This report is an account of my participation in the international printmaking exhibition 3rd Global Print located in the Douro region of Portugal which ran from August – 30 September 2017.
The Douro region is famous for wine production and the vineyards dominate the landscape, climbing the hills and punctuating the ochre ground with green. The region has also been designated UNESCO World Heritage status.
The exhibitions were spread across six towns and eight cultural venues, containing the works of 543 artists from 67 countries. 19 artists represented the UK (although this should read 20 since, upon wishing to add breadth to their global reach the organisers placed me as the sole representative of Hong Kong, my place of birth). Interestingly the country with the highest number of participants was the US with 105 artists, whilst Portugal only had 16 artists.
These events are organised by artist/curator Nuno Canelas and his compact team and participation is through invitation-only. This offer extends to showing consecutively at the 9th International Printmaking Bienal Douro in 2018 with Global Print being the smaller of the two. Not surprisingly, with the number of works and artists in the show, the quality and mastery of technique, themes and approaches was great and breathtaking, demonstrating that printmaking is vital and alive in the world.
Due to a combination of wide distances between venues, the irregularity of local transport and available time after installing my work, I was only able to visit four of the eight venues. However these shows have been documented by the organisers with the images shared on their Facebook page @BienalDouro. The venues were:
Alijo – Biblioteca Municipal (Library of Alijo) / Piscinas Municipais (Municpal Swimming Pool)
Chaves – Biblioteca Municipal (Library of Chaves) / Centro Cultural (Cultural Centre)
Favaios – Museu do Påo e do Vinho (Bread & Wine Museum)
Foz Coa – Museu do Coa
Regua – Museu do Douro
Martinho de Anta – Espaço Miguel Torga (Miguel Torga Cultural Centre)
My visit occurred from 28 July – 4 August, flying from Birmingham airport, landing at Porto in order to take a two-hour bus ride to Alijo. This seemed to be the ‘centre of operations’ since it is the home of Nuno Canelas and where many of the overseas visiting artists stayed. Whilst all the other artists chose to stay at the main and much more luxurious hotel in Alijo, I stayed at the youth hostel – the Pousada da Juventude de Alijo which was clean, quiet, spacious, en-suite and came with a continental breakfast. This was booked for me weeks in advance by the organisers and at a reduced rate.
It was at the Biblioteca Municipal where I installed my work, a public library with an exhibition space and serving as one of the venues for Global Print. I arrived in Alijo slightly unprepared due to the fact that my email requests for images and dimensions of the cabinets that my work would be shown in were not sent prior to my arrival. Fortunately, and surprisingly Alijo has a shop that sells all manner of goods from China and it was here where I was able to purchase and adapt the necessary items for my installation.
Titled Adrift on the Sea of Fertility my installation was housed in two glass cabinets. One cabinet contained a Vogue magazine, all the images of which had been sanded off its pages to leave dusty vestiges of ‘beautiful’ figures. The other cabinet housed the semblance of a lunar landscape comprised of the residue from the sanding process. Rock-like, a single human kidney stone sits alone within this scene.
Coincidences abound in life; like bringing a work that resembles a barren lunar landscape, to a place that is flanked by the charred remains of recent forest fires. But unlike my work, there are signs that life is just beginning to push through the deathly black, re-greening the hills and valleys.
Extract from my travel notebook
Growing out of our conversations, this coincidence had also worked its way into the thinking of Nuno Canelas who had chosen my work to represent Global Print, being the sole image used on the promotional posters and banners as well as the front cover of the exhibition catalogue.
The exhibition opening was held at the Museu do Coa, an hour and half mini-bus ride from Alijo. Sited on top of a hill over-looking vineyards and the Douro river, the museum is of an uber modernist construction and located in the Coa valley, world famous for its paleolithic rock engravings. Much of the museum is dedicated to visualising and disseminating the research from this activity to the public.
The opening was attended by artists from South Korea, Switzerland, UK and Portugal. It began with a guided tour by one of the museum’s archaeologists who gave a fascinating and deeply-insightful talk on the meaning behind the images made by the paleolithic peoples followed by speeches from the museum director and Nuno Canelas. Further into the evening a delicious 3-course meal was also arranged at a very reasonable rate in the Museum’s restaurant. It was an opportunity for discussion, networking, and relaxation after the heat of the day.
On the bus ride to Museu do Coa I sat next to Silvestre Pestana, a prominent Portuguese artist who was showing solo at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Santa Barbara, USA. An artist of later years he is a wealth of knowledge and experience of an understanding of art history ‘on the ground’ and it was fascinating and an education conversing with him on the journey. I hope to develop further exchanges.
