Saturday, August 31, 2013

Federation on Hold – Call Waiting
Prints On Paper

Marie-Therese Wisniowski

This blogspot is not only devoted to ArtCloth and all things fabric (e.g. wearables) but also to limited edition prints on paper and artists' printmakers books. I have listed below for your convenience my contribution to this artistic genre.

Made to Order
Unique State (Partners in Print)
Wangi's Djiran:"Unique State" Prints
Veiled Curtains
A Letter to a Friend
Beyond the Fear of Freedom
Travelling Solander Project
Star Series
Cry for the Wilderness
Wish You Were Where?
The Four Seasons

Commissioned to do a series of prints to celebrate 100 years of the Australian Federation, these fine-art limited edition prints have been collected by Murdoch University (Western Australia), the Maitland City Art Gallery (NSW, Australia) and The University of Newcastle Print Collection (NSW, Australia). It uses my recently developed "multiplexing silkscreen" technique on the borders of my prints.

Federation on Hold – The Journey
I am no stranger to commissioned work. After all, I was employed as a graphic designer for over thirty years in some of the leading advertising companies in Australia. Consequently, my graphic designs were on mixed drink cans, my advertising posters adorned many a billboard and my illustrative work was published in medical and commercial journals. Dealing with clients, presenting them with a number of concept roughs and then ensuring the selected rough through to finished art was basically my stock and trade.

More recently, I have had a number of my screen prints hung in various galleries. Nevertheless, I was surprised when a small company in the Hunter Valley commissioned me to do a series of prints to celebrate 100 years of the Australian Federation (1901-2001). Their brief was simple: “We like your work and so we want you to complete a series of prints by February of 2002”. A “dream come true” for any graphic designer, who has now become a feral studio artist. Finally, a client who is paying me and is happy to be deaf, dumb and blind in the process!

Anyone who has been commissioned, has doubts about whether the commissioned work will satisfy the client. For example, Utzon - who designed the Sydney Opera House for the NSW Government would be able to tell you a story or two about the trials and tribulations of that commissioned work. In fact, he was eventually sacked by the NSW government in order that the work could be completed - or so they claimed! Commissioned work with a difficult client is never easy!

Sydney Opera House.
Not exactly built to Utzon's specifications.

There are two golden rules for commissioned work (and only two): keep your “voice” intact and do an extensive amount of research. The latter is self-explanatory, but the former may need further elaboration. Companies and organizations commission you because of what they know about your work, the way you express yourself through the medium and moreover, the way it resonates with them or with others; that is, they are commissioning your “voice” at a price (and as Utzon finally realized - not at any price!)

Research on the Australian "Federation" appeared easy enough. There are a multiple of sources on the internet, from books and documentaries. Whilst I gutted libraries and other warehouses of information, I also focused on what media and design I should employ. That is, a synergic relationship between information gained from research and the form or design of the print that works for me.

As these prints would be a series, I decided that the same medium and techniques should be employed in order to ensure consistency; they would be uniform in size, and form as well as using similar design structures and elements. I also decided to use predominantly transparent and some opaque inks, with a consistent palette of soft and muted colors. The “olde world” colors of the Victorian era (e.g. soft color palette) would be used in conjunction with contemporary colors (e.g. stronger color palette) in order to highlight the passage of time. Colors would be mixed by hand, using oil-based screen-printing inks. Each print would require a new set of colors to be mixed in order to comply with the palette range.

Each print would incorporate the use of political and historical images as well as some text form. The scale of various images and their positions on the page would also be constructed with uniformity in mind. All prints would exhibit extensive layered images and colors. The primary rationale for using mainly transparent inks was to add layers of depth to the overall image, thus seamlessly freezing images of each print as if it was trapped in its own time capsule.

The series would also highlight a “Native Flower Border”, which would emphasize the pretty, romantic and “flowery” aesthetic of the Victorian era when the Australian Federation was born (1901). Native flowers represent “Australia” and so would be extensively layered to achieve depth and to create an illusion of timeliness.

Ovals would also be introduced as a design motif in order to further highlight the historical content of the series. An oval shape was very popular in the “Victorian” era. Series of “dotted lines” would act to frame each individual image area and to draw the viewer’s attention to the overall complexity and movement of the piece.

Having decided on the design principles, my attention increasingly focused on the content of each print. My research kept bringing to the fore the Prime Ministers of this Country. After all, they are the principal political elected identity of our Nation (via a party system as distinct from being directly elected by the people). Their “Australian-ness” is especially emphasized, when juxtaposed to some of our early Governor-Generals (who were very British and had very little empathy for our emerging identity). For example, Lord Hopetoun (our first Governor-General) was more “…preoccupied with his bowels than with the concerns of Australia” (C.M.H. Clark – A History of Australia).

