Depicted below in sequence, each step of the slitting, folding, and assembling of Ourobors Shredder.
One of the most interesting and challenging aspects of collaborating with an artist is finding continuity in conjunction with the many mediums they work in. In a perfect world, I’d like prints to be as recognizable and impactful as their paintings, drawings, sculpture, installations, etc…… I like a dialog between mediums.
In the case of Andrzej Zielinski, I’ve been taken with his work for years. The experience of standing in front of his paintings or sculpture remains for me, an experience which takes words and leaves them irrelevant and flaccid. In my experience great creations speak for themselves, and speak also, to their predecessors. Such were my aspirations as Andrzej and I began our dialog about what to do for his upcoming lithograph.
The evening we met to discuss concepts for his print, the studio felt small, as if trying to contain the many ideas Andrzej brought to the table. Ideas were leveraged, but we narrowed them down to a folded print, structurally similar to a few steel sculptures Andrzej was working on at the time.
The concept was electrifying and frightening, and a bit abstract, in that Andrzej’s concept differed from any other folded print I’ve seen or read about.
Which is something that will clarify itself as you read on.
I set Andrzej up with several large sheets of newsprint to work out the basic structure with. To my surprise, forty five minutes later, he’d pulled together the basic form, giving us something to look at and talk about. This first mock up seemed solid enough to create the next generation, a version folded out of the largest printing sheet I have available, which we taped in place, and had Andrzej watercolor to get a sense of how color might be approached, as well as what the construction of the print might require. From this, details poured forth.
Realization #1: The method of using a continuous sheet of paper, slit in seven places and folded in 18 locations, such that it comes together to make an illusion of a singular object/print, would necessitate printing both the front and back of the largest printing sheet I have available.
Realization #2: The body of the shredder is a horse-shoe shape around which brushstrokes travel fluidly, as thorough painted on top of the shredder. The back ground is the same, drawn lines traveling across the body of the background and through folds, giving the illusion of uninterrupted drawn lines. HOWEVER, the reality of how the drawn and painted elements would need to exist once printed, would look like random geometry spread across the surface of the paper, both front and back, until all the elements are folded together. The basic concept around the creation of the piece is as such: shapes made of brush strokes and drawn lines, printed front and back on a sheet of paper, and folded together to make an illusion of an uninterrupted painting/drawing/object. And one that is not flat, but dimensional.
Realization #3: The nature of printing font and back of the paper, directly correlates to the doubling of all materials……. for every color there would need to be two plates, and twice as much ink. AND, in order to work as a folded whole, the inking/printing of the front of the sheet of paper would have to be exact to the inking of the back…… shift in printing style, ink modification, or color value would break the illusion and leave the print looking like a disparate mess of shapes.
It became obvious that this was a spacial puzzle of mind-bending proportions.
How would I take Andrzej’s brushstrokes and drawn lines, and pull them apart onto plates, such that they would print and then fold back together again in uninterrupted, fluid marks? Certainly there had to be a solution, but initially, I couldn’t see what it was.
As with most puzzles, banging your head against the wall by over-thinking never works. Which is why many artists have unfinished works around the studio, when moments of fresh seeing or unconscious dialogs can slip in naturally, showing the way forward. In that manner, days later I was taking a run, when entirely of its own accord, the solution came flashing to mind, leaving me dashing for a paper and pencil. The following days in the studio proceeded with making a system, deconstructing it, and using that deconstruction to make a new system, which was then used in the making of a jig, which made a new system, etc. until the train of logic had been followed all the way to its end, leaving, hopefully, a way that I could create Andrzej’s plates, slit and fold the finished prints, and have each one come together in the same manner in the end. A repeatable method. I hoped.
Now it was time to involve Andrzej. The nerves set in.
With untested system in place, Andrzej came in to the studio, and in the course of a morning painted and drew up all of his mylars. They were beautiful, which only exacerbated the reality of what was to come, as, each would need to be cut into pieces, placed perfectly onto a jig I’d made up, and transferred to a new piece of Mylar in exact locations, all to be exposed to photographic litho plates.
Any shift, any error in cutting or placing, any unthought of occurrences, and each of the 14 printing plates, and all the time it takes to expose and ready them for printing, weeks of work and money invested in materials and time, would be trash.
To cap it all, I’d no way of knowing until every plate was made, all the inks were mixed, and a proof printed, slit, and folded, if this project was a fools errand, or something unique and beautiful. The only way through was in the doing of the thing.
Cutting Andrzej’s drawn and painted mylars apart, and placing them into their locations with the jig was a bit what I would imagine surgery to be like. One had to be calm and deliberate through all the double-jointed swear worthy machinations of razor blade and tape. The week and a half it took to complete this process, left me feeling each day a little more depleted, and a little more desperate to know how this would go. But there were more surprises ahead.
Having assembled and readied each of the mylars, I began the process of exposure. And in doing so, found out that the vacuum seal on my exposure unit (which is new to me), drops out on the last two inches of the right and left sides of plates of this size, yielding a fuzzy, unfocused image. Not acceptable. The solution. Don dark shades and place my body into the booth with the exposure unit, placing the printing plate on top of the glass of the exposure unit, plexiglass on top of that, starting the exposure, and holding the plex down tight to the plate, thus taking the UV rays streaming forth from the bulb. Not smart. But what could I do? Each of those plates were left with large hand marks where I held the plex down which later needed deleting from the plates::::: I got a pretty nice tan to boot, and a “sunburn” on my head.
Preparations finished, the printing of the first proof was a blur. It felt as though none of the details a printer normally concerns themselves with mattered. I just wanted to get to the end, and get the thing slit and folded, and see if it really worked.
I’ve never, ever, experienced pressure like this as a printer. Nor felt such intense desire for something to work. It needed to work. It had to work!
Proofing finished, once my assistant had gone home, I took the wet print immediately to my folding jig and began the hour of slitting and carefully folding. Holding my breath, dying with anticipation, hands shaking, and feeling slightly nauseous, it came together.
IT. CAME. TOGETHER. Beautifully. Slumping into a chair I very nearly cried with relief.
Even so, this first proof was still a shipwreck of colors. No harmonizing, and the shredded paper portion of the print was not working at all. Thus into the rounds and months of proofing we went, dialing in color, shifting the order of printing of plates, and reconsidering how the shredded paper would finds its resolution. Three more proofs, many considerations, and a helpful critique with artist and historic ULAE printer Zigmunds Priede later, we got honest that the shredded paper was not speaking with the rest of the print.
In the midst of this deliberation, Andrzej took notice of the printing plates stacked in a line on one of the studio tables. He liked the sculptural feel of the layered plates with registration pins at the end of each plate. He liked the labeling nomenclature written in my chicken scratch at the top of each plate. The decision was made to have the plates photographed, and exposed to a new plate to be used in the image itself. Now, going into the last and final proof, Andrzej brought full circle the concept of the Ouroboros Shredder: A paper shredder printed lithographically, slit and folded together out of a continuous sheet of printing paper (no parts cut off or apart at all), shredding a print of the plates, from whence it was printed. The snake eating its own tail.
The Ouroboros Shredder had been born, complete with the inclusion of four registration pins inside the punch holes of the paper. The same pins used for the printing of the edition.
As I had come to understand about this print, from beginning to end, even the preparation for edition printing was going to have its unusual demands. It was Andrzej’s desire that literally NO part of the paper be cut off, so each printing sheet needed to be fastened with card stock extensions which are punched, allowing the print to be registered; but again, leaving another new system to create so that each was fastened in exactly the same location as all the others. Also true to this print, no decision came without its consequences. Soon into edition printing, I found that the difference in width of the thicker card stock to the thinner printing paper meant that as the scraper bar of the press (which applies pressure to the paper) traveled off of the cardstock and onto the paper, it cracked the thin plastic of the tympan. Two tympans were ruined before I made the switch to a thick 1/8″ tympan sheet which was heavy and unwieldy to use, and, gave a whole different set of considerations when setting the press pressure for each color plate.
Lockstep with the entire process, each color run in the printing of the edition had its own say in how the printing would progress. Some required that the press be set to a tenuously slow speed, so as not to create odd textures in the ink films. Other runs required us to strip back the thicker mass of new ink with newsprint, so that two layers would harmonize better together. A few plates needed three sizes of rollers. Most notable was the pink run, as in order to avoid the unforgivable look of a rippled ink film called “push”, I had to smooth each impression upward against an elevated tympan, holding it extremely tight and still, a process requiring both hands and a shoulder, and rendering me immobile to press the button to make the press go.
Mel, my press assistant would slick the plate one last time with a thin film of water then sprint all the way around the press to push the button for me. Comedy gold!
None the less, having run the gauntlet of creating a method to bring this print together, along with the unusual demands of printing each impression, I felt as though I had traveled a long journey through a very strange and unstable land. That I had stepped through a of door of experience which would forever influence how I look at the creation of prints.
Exhausted, fulfilled, still in disbelief, I poured my assistant and I a glass of whiskey and we clinked glasses, drank, shook our heads, and smiling went about the process of cleaning up.
The fourteen Ouroboros Shredders lay waiting to be folded.
In retrospect, I’ve come to realize that I have been given a great gift in having the opportunity to collaborate with Andrzej Zielinski, and his Machiavellian, kamikaze approach to art-making.
Both in concept and in form, this lithographic paper sculpture called the “Ouroboros Shredder” represents not only a turning point in how Andrzej approaches works on paper, but how I will consider more carefully what I had previously thought impossible.
And further compels me to understand what possibilities lie ahead, particularly relevant to future projects with Andrzej.