posted by: Josef Beery
Monday night three Charlottesville arts organizations have conspired to introduce Virginia to “The Henningham Family Print Shop.” June 11 at Random Row Books, doors open at 6:30, artists’ talk and performance at 7pm. Tickets at the door, $5. The Family Print Shop is responsible for eye-opening ink-saturated events throughout London and have been welcomed by curators of the Tate and the Victoria and Albert Museum. The New City Arts Initiative along with the Virginia Arts of the Book Center and the Piedmont Council for the Arts welcome this amazing troupe of two to Random Row Books for their demonstration of artistic acumen.
What does print have to do with performance art? Printmakers traditionally work alone or in small isolated groups on the tedious processes involved in planning, preparing, and creating printed art. But print has always been a vocal medium. Easy to read and distribute, print and the printing press immediately turned Europe and then America on its ear as it voiced the thoughts, comments, and opinions of every man with access to a pen. Our own colonial governor, Sir William Berkeley commented in 1671 that in Virginia “there are no free schools nor printing…for learning has brought disobedience, and heresy, and sects into the world, and printing has divulged them, and libels against the best government.” Fortunately for us all, the American republic became the world’s cradle nurturing the right to freedom of the press.
But what about printers on stage? What’s up with this? Over the past several decades artists, especially young people, have felt the waves of technology and change lapping at the doors of their print shops. Climbing upon their presses and drying racks as soap boxes, they have stood up to shout that their art is not just one of silent reflection, but is also one of active and dynamic social engagement. The Virginia Arts of the Book Center has been fortunate to host a few of these artists when their travels have brought them through Charlottesville.
Even before the founding of the VABC, the first appearance of print performance in Charlottesville was probably the visit of the The Bread and Puppet theater troupe. These maniacal artists presented a fantastical mass puppet event on the outdoor stage of the UVa Lawn and steps of the Rotunda, including a violin performance by stilted performer (and founder) Peter Schumann (while climbing the Rotunda steps!). Alongside this performance advocating social justice for Canada’s native americans additional creative events were hosted. Bread and Puppet artists prepared and sold hand pulled and colored prints, all designed to extend the troupe’s message beyond the performance. In a triumphant expression of our collective humanity, artists baked bread in a hand-built outdoor oven and shared it and home made aioli with the collected audience gathered in the UVa amphitheater. Few artists since have matched the intensity and honesty of the Bread and Puppet experience.
After the founding of the VABC in 1995, in the summer of 1997, Julie Belcher, Kevin Bradley, and Tim Winkler, of the then nascent Yee Haw Industries arrived in Charlottesville to give a workshop at the VABC and host an exhibition of their work. Drawing on experiences at Hatch Show Print and elsewhere the trio had begun to make a name for themselves creating original artwork from wood type, hand cut linoleum prints, and old letterpress metal cuts originally created for advertising. Their work was fresh, funny, accessible to all and sold at wonderfully ephemeral prices. I recorded some of the hilarity of their visit in my journal at the time and have attached photos of four of these pages.
Later, in March of 2004, VABC resident artist Debra Fabrizzi invited acquaintances from Brooklyn down for Charlottesville’s Festival of the Book. Setting up at the VABC’s home of the day, the McGuffey Art Center, the artists of Ugly Duckling Presse and the Loudmouth Collective OCCUPIED a gallery classroom. They set up a carnival of activities involving writing, printing, poetry, and fun. Among many wild activities, visitors could create their own books from albums of discarded junk store snapshots or play catch with poetry created on the spot and turned into crumbled paper balls to fling from corner to corner.
In the summer of 2009, VABC artist Catherine Moore produced and directed the VABC’s first “Type-A-Thon” on the Downtown Mall. Setting up old typewriters and a roll of paper many hundreds of feet long, she invited passers-by to contribute their stream of conscious by sitting down at the historic writing tools to add their voice to a collective text. Their work did not go unappreciated, rewarded with a plate of Catherine’s own mac and cheese.
Most recently, VABC artist Avery Lawrence explored the possibilities for print recycling. He hosted the Grrr event in which prints were turned to mush and fresh paper for printing made from the pulp. To advertise the event he printed posters at an event in the Pomp Studio. He set up a paper towel dispenser next to his screen printing equipment and proceeded to “crank” and pull original posters.
Now, through the suggestion of Maureen Lovett and others from the New City Arts Project, Charlottesville will host the amazing artists, Ping and David Henningham of the Henningham Family Print Shop. Their performance printing has found a home at music events, gallery shows, and pure print extravaganzas. I am attaching photos of some of their amazing work.
Join us at Random Row Books on Monday evening June 11 at 7:00 pm to witness the local manifestation of their printing mania and sample the power of the press!