“Screenprint Biennial 2018,” featured at the Opalka Gallery in Albany, mixes the more traditional elements of the medium with its possible future.
In today’s world of digital imaging, it’s refreshing to see the physicality of the pieces, especially as there are sculptural installations and works that seem to defy any frame.
This is the third Screenprint Biennial, founded by Nathan Meltz, an artist and lecturer in the department of arts at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy. He began screen printing in the 1990s when he was touring with a band and they needed to create a poster, which he describes as the gateway to the medium.
Although the digital age has since taken over, the Biennial makes the case that screen printing is still a relevant and important medium. Meltz said that while our world is increasingly becoming digital, we still live in a physical space and appreciate physical art.
“It’s in opposition to corporate media,” Meltz said. Screen-printed work isn’t put through the filters and specific frame sizes of SnapChat or Instagram.
While the medium is rooted in an art form that's thousands of years old, according to Meltz, it was first used as a form of social protest by students at the University of Paris in 1968. Screen printing’s political and social roots are recognized within the Biennial, with pieces such as Briar Craig’s altered cover of an issue of National Geographic. In stark and yet blurred letters, “White Wash Privilege” spills across the page. Next to it is a large class photo that looks worn, with some students looking away from the camera and at one another and some looking tired or surprised. “Shakespeare School Grade I Oct 1964 103” is written along the bottom and an image of a chair is overlaid across the class photo. The piece, by Tyanna Buie, is called “No School,” and calls attention to the brutal racism and inequality in the education system.
Social commentary is seen, too, in Amy Cousins' sculptural piece that combines clippings from The Houston Chronicle in the 1990s to create a large, crumpled-looking newspaper that juts out from the wall. It’s titled “All the Queerness That’s Fit to Print: The Houston Chronicle 1990,” and is peppered with headlines such as “Homosexual Content Believed Low” and “Mother Worried About Daughter.”
The center of the exhibition features an immersive and hard-to-miss installation that makes viewers feel as though they’ve been plunged underwater and are getting a glimpse at some coral reefs. Dangling from a mesh setup, not far from Opalka’s high ceiling, are these colorful screen-printed designs that look like Alcyonacea, black cora, and other coral reef-like things. The installation, called “Sistema,” by Sheila Goloborotko, is difficult to resist -- as is walking into it and running one’s hand through the work.
But if visitors are looking for more interactive works, they should start at the beginning of the Biennial with “Klaatu Barada Nikto” by Mark Hosford. The screen-printed piece looks digital with a robot skull in the foreground and wisps of yellow and orange coming up through holes in the ground. But there’s another image/animation that comes alive only when visitors view it through an accompanying iPad.
The idea stems from the 1951 film “The Day the Earth Stood Still,” in which an alien named Klaatu comes to earth with his robot-bodyguard Gort. Klaatu befriends some humans, but many don’t want him on the planet and eventually kill him. Gort goes on a rampage, and it’s not until one of his human friends says “Klaatu Barada Nikto” that Gort goes into power-saving mode. Klaatu eventually comes back to warn humans that their technology is developing faster than they realize.
According to Meltz, the piece highlights the hybridity of screen printing and possibly its future.
The 33 artists featured in the Biennial are from all over the world and from all different age groups. There are established artists, as well as some who are still students. The juried show combines these artists’ works in a way that rolls with screen printing’s reputation as an elevated form of stenciling. But it also brings it into the next century, making the case that the medium won’t soon be left behind or lost in the shuffle of this constant stream of digital images, especially with artists of this caliber to carry on the tradition.
“Screenprint Biennial 2018” will be up until Dec. 14. At 6:30 on Friday, Dec. 7, the Ellen Sinopoli Dance Company will perform in response to the exhibition. For information, visit opalka.sage.edu.