The power of print; Heart of Glass and Kate Hodgson in conversation

images © Stephen King

The power of print
Heart of Glass and Kate Hodgson in conversation, on
their Independents Biennial collaboration

Liverpool/St Helens-based artist Kate Hodgson believes in the power of print to shape, and to shift conversations.

As part of this year’s Independents Biennial Kate has been working with a group of women and their children to produce a new print-based creative project. Over the summer the group have been experimenting with print techniques and exploring the art form’s past, pivotal role as a way to disseminate political messages. With Parr’s Torus Housing, the group have also held a series of sessions with local councillors, touching on equality, democracy and the machinations of local government. These conversations have fed into the series of printmaking workshops, along with the group’s passion for crafting, to produce a series of posters, t-shirts and totes – keep an eye out for the resulting images on a street near you!

Kate, could you tell us a little bit about your practice and what particularly drew you to printmaking as an artistic form?

My practice explores the nature of print as a tool of commerce, craft and art. I am interested in print’s role as a ‘democratic art form’ that can be taken away from the confines of the gallery and used to spread messages and information. For me print is such an interesting medium because it is used for so many things that everyone is familiar with (t-shirts, posters, magazines even credit cards are screen-printed) which makes it accessible, people recognise it. I also love that it is a process, that you can think while you make. There are happy accidents and often the final outcome isn’t what you had in mind at the start of the process- but that is what is so exciting!

Yes, I understand that appeal, that print is simultaneously a very formulaic process but which can still result in unexpected outcomes, which means that it manages to retain something very magical even if you’ve seen the process a hundred times! As you point out, the history of this particular form is tied up with a notion of the democratising of art and knowledge. Could you say a little more about your interest in this aspect and are there artists or movements that you particularly identify with?

Print by its very nature is democratic due to its ability to create multiples and historically it has been as a tool of mass reproduction. I am interested in how this original use has been adopted by artists and collectives, so for example ‘See Red’ who were a women’s collective that printed posters and banners to spread feminist messages, also Sister Corita Kent who screen-printed posters to spread the word of God. Print allows artists to communicate messages thoughts and feelings in such a direct way.

The print workshop itself is a democratic space of social interaction, of working together, of sharing knowledge. The workshop is a necessity of printmaking, as the materials and machinery are large and costly so that sharing through the means of a workshop makes economic sense. Ciara Phillips is someone that uses print and ‘making together’ in the workshop in a really exciting way; using gallery spaces as workshops. Through her process based exploration she is able to explore what screen-print can do as a medium, look at questions of work and labour, art and craft and print as a communication tool.

That’s a very nice description of the space of the ‘workshop’, I completely agree and those forms of space are becoming increasingly rare in our public everyday. So, as part of this year’s Liverpool Independents Biennial, you were commissioned to work with us at Heart of Glass and have been running a series of printing workshops with a group of local women.

I’ve really enjoyed seeing the prints developing week after week and particularly the unexpected collection of images and text that have been collated through the workshops – from Nutella jars to community slogans! Your practice also includes this element of the absurd or the ambiguous in the bringing together of words and image and I wondered if you could say a little bit about this and also how this element has perhaps been explored through the workshop process?

Yes, the sessions have been fun and we have managed to produce some great work – both with the women and their children who really got stuck in. I’ve always been interested in text and it is a huge part of my practice. My most recent work has used text from slogan t-shirts like to leave it up to an audience to dissect the language that I use and question what it means. I am also, as you say, interested in questioning what does it mean to place images and text together. It can completely change the meaning of both elements which is such a fun thing to play with.

In the workshops we have been exploring this, looking at artists who use text and image and questioning what the women want to tell an audience about themselves and their group. We have used some great slogans that really reflect their sense of community and combined these with surreal drawings of nutella and ninja turtles – it sounds mad which I suppose it is! We have used words that perhaps don’t make grammatical sense, there are different ways to interpret the work – it might mean one thing to the women but could mean something completely different to an audience and it is this ambiguity that makes the work really interesting.

For more information please visit http://www.heartofglass.org.uk/project/independents-biennial-parrs-project-with-kate-hodgson/