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On view until April 2nd, Zygote Press recently mounted its first archive show, They Came, They Saw, They Printed! (19 Years of Swift, Victorious Prints). Showcasing Zygote’s extensive archives collection, the exhibit features works from Zygote’s earliest founding members to current work by recent visiting and in-house artists. A testament to the integral role Zygote Press plays as a center for participation and collaborative art-making in the Northeast Ohio arts community, They Came, They Saw, They Printed! is part group show and part institutional biography, presenting a range of prints created within Zygote Press’ open-studio work environment.
Zygote’s Grants Director and Archivist, Corrie Slawson, who is also an artist, curated the exhibition and walked me through the gallery space, describing the process of preparing Zygote’s collection for display. The press has been collecting art since its inception, without formally implementing policies or creating databases to facilitate condition reports for each work. Slawson glows with warm enthusiasm as she leads me to the modest corner Zygote Press dedicates to its collection. “Although Zygote has been collecting since the beginning, the artworks were hiding in drawers,” Slawson says, gesturing to flat files full of artwork. Through the dedication and work of resident interns Rebecca Roman, Katharine Vaughn and Allison Polgar, Zygote now has a fully functioning electronic collections database as well as catalogued archive storage.
Slawson described how Zygote’s collaborative environment is a catalyst for dialogue between artist and community, whether it is a conversation that occurs locally through membership or more broadly through international residencies. Zygote Press offers a variety of national and international artist exchange programs, avenues that become a point of emphasis in the show. This is evident when reading the didactics, which inform the viewer how the artist landed within Zygote’s orbit, as well as which printmaker was involved with the production of a given piece.
Slawson says the exhibit restores “public access to the works, allowing them out into the open to breathe.” For Slawson and her team, preparing the artworks was an involved process. And true to Zygote’s D.I.Y spirit, the cataloguing, condition reporting, and some of the framing was completed in-house. “I challenge you to find the pieces that weren’t professionally framed!” Slawson jokes, making clear that They Came, They Saw, They Printed! is undoubtedly a labor of love for Slawson and Zygote Press. The results are undeniably victorious.
Featuring 36 prints by 33 artists in Zygote’s spacious in-house gallery, They Came, They Saw, They Printed! comprises two rooms which each loosely follow the themes of body and environment, retaining a sense of cohesion among a wide variety of styles and subjects. Artists in the show are longtime members of the shop, collaborators, or artists who have participated in Zygote’s various residency and exchange programs. Among these artists, I spy many familiar names from the Northeast Ohio arts community. Cleveland Institute of Art professor Dan Tranberg collaborated with Noel Reifel, longtime Associate Professor of Art at Kent State University, to create his visceral, rust red Accretion 6, an intaglio etching. Printed as part of Zygote’s 10 x 10 program, for which 10 artists collaborated with 10 printers to run 10 editions of 10, the print’s globular, swirling open-bit areas evoke the fluid and cellular. From afar, the piece is unassuming—but as I drew near, the smallest of cells became cause for observation; I found myself searching for order amidst biological chaos. Here Tranberg created a sophisticated micro-view of the life’s building blocks, depicting a process of growth and dissolution within the confines of an intaglio plate.
I also encountered The Cleveland Foundation’s Creative Fusion artist Daniel Ruanova’s screenprint TKAS I. Occupying a wall unto itself, TKAS I features a posterized silhouette of Rodin’s renowned sculpture The Thinker; in it, a large, jagged orange explosion references comic book imagery. This indication of violence immediately calls to mind the bombing of the Cleveland Museum of Art’s bronze version of The Thinker sculpture in March of 1970, reminding us of the tumultuous political climate of the 1970s and initiating an examination of the intentions behind the violent destruction of an artwork. As part of his practice, Ruanova draws (or rather, screenprints) modern iconoclastic acts, such as the demolition of the Bamiyan Buddhas or the more recent destruction of Mosul Museum.
Moving forward from a once undocumented collection, the success of They Came, They Saw, They Printed! lies in its effort to examine the origin and provenance of artwork and artist, sharing with the viewer the context of the artwork and exploring the collaborative nature of the printmaking process. The inclusion of the ‘founder’s corner’, a section of the exhibit which groups artwork by the founding members of Zygote Press, emphasizes the importance of community and collaboration. Quite frequently, the viewer will see the founders’ names credited with the production of other artwork in the show
Exciting and accessible, They Came, They Saw, They Printed! provides viewers with a glimpse into Zygote Press’ personal history as Cleveland’s largest open-access print shop. From photo plate transfers to intaglio etching, the exhibition represents a wide variety of intentions, techniques and processes, each of which celebrates the stunning results of many different printmaking processes. They Came, They Saw They Printed! shares in the collective progress of Zygote Press and its artists with a broader community, featuring provoking artwork and collaborations that should not be missed.
They Came, They Saw, They Printed! is on view through April 2, 2015.
An informal panel discussion about the exhibition and Zygote’s archives program will take place on April 2nd, from 6:30 – 8pm. It will be moderated by William Busta of William Busta Gallery and Barbara Tannenbaum, Curator of Photography at the Cleveland Museum of Art.
Aubrey O'