PRINTING THE PUNCTUM
text by S.Bradshaw for the show ROUT
at The Old Baths, Hackney March 2018
Rachel Thomson’s work is weird, unpretentious but attention seeking. Meaningful - who knows?
The artist searches through the internet for snapshots, rejected press shoots, historic and pre-digital contemporary photographs with prompts like women fighting, swimming, screaming, jumping, weeping, dancing, smoking, falling, playing, hiding - seeking out the punctum - “the wounding, personally touching detail in a photograph which establishes a direct relationship with the object or person within it.”* It is in the women’s gestures of awkwardness, humour, anger, violence, vanity, melancholia, kindness, spiritedness and hubris that the punctum is captured - drawn out with direct marks, in this case wiping an inky plate with a dirty rag and a finger - and then ultimately printed.
A visit to the Degas exhibition A Strange New Beauty** was the spur for this direct technique, where the artist saw up close Degas loose, spontaneous and affectionate monotype drawings, made in the brothels of Paris between the mid 1870’s and mid 1880’s. Degas described his work as “drawings made with greasy ink and put through a press”
The monotype technique requires working quickly and blind as the final image only appears clearly after printing. Chance and error are critical tools, often resulting in blurring and smudging. Reversing of the original image adds some unique distortions. Thomson appears to be enjoying herself, after all legs are good to draw and tangles of limbs can turn more arthropod than human. Parts of horseshoe crabs, one of the oldest living species alive today (and an ongoing obsession for the artist) appear like used and dented car parts, and end up grafted to female limbs and torsos. Crap paper and torn out pages make for ideal degraded surfaces to print on and collage with. Pre-existent text might comment on the image all by itself and the final pieces are as good as they can get.
*Camera Lucida (French: La chambre claire) is a short book published in 1980 by the French literary theorist and philosopher Roland Barthes. It is simultaneously an inquiry into the nature and essence of photography and a eulogy to Barthes' late mother.
**Edgar Degas:A Strange New Beauty, at The Museum of Modern Art, New York, March 26 - July 24 2016 organised by Jodi Hauptman, Senior Curator, Department of Drawings and Prints, with Richard Kendall
***Degas wrote this in the catalogue of the Impressionist exhibition of 1877, the first time he exhibited his monotypes.