Reflecting on the text written by Nuno Canelas that prefaces Global Print I sensed an anxiety towards the status of printmaking, in its complex relations to other art-forms, a disappearance of its autonomy;
… Printmaking’s hybrid nature … spanning the realms of ‘high’ art against its more utilitarian uses in everyday life. Something is lost in these overlaps, or rather printmaking recedes, a subsummation of one into the other. There is a print-consciousness within my own practice – in my relations with materials, the nature of my bodily engagement between the physical and the visual. Unfixed and mutable, artists call on print when their formal medium of choice is rendered speechless. Printmaking is intimately informed by the historical, by chemistry and the technological. Highly adaptable to requirements, its presence infiltrates our visual world, whilst being hidden in plain sight.
extract from my travel notebook
Despite the advancing breadth of printmaking techniques, practice and thought I felt the exhibitions did not stray beyond the known and uncontested parameters of contemporary printmaking culture. Perhaps this was due to logistics and what was practical to send work across the world. Whilst, in relation to the time, man-power and resources available it was sometimes in the hands of the gods as to how and where your work would be exhibited, with variable degrees of care and attention. Although this did not make the experience any less enjoyable and captivating. In its myriad of visual forms and themes, physical approaches and just sheer quantity, Global Print was able to offer a sense of how printmaking is being lived in the world today, and it’s Body Mass Index indicates good health. For me, looking at prints is something of a forensic activity. Eyeballing the marks both intentional and incidental, registration, plate tone and how the paper receives the ink, straying from print’s reproductive strangle-hold, there is much to enjoy in such inconsistencies. Then there are the actions performed to construct the print – dusting, smoking, eroding, cutting, pressing, wiping, gouging … a dance takes place with the (print)maker in the mind of the viewer. Roll on 9th International Printmaking Bienal Douro 2018
Two days were allocated towards exploring the independent art scene of Porto. However many of these galleries were closed for the summer. This was especially true of the R. Miguel Bombarda, the street famous for being lined with independent galleries, here deserted save for a few cafes and small retail shops.
To kick things off was a much anticipated visit to the Museo de Arte Contemporaneo de Serralves, an obvious choice being a mere 40-minute walk from the Airbnb. The large paintings of Julie Mehretu seemed tailor-made for the airy, naturally-lit spaces of Serralves and there were a lot of paintings to see. I enjoyed walking through the sneaky corridors, mysterious channels that connected the vast open rooms.
Sharing the same grounds is the Serralves Villa, a luxuriously hedonistic 1930s Art Deco building. Previously a private residence and now an exhibition site with a fantastically gaudy pink-marbled bath and sink washroom. Inhabiting the spaces were the interventions of multidisciplinary artist from New York, Nick Mauss. Witnessing the architecture, design and decorative elements of the villa and their appropriation into a site for art was a highlight of my trip.
Sismografo (www.sismografo.org) was one of the few independent galleries open. There aren’t any signs directing you to its location. Situated on the first floor above retail spaces it is accessed via a wooden staircase from the street and obscured by a semi-street vendor (of what I’ve forgotten). I very nearly missed a visit after having been told by the vendor that no one had passed him since he opened and that it must be closed. I decided to venture up anyway and was surprised yet happy to see the doors open with someone invigilating the space. The gallery is flanked by large street-facing windows, occupies two large-ish white-walled rooms and was showing the work of Lisbon-based painter Gil Heitor Cortesao – oil paintings on paper and plexiglass. The invigilator turned out to be a member of the steering group who decide upon the artists they wish to show. After a chat that included all the possible independent galleries I could have visited outside the summer break she directed me to another space just round the corner.
Maus Habitos is located on the 4th floor above a retro-fronted car park and a self-contained gallery adjoining a bar-cum-coffee space. Again there are no signs directing you here. Efrain Almeida (Brazil) and Rigo Flores (USA) were the artists showing, work from a recent Cross Residency supported by cultural organisations Caravanna and In Residence Porto, comprising wooden figurative sculptures and large figurative pencil drawings on paper respectively.
Safe Art is located along the central heart of Porto. Formerly a bank it is now a permanent exhibition site which extends down into its vault. It was showing an installation by Alberto Carneiro comprising the semblance of an in-progress harvesting of a rye field. Entering this space from the urban environment of Porto’s main square was a joyous experience, with shoes off and feeling the brittle snap of dry rye storks underfoot, I felt transported, out-of-place. Part of a trilogy from 1973-76, this piece was titled A field after harvest for the aesthetic delight of our body. The other two installations were being shown simultaneously in Lisbon. To my understanding Safe Art is part of a constellation of exhibition sites used by a Portuguese organisation called Culturgest that also runs events in dance, music, theatre, readings and conferences between Lisbon and Porto.
PurePrint was another organisation on my list to visit. It is run by the Faculty of Fine Arts at the University of Porto and hosts international residencies, exhibitions and conferences. Again due to the summer recess the department was closed, despite my attempts to persuade a member of staff and a security guard to let me look around.
My thoughts are directed towards what work to show at next summer’s 9th International Printmaking Bienal. For Global Print my attendance was required due to the nature of the work. In my practice there is an inclination to extend the language of printmaking, often into the realms of installation and performative modes of production. The need for ‘quality control’ towards how my work should be displayed is also a concern, making my attendance necessary. Before departure and during a chat over coffee, Nuno Canelas asked if I would like to speak at the conference that will form part of next year’s Bienal. Along with developing the networks made through Global Print (since a secret pact was made by all artists to return), the gravitational pull of the Douro is strong.
Pak Keung Wan