All Flesh is Grass

By Arlyne Moi

Norwegian College of Applied Art and Design, Thesis for Master’s Degree, 1998
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4 Three Projects

I: The Sochi Screen: An object for a private room

1 The Concept

There are many ideas behind this work. It is a reflection over the status of a person both as subject and object. The proposition that people are in fact like ornamental plants was my conceptual starting point. There is a thought structure that will remain, that after all, we are like wallpaper - a back drop for other peoples lives. My present conclusion is that destiny comes from within and that we actually want this duel status.

My intention was to make wallpaper and mount it on a screen appropriate to a private room. I wanted to make something that would problematize low status art. But my advisor said to me that wallpaper was too low and that what I made must first and foremost be a picture. I wanted to make wallpaper because I was convinced it had the ability to convey the approximate sense of irony and reflection. However, I discovered that what I really want is to make a picture in the spirit of wallpaper.

The idea of a sochi screen came whilst reflecting over something I read several years ago. In Gud og hver-mann, Henrich von Achen tells that from the time of the reformation, it was common to incorporate biblical motifs into objects in the home; on the walls, ovens, windows, on chests of drawers and cupboards, rugs, pil-lows, beds and doors, etc. This was done as a constant biblically oriented religious education. The 17th cen-tury person was to meditate on the pictures and be there by moved to greater hights of sanctification.

There could also a connection between the object and the motif decorating it. For example, a bed could be decorated with a picture of Adam and Eve because with each conception, a new Fall occurs.

I have not concerned myself first and foremost with the suitability of a sochi screen combined with plant peo-ple , although I am aware that it is possible to argue that the iconography and the object are well suited to each other. Rather, I did it mostly as a reflection over the curious predicament that a picture on a wall has more status than a picture incorporated into a piece of furniture. As soon as a picture is useful, it becomes an object, a thing in itself, and not a representation, and is relegated to the lower status of craft. I am fascinated by this dichotomy between fine and applied art, of which decorative art is a partaker.

2 The preliminary project to making the sochi screen

Several weeks of the summer were used to experiment with different forms of expression by working up iso-lated square motifs. It was a good opportunity to become more adept at traditional techniques and to form an opinion of what constitutes a good intaglio print.

The drawings used for the molded paper and the sochi screen are basically the same. The difference between them is that with intaglio, the figures do not need to hold together. One problem with sketches is that you can work out some thing that looks great on computer screen or on drawing paper, but it may be a picture in its own right and can not be transferred over to metal graphics with out further ado. As S. W. Hayter says:
« In etching some five stages separate the gesture from the inverted mirror image result. Our theses is that unless some vital matter should arise during the operation, the whole business is counterproductive. Because no copy can be more than perfect, the artist in this case is hampered by the technique. It is in the exposure of his (the artist’s) idea and his plate to the accidents of a method, to the imminent risk of destruction, that the greatest result may occur in the work and the most valuable experience in the artist. I would suggest that the courage needed to adventure in this manner, as much as the oft quoted infinite capacity for taking pains, may be a component of genius and differentiates the valid artist from the hack…»

He goes on to call for courage to follow the development wherever it may lead without editing. A danger with this though, is that nothing is resolved if one is always finding. The idea is only there in the sketch like form of the sample.

3 There was the problem with size

I envisaged just making one big square plate, as big as the intaglio press, and printing it on one big sheet of hand made paper. The technical problems seemed overwhelming. Just the thought of etching one huge plate, inking it and cleaning it of excess ink was quite daunting.

I then thought I would make nine square plates which would make up one big picture. The figures could ex-tend from one plate to the next, but each plate would be a complete and harmoniously composed picture in its own right. This would have been wonderful if I had been able to achieve it, but after several months of strug-gling with the design, I gave it up.

Early in the summer, My advisor suggested that I have a metal plate for each flower. I dismissed the idea be-cause it seemed I would have to ignore the plate impressions as a sort of necessary evil and I did not want to have to apologize for them. Also, with each printing, the relief of the previous plate is flattened. The rectangles needed to fit into my theory.

4 A method emerges

By September, (after grueling all summer), I decided to use metal graphic techniques in a fashion more remi-niscent of silk screen. In other words, I capitulated and made a plate for each figure and then printed these on paper such that the impression of the plates’ rectangle overlapped and gave a sort of geometric contrast to the organic figures. I realized that there is a relation between geometry and the representation of plants in orna-mentation. The rectangle took on great significance when I reread, «One way of taming natural forms is to force them into the artifice of geometry.»

At this point the wooden screen itself was made, on which the printed panels are mounted. This started the ball rolling and allowed me to then go back to the drawings with a clearer purpose in mind. I returned to working in Photo Shop, adjusting sizes and contrasts. Finally when I had landed on a design I was sort of satisfied with, I began production.

  • Greatly reduced versions of computer drawings were printed onto acetate.
  • Enlarge with an overhead projector onto the wooden screen.
  • Draw directly with intaglio techniques.

After working so long with computerized images, it was a real joy to work more directly. I was by then so fa-miliar with each flower I had created that I ignored the templates. The plates have ended up being a mixture of different conventional and unconventional intaglio processes. None of these plates were intended to be pictures in their own right but I think some of them actually are.

After printing one side of the screen, I laughed to myself, «O.K., now you have the facet for the other side.» How easily we create conventions for ourselves! I reflected on my thesis that people are like decorative plants. How could I emphasize this ? In what way could I make this message more convincing? I chose to take the most wall flowerish, insignificant looking pinwheel flower and turn it into a report.

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