An Interview with Jennifer Schmidt
Jennifer Schmidt was a colleague and fast became a friend while we were living in Boston, Massachusetts and Graham was teaching at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts (now SMFA at Tufts). Schmidt seems to effortlessly traverse the tightrope between a highly intellectualized and highly skillful print practice and our rich exchange below is a testament to that balance she has struck. The how, why and also where of her collective body of work always enjoys equal footing to what she is producing. We are thrilled to be able to share her thinking and her writing below.
When did you start printing?
My first introduction to printmaking was in high school at the Governors Magnet School for the Arts in Norfolk, VA. I was able to take screenprinting and lithography in the print studios at Old Dominion University. The art program was very open and cross disciplinary - taking courses in furniture design, painting, sculpture, printmaking, drawing and animation simultaneously encouraged us to try new ways of making and thinking. I brought home what I was learning in my print classes and began working on my back porch making abstract paper cut stencils, using a variety of spray painting techniques and constructing paper pop-up sculptures.
When I went to college at the University of Delaware, I chose to take Advanced Printmaking my first year as a way to continue these experimentations. The print studio was physically set apart from the rest of campus in an old gun shed that faced the train tracks. Papermaking and print were both housed in the same space and we had shared sense of freedom to use equipment and materials in exploratory ways and make print-based work that could be three dimensional or mounted onto other surfaces. There was a communal ownership of the space that revolved around the use of a shared stereo and chores as print monitors. I played a lot with photocopying imagery to make films at a time when Photoshop was not fully integrated into the print curriculum and found myself mixing, layering, and fusing unlikely things together. We dried our screens in the sun and attempted to burn chemicals in the metal trash can to see what would light fire.
When I went to the School of the Art Institute of Chicago to study Print Media for my MFA, my focus shifted to creating work in print where the selection of the specific process or technology held conceptual weight and the act of generating the work engaged with ideas of performance. I simultaneously maintained an expansive sense of experimentation while also refining my technical skills as I then had access to state-of-the-art equipment.
Where do you typically make your work? Home studio? Shared print space?
I like to work in several spaces that offer different modes and resources for situating my practice. I keep an office studio in my apartment in Brooklyn, NY that is purposely minimal with a few white tables, a computer, and flat files for the design, post-production, and storage of projects. This is where I get my head together before I head out into the world and where I collect my thoughts afterwards.
I prefer to make work at artist residencies, community print studios, and schools, where the site, history, community and tools conceptually relate to the realization of a project. I respond well to spaces where artists can share skills and there can be conversational approaches to problem solving, allowing the work to respond and flex to input. For many years I've been commuting from New York to teach at SMFA at Tufts in Boston and often integrate the experience of traveling between distinct destinations – the in-between zone – into my studio practice, reflecting on work in progress and anticipating what's next. My art projects involving print, sound and video are directly informed by working at SMFA and collaborating with students and faculty within an open curriculum where thoughts and skills can be shared freely. I'm also currently an Artist Advisor in Trestle's Artist Residency program in Brooklyn where I keep a white wall studio space for meeting with people and experiencing projects out of body, when the work is on it's way to being a thing that can exist on it's own.
You have a summer filled with opportunities to work in different printshops around the world. Do you like to allow for different location/colleagues or shop facilities to produce unexpected outcomes in your work? Can you think of a specific instance where you really had to be responsive to unique circumstances?
Yes, I prefer to seek opportunities to make work in different locations and studios as a way to develop my practice on a project-by-project basis. I usually have an idea of what may happen in a particular setting or a general plan of working methods that may integrate particular materials or tools. But I am always open to improvisation and responding/interpreting the possibilities in the moment. I would say my work is very site-specific even when very technical processes have been used in its production. I don't have much of an interest in producing discrete pictorial images. I prefer instead to use a point of reference or catalyst to inform what the work becomes. This relates to thinking about how information and experiences can be filtered, translated, presented and amplified using methods of reproduction and recording. Sometimes I seek resources to continue working with print technologies and machines that I do not readily have access to, and sometimes I seek to put myself in a setting where I need to fend and figure out the parameters of what's possible/not possible through immersion in a given situation. The work can be a form of social conditioning.
This summer, I'm headed to the Frans Masereel Centrum in Kasterlee, Belgium, which is known as a premier residency for the study and use of reprographic technologies to make art. I'm going there to have access to screenprinting, Risograph, laser cutting, and digital printing facilities. I will be arriving with a categorical idea of producing work that involves graphics and poetry while exploring philosophical manifestations of Feminism and notions of collective action. That being said, I'm not yet sure what form the work will take and am looking forward to thinking and feeling out my options for making work based on visual and conceptual choices related to different technologies and materials.
Recently, I had the opportunity to be a visiting artist and to screenprint in the barn printshop at the Wassaic Project, located in a rural area a few hours north of New York City. The printshop equipment there is mostly hand built, birds fly in and out of the space, and screens are left to dry outside, propped against the building in the grass or on old wood stadium seating. In responding to the conditions of this space, I developed a graphic image generated through the repeated act of pulling clover from the ground in clumps and exposing it on a screen as a photogram. The sampled image that was created was both a form of op art and was visually participatory.
