New Ways of Seeing: Printmaking as an Introduction to University Part 2
By Mohammed Rahman, on 13 May 2020
This post is the second in a series about the Printmaking Project, which is part of programme for secondary schools and colleges in east London. It is written by Mataio Austin Dean, a final year BA student at the Slade School of Fine Art.
‘I loved going around all the different studios and viewing everyone’s art work. Also making my own art. Mataio was really nice and I learnt a lot from him’ -Pupil’s feedback
Hi, I’m Mataio and for the past two years, together with a fellow student from the Slade School of Fine Art, I have assisted in running etching workshops funded by UCL’s Access and Widening Participation team, as part of the UCL East Museums and Schools Programme. During the project we worked with school students from the East London boroughs of Hackney, Tower Hamlets, Newham, and Waltham Forest.
The workshops consisted of four parts. First, my coursemate and I would meet the students in UCL Art Museum where they would be taking inspiration from etchings in the Museum’s collection. Then we would take the students on a tour of UCL’s main campus, during which they could ask us any questions they might have about university life or the experience of studying at art school. We visited the Institute of Making to discuss interdisciplinary, material research at UCL, then Jeremy Bentham’s auto-icon. Here we would shock and amuse staff and students with the tale of Bentham’s mummification. We would also discuss his philosophical and political ideas, including his invention of the panopticon. Some students commented that they recognised the repressive, authoritarian architecture of the panopticon in the design of their school! We would have a brief discussion about the history of UCL, from its progressive origins as the first secular university, and also the first university to allow female students, to the eugenicist, imperialist parts of UCL’s history. We were able to talk about why Bentham’s liberal ideas, although radical in his time, now often seem problematic.
We then entered the Slade, where the students would become even more engaged. We gave them an in-depth tour, taking them all over the school and through the undergraduate and graduate studios for Painting, Sculpture, and Fine Art Media.
The fourth and most important part of the day would be the etching workshop and tour of the print studio. We explained the specifics of hard ground etching on copperplate and demonstrated the application of the ground, and the smoking of the plate. The students usually enjoyed this part and once the plates were cooled it was time for them to draw on them.
My coursemate and I introduced the idea of the students creating collective prints as well as individual ones. Large copper plates would be shared between several students, and they would section off circular areas of the plate using a template to work within individually. Two impressions would be taken from each plate in order that one could be kept complete as a collective print for all the students, and the other could be cut up into the individual circles so that each student could take away their own print. As we discussed with the students, the print studio is an interesting space in which to consider notions of collectivity, community and the place of the individual.
Looking at examples of etchings in the studio made by me and other Slade students would often provoke interesting conversations. My work is concerned with notions of solidarity and revolution, and I am interested in printmaking, and its history, as a way to actualise these politics. Students were often keen to discuss with me questions of racial or socioeconomic inequality, and we often explored the Marxist or post-colonial politics and symbolism in my print-based work.
Students often struggled to begin drawing in this workshop. In these moments we encouraged abstraction: an exploration of some of the mark-making methodologies they saw in UCL Art Museum. Once one group was busy drawing, the other would be shown examples of different etching techniques such as aquatint, sugar lift, drypoint, and photo-etching. They were then taken on a tour of the print room and students were often impressed by the multiple colour screen prints on show and were always interested to see examples of prints with their corresponding plate.
When the drawings were finished, it was time to etch the plates. Emphasising the importance of health and safety in this part of the process, we placed the plates into ferric chloride. Whilst the plates etched we explained paper dampening. When the plates were etched we would clean them with white spirit then we would ink them. Finally we would acquaint the students with the printing press, put the plates through the press, printing onto the dampened paper, often enjoying an enthusiastic drum roll from the students as the paper was being lifted off the plate.
We led the workshops in an atmosphere that was chatty and relaxed, yet enabled a thorough and nuanced interaction both with an institution, and a technique: its practice and its context. Working on this programme has been hugely beneficial for me, not only have I enjoyed it, but it has deepened my knowledge of printmaking (a practice I have long treasured) and it has alerted me to pedagogical concerns in my own artistic practice. My practice is often concerned with a radical conception of equality, and increasingly, with institutional critique. I have enjoyed helping to enable young people to engage with and question a powerful institution, and helping them visualise themselves at the Slade, or any art school, in the future. My engagement with UCL’s widening participation programme has been highly beneficial in helping me see my practice in the context of broader research and educational practices, this in turn has given me new ways to think about my work, post-degree.