The more I read, the more I wanted these prints not only to look back at the past 100 years but to question what these years may project into the future. That is, I did not want to focus on myths that mock us. For example, that we are an outback society when in fact we are the most urbanized society in the world. Or that wars - such as First & Second World Wars, Korea, Vietnam and more recently, East Timor, Iraq, Afganastan and those skirmishes in the Middle East - have somehow defined us. I did not wish to belittle these experiences, but my sense is that these wars did not define our society or our Federation, but rather they defined our fears of what may overcome or annihilate us politically. That is, unlike so many Nations, we did not have a War of Independence or a Civil War in which the type of Nation that we wished to forge was at the front and center of the conflict.

I decided that I would need four prints – each print encapsulating a time of nation building, which projected a shadow across a number of possible futures for this Nation. I checked with my client and they were happy to purchase the four prints, not knowing their form or content - very brave, very risky!

My research uncovered a Nation in waiting - a Nation slowly emerging, with no accelerants on the immediate horizon. The four shadows that I saw (which projected a number of distinct futures) began to crystallize: reconciliation, poverty, political structure and compassion. These shadows of the past were unresolved in 2001. Yet depending on the solution (or lack thereof) each has the potential to generate another type of Australia. The title of the series was therefore resolved. I would named it, Federation on Hold - Call Waiting , with each print being a generator (e.g. Press One - Reconciliation; Press Two - Poverty; Press Three - The Republic; Press Four - Refugees). These prints would not represent a “black arm-band history of Australia” (as John Howard loved to accuse when confronted with a history not of his own choosing), but rather a myriad of possible future Australian Federations, depending on which road is taken.

Press One - Reconciliation

Federation on Hold - Call Waiting; Press One - Reconciliation.

The plight of the Australian aboriginal people was still on “hold” in 2001. The Prime Minister in 2001, John Howard, was still unable to officially say “Sorry” to the indigenous population even though the Canadian Prime Minister and the President of the USA did not hesitate to do so for their indigenous people. Judging by the sizeable attendance of people at “Reconciliation Marches” it is clear that a large proportion of Australians wanted this matter resolved. It took Prime Minister Rudd (some seven years later) to utter those words in Parliament, to a standing ovation. This was not known when the print was forged.

The print was executed using primarily terracotta’s, purples, browns and golden colors. Overlaid by transparent colors, images of Australia’s Coat of Arms are evident. In the background of the large central oval, Legislative Acts of both State and Federal Governments, relating to the indigenous people, can be seen. Another layer superimposed over these texts show images depicting Indigenous people in the pre-settlement era. The smaller central oval depicts Prime Minister Edmund Barton (1901-1903), with the notes from a brief to his Australian colleagues before negotiations with the British Government in 1901.

As Australia’s first Prime Minister, Barton did not accept responsibility for the aboriginal people. It was not until 1962 that Australian aborigines gained the right to vote in Federal elections. However, it was not until 1967 that over 90% of Australians voted to have aboriginal Australians counted in the census. Moreover, this referendum also gave the Commonwealth Government power to make laws for the indigenous people.

So do we want a multi-racial rather than a multi-cultural society. That is, is it our intention to assimilate a “living” aboriginal culture out of existence?

Press Two – Poverty
Federation on Hold - Call Waiting; Press Two - Poverty.

At the turn of the century, there was hope that all Australians could realize their potential - without economic circumstances of their birth inhibiting their progress. Prime Minister Bob Hawke boasted that there will be no child “ in poverty by 2000”. Yet poverty still surrounded us in 2001 (e.g. the homeless were replanted from the inner to the outer streets of Sydney during the 2000 Olympics). Poverty has been shunted from public gaze and in our generation, somewhat shunted from the public purse where middle class government welfare took center stage.

This print was executed using primarily blue, purple, rhodamine and cream colors. The application of inks to the “Native Flower Border” concentrates on a heavier application of gum acacia resulting in a similar yet different color distribution to Print One. Overlaid by transparent colors, images of low quality government boots (which were issued to the poor during the “Great Depression”) can be seen. A coin is also visible. It is encased in a jeweled motif depicting the head of Queen Elizabeth II. She is encased in a jeweled motif to highlight that she is still an untouchable - an ethereal enigma. Another layer superimposed over the former, shows a number of images, which depict poverty. The smaller central oval depicts Jim Scullin, who was Australia’s ninth Prime Minister during the “Great Depression” (1929-1932).