These two approaches to art making and working with print media, came together when I went to Seydisfjordur, Iceland in 2017 as an artist in residence at the Skaftfell Center for Visual Art. I wrote a proposal to go there, knowing that the late artist Dieter Roth kept a studio nearby, and his etching press and work table were available for me to use. The town is in East Iceland, nestled in a fjord, with about 500 inhabitants. The Skaftfell Center maintains an archive of Dieter's print publications and runs a restaurant bar that Dieter and his son Bjorn designed. Dieter was known for collaborating with friends and family, and for including the detritus of everyday life in his work, in addition to being a talented graphic artist, printer, poet, and draftsman. I traveled there on my own with my two young children and immersed myself in the town for several weeks in January-- working late at night on poetry about analogies, and monoprinting text during the day-- writing with my finger in reverse on plexi to create a succession of prints on tracing paper using Dieter's press and work table. The prints question the author, the source, and the time in which they are made. Everything is let in. Permission, inheritance, gender, and artistic license become a part of the work, along with everything that is not said, mentioned or described. "Reviewing the Review, Everything for Review".
I was there during the presidential inauguration of President Trump and the organizing of the Women's March on Washington. Despite being a in a remote location, the news and current events of what was happening were a daily part of my experience and consciousness, hemmed in by mountains with an outlet to the sea. The printed images and poetry I created were then used to create two newspaper artist publications for the 32. Biennial of Graphic Arts at the International Centre for Graphic Arts, Ljubljana, Slovenia . The publications were presented as posters on the walls of the gallery, and as open spreads on a Dieter Roth style worktable. It made sense to re-print and publish the performative monoprints and analogy poetry as broadsides and tabloid newspapers to reference the time in which they were made. I chose to use the New York Time's Cheltenham font and a grid of Swiss dots along with my messy fingerprints to link the work to current events and contextualize the work post-production.
How do you see your print background informing your more expanded practice?
I see everything in progress or rather part of a continued series of actions within an ever evolving process of becoming. A printed image is one frame in a timeline of many or one impression within a series of impressions. A sheet of 8.5 x 11" copy paper came from a ream of paper of 500 sheets. The printed image and textual information came from somewhere else... was lifted from a source, scanned, drawn, recorded, transferred, filtered, and replayed in time onto another surface using a reprographic technique (which could include the mind). A print implies one of many or a prior existence. I mean this broadly and consider a print to be something that has been reproduced and amplified, drawing attention to itself through its re-presentation and involving information, experience, and the manufacturing thereof.
As part of a university printmaking program have you seen a change in how printmaking is taught/thought about since you were a student?
I think the primary shift is talking about the philosophical and conceptual implications of what it means to work with reprographic images and technologies while engaging in a series of actions to produce something. Print media's social and intellectual relationship to design, time, and technological innovation involving the history of communication remains important to discuss. Craft is also important, however I believe there is a conversation to be had around how craft can be performed in relation to a chosen print process.
Who would you love to collaborate with?
I would love to collaborate with any and all of the women featured in your women in expanded print series. They all boldly respond to ideas of repetition and the use of graphics in such tactile and innovative ways. I am really drawn to the recurring theme of using physical materials as substrate and surface. The sense of touch and physical positioning of information and objects in a liminal state is palpable. I'm glad to be in dialogue with their work through your blog and see a lot of potential for visual and performative crossover within a studio and exhibition context.
A few of my current dream studio collaborations for making new work "in the now" would be: Knust Extrapool in the Netherlands . I'm really interested in how they are open to sound and print and would like to work on a Risograph printed publication that is also an experimental sound compilation. Alfred University’s Institute for Electronic Arts is exciting in terms of thinking about the possibilities for making multiples and the integration of new technologies in a lab-like environment where I can figure things out with access to equipment.
What are you working on at the moment?
I’m currently working on a Vandercook letterpress project that involves printing a series of reams of paper using Red, Green and Blue Pantone colors to create prints that can be stacked as sculpture, shuffled as the pages of a sketchbook, arranged as repeat wall paper, tossed on the floor, and spread on a table. The prints are double sided– where I print on the front and the back to play with ideas of visual perception, intelligibility, and to highlight the paper as a sculptural material integral to the presentation and existence of the printed graphics. I see the prints as objects.
The use of the Vandercook is important conceptually because it is a machine that historically references the use of type and language, and I would like the work I’m making to be a visual language that speaks as a series; involving a collection of motifs, marks, words, gestures, and actions that become a visual record and documentation of a subject. The colors Red, Green, and Blue become the lens through which these images can be seen and made sense of.
Parallelogram: Exhibit A and B is part of the project. I began printing the series at Pyramid Atlantic Art Center in Maryland last summer and am currently working at Robert Blackburn Printmaking Workshop in New York City.