Peacock Visual Arts Centre, Aberdeen
Visual Research Centre, Dundee
Generator Projects, Dundee
Currently touring Scotland, having set off from Generator Projects in Dundee, State of Print – an “artist-led nation” with its own manifesto, passports and ‘visitor visas’ – is not so much an exhibition as a proposition, an invention, a thought experiment. Reacting against what the collective of artists see as inflexible and dogmatic global powers, State of Print reimagines what it means to create and be a part of a collective power, bringing the structures and ideas inherent to printmaking itself to that discourse, and so injecting ideas of statehood with utopian but common-sense ideas about belonging and participation.
In the tradition of free-thinking artists’ collectives through the past century, such as the Situationists in Paris and, more recently, the “Passport to Pimlico” project in London, where artists took over a corner of Chelsea over a May Day weekend, this group uses art to suggest a new perspective on current events and systems, and, for a while, to create their own small utopia, too.
Deconstructive as well as visionary, State of Print is clear about what it is dismantling. As their manifesto establishes, “All States are Fake / All Images are Made / All Worlds are Invented / Nothing is Original / Nothing is Identical / Nothing is True / Nothing is False.” While these ideas have their place in political theory and philosophy, their root here is in the process of printing, as shown through the installation itself.
By illuminating the inevitable unoriginality and repetition inherent in everything that involves the printing process, they point out that the idea of the ‘state’, too, is a construct born of similar means. Showing, through their embassy, their visas and passports, their flags and currency (SOPs – which can be exchanged for Sterling to buy merchandise), that everything used to physically build or establish a state is printed, they shed light on the mutability and vulnerability of the state itself.
State of Print is more than simply a political statement though; it is also a place to visit. Build with recycled cardboard and vibrant inks, and lit up with film and projections, it is indeed a “State of Mind”—an escape from whatever state one usually inhabits. It is colourful, stimulating and playful—a circus of images that are not tied together by any formal theme, but simply by a mood, and sense of collectivity and cohesion that develops organically and subtly from the artists having worked together. While the prints themselves vary from the overtly political and contemporary (“Control Your Reproductive Rights” in dusky pink lettering, with marching hands), others feature vintage images and scenes – children sitting on the floor at school, missiles, sunny family scenes, tanks and lizards. Beyond the construction of the ‘state’ itself, these prints offer a montage of modern and past lives—the culture we all come from, or think we come from – the iconic warmongering and domestic idealisation we are all so familiar with, whether or not it registers consciously.
As it travels around the country, State of Print, though fleeting, is a manifestation of something else in our culture – that resistance and visionary dreaming that provides an antidote to current crises. It is not just a utopian vision though; simply in presenting these ideas, along with these specific images, there is something profoundly melancholic about visiting the ‘embassy’. These utopias, of course, are just snapshots of what is not, as much as what could be; for every idealised family and imagined flag, there is a sense of absence or loss, at the realisation that these wider constructs in our lives – the state, and their wider propaganda or nostalgia – are just that.
And yet, a visit to the State of Print is not really disillusioning. For all the deconstruction and quiet dismay, simply the construction of another little world, a playful, temporary, different one – is enough to raise the spirits.
Christiana Spens is the author of Shooting Hipsters, Death of a Ladies’ Man and other books. She writes freelance for Studio International, Prospect and other magazines.
State of Print website: http://stateofprint.com/