiences, recording impressions of an everchanging or richly textured landscape. Melbourne artist Michael Fitzgerald’s work Tidal 1 (2018) is a nod to the ephemeral beauty of the constantly moving tides in The Bay. This idea is further extended to the urban environment, where Scottish artist Norman McBeath questions: Is to remember to have known and not forgotten? (2018). His work is an exploration of a familiar place by day – a flight of steps leading up to a non-descript corner of The Old Town in Edinburgh, transformed by night, the shadows cast a different mood and story, making the familiar unfamiliar.
Thinking of Place II is a much-needed escapism to see and imagine new places through fresh eyes. Our current global climate of lockdowns and restricted travel has induced nostalgic memories of places visited in the past and fantasies of future destinations. But more importantly, it has forced many of us to rethink and reengage with our place in the world, finding ourselves involuntarily having to examine our immediate surroundings, possibly observing, feeling and connecting, resulting in a new sense of place.
Thinking of Place https://www.facebook.com/thinkingofplace/
Arthaus Contemporary Gallery http://arthaus.org/
Goldfields Printmakers www.goldfieldsprintmakers.com
NZ Printmakers www.nzprintmakers.com
Edinburgh Printmakers www.edinburghprintmakers.co.uk https://www.facebook.com/pg/thinkingofplace/posts/
Kamloops Pringmakers firstname.lastname@example.org
Limerick Printmakers email@example.com
Melbourne Printmakers Group firstname.lastname@example.org
Levent, Y. S. (2017) From memory of place to memory places – a contemporary discussion on remembering and forgetting. Paper presented at ICONARCH III International Congress of Architecture, 11 – 1 May 2017 Konya.
Lukowska, M.M (2018) Encountering Place: Investigating the Materiality of Place Through Printmaking Practice. Thesis for Degree of Doctor of Philosophy of Curtin University.
Qazimi, S. (2014) Sense of place and place identity, in European Journal of Social Sciences Education and Research, Vol 1, Issue 1. May-August 2014. ISSN 2312-8429 Available at: http://journals.euser.org/files/articles/ejser_may_aug_14/ShukranQ.pdf (accessed on 13 October 2020)
Twigger-Ross, C. L. & Uzzell, D. L. (1996) Place and Identity processes, in Journal of Environmental Psychology 16, 205 – 220. Acedemic Press Limited. Available at: http://www.issw.ch/info/mitarbeitende/hunziker/teaching/download_mat/07-1_Twigger-Ross_Uzzell.pdf (accessed on 13 October 2020)