In November 1931, Scullin planned a Christmas relief for the unemployed, which was violently opposed by certain Labor members. It led to the defeat of his Government and delivered a landslide for the Opposition, led by Scullin’s former Cabinet Minister, Joe Lyons.

Our commitment to alleviating poverty from our society and to make it less of a stigma for those born in poverty was still unresolved in 2001. That is, do we want a stratified society structured by the volume of money that we possess or a society where the homeless and hapless are not forgotten in the distribution of the public purse?

Press Three - The Republic
Federation on Hold - Call Waiting; Press Three - The Republic.

Both the origin of the Head of State and its legal identity were still being debated in 2001 and so was still on “hold”.

There was no stronger defender of the British Monarchy in Australia than Sir Robert Gordon Menzies. He was Australia’s twelfth and seventeenth Prime Minister (1939-1941/1949-1966). For example, in those crucial years of the Second World War, as Prime Minster of Australia, he resided in Britain rather than in Australia. In 1963 he recited a love poem to Queen Elizabeth II in front of an embarrassed Queen and an ever more embarrassed Nation; and in 1966 he wanted the first decimal note in Australia to be named the “Royal”. Yet by 1999 over 70% of Australians wanted an Australian to be Head of State (i.e. to be a republic), but could not agree how this could be achieved.

This print was executed using primarily green, yellow, rhodamine and blue colors. Overlaid by transparent colors, images of the Australian Republican Movement’s logo can be seen. At the bottom of this oval appear the words "Our Republic - the Next Step", the new slogan of the Australian Republican Movement, launched on Australia Day 2001. At the top of this oval is a crown - Sir Edwards crown, which was refurbished for Charles’ II coronation. Another layer shows a number of images that depict the status of our independent Nation. The smaller central oval depicts Sir Menzies, with the Union Jack displayed in the background.

There are two different paths ahead - one for a Republic and the other for a Constitutional Monarchy. Which path shall we take and will the path taken make us less of a derivative society than we were in 2001?

Press Four – Refugees
Federation on Hold - Call Waiting; Press Four - Refugees.

We, as a Nation, are only as compassionate as our Government. Those that are in need of compassion are the refugees. They have fled from terror and conflict and have flung themselves at the feet and on the mercy of others.

This print focuses on issues relating to our treatment of the Muslim refugees and the loss of humanitarian values and compassion shown by the Howard Government (2001). This Government put compassion on "hold" by implementing repressive and regressive measures in order to ensure their survival as a Government in the 2001 elections. Are they still throwing their children in the water or burning their boats just to gain freedom (as lied to us by a Minister in the Howard government during an election campaign)?

This print was executed using primarily reds, browns and yellow colors. Overlaid by transparent colors, images in Islamic script show the phrase, "In the Name of Allah, the Compassionate, the Merciful". At the top of the oval is an image of the United Nations logo and at the bottom of the oval, an image of the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem. Another layer shows images from: the "Universal Declaration of Human Rights" (adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations on the 10th December 1948 of which Australia is a signatory); spice traders forced to leave their profession to seek refuge in Australia; prayers and mourning for a refugee family drowned in the sea; the traditional mode of transport for Afghan Camel drivers; a new mode of transport for the asylum seekers – a boat; a Muslim woman being escorted by Australian officials; and a man praying to Mohammed, underwritten by the above Islamic Script. The smaller central oval depicts John Howard, Australia’s thirtieth Prime Minister (1996 - 2007) with "Tampa" text in the background.

Our "Tampa" Prime Minister in 2001 had placed our collective compassion on “hold” for one type of refugee at any rate. If there were 400 Irish men and women on the Tampa doing a “River-dance” and singing “Oh, Danny-Boy”, would we have accepted them? That is, is our compassion for refugees based on their religion, race and creed? Needless to say, the public dealt with Prime Minister Howard in the best manner possible, he lost his seat in parliament in 2007 whilst serving as Prime Minister of the country - an irony he still does not understand - a good proportion of his electorate had similar ethnicities to past refugees.

So what did my clients say about the four prints? They were surprised by what their commission had brought forth. They did not necessarily accept my viewpoint, but they enjoyed my perception of the 100 years of Australia's Federation. Moreover, they were not sure if the prints were a celebration. However, isn’t one component of a celebration an embedded forlorn hope of a brighter way ahead? That is, what I set out to achieve was to showcase, from a number of these shadows of the past, the possibility of seeding a “new” Federation. Whether it is a Federation to be admired or one that historians will want to shed for its narrowness, only time will tell.


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Art Quill Studio said...

Thanks for your kind comments. I am pleased to hear that you enjoyed the content and artworks in this blog post. More posts coming !