The FAC Print Award 2012
Fremantle Arts Centre
Some years are better than others at Fremantle Art Centre's annual print award, which exhibits many different kinds of prints from around the country. The 2012 show is one of the best you are likely to see, with a clutter of quality ideas printed on to paper, sticky tape, wood, aluminium and fabric. The judges have chosen many works that have good ideas behind them. Out of a tough selection, the winner of the $15,000 top prize really deserves it, in having made something that is very different to everything else on show.
This is an arrangement of big prints by Sydney artists Lucas Ihlein and Ian Milliss. They want to memorialise the innovations of P.A. Yeomans, an Australian farmer who invented a series of new agricultural techniques.
Three of these big prints are texts explaining how the work of Yeomans parallels the situation of Australian artists in the 1970s. They saw themselves as outliers wanting to be social revolutionaries.
Artists and farmers of the 1970s were also highly politicised. In WA for example, farmers owned and ran the giant co-operative Wesfarmers, through which they controlled the distribution of their produce.
At the same time, artists in this State were highly politicised, doing naked protests in the Art Gallery of WA and forming independently run galleries. This kind of co-operative activity slowly died with Wesfarmers turning into a corporation and artists increasingly exhibiting with private dealers rather than artist-run galleries.
The winning work maps this cultural shift, with wordy explanations of how art and farming aren't so different from each other. It joins a long history of political printmaking. For posters and independent publications have long been used to promote radical ideas.
Yet as paper-based activism has been overtaken by a digital age in which political messages are all too easy to circulate, printmaking has reverted to becoming a craft again.
Many of the works in this show are exquisitely beautiful. Rebecca Mayo has assembled a wall of small, photograph-sized prints of a rough ocean.
Andy Powell made a gloriously beautiful tiny pinhole camera image of a forest in Queensland. There is a camping scene by Kununurra artist Agnes Armstrong, and a spooky desert death printed across blue, orange and yellow dinner plates by Andrew Nicholls.
These are enigmatic works, each of which shines with all the power of an interesting image made with interesting medium. Yet they also lack the political ambition of Ihlein and Milliss, who stand out for turning their prints into ideas.
Among the rest of the works there is only one other explicitly political work, a steampunk style viewing machine by Sohan Ariel-Hayes. What makes it political is a tiny strip of newspaper featuring current events that runs through it.
The contrast here is between the size of this weird wooden contraption and the tiny strip of news that it has been set up to view. We can't quite comprehend what is going on in this news strip because the apparatus to view it is so strange and clunky.
This work is typical of the kind of broad definition of printmaking these awards have long entertained. It is a conceptual model of printmaking, a come-one, come-all approach that makes this show both entertaining and interesting.
While it is typical for this annual award to include lots of different formats, lots of different images, ideas are here at the heart of the better works - ideas that make us think about changing the world.
The FAC Print Award 2012 is on at the Fremantle Arts Centre, Finnerty St, Fremantle until November 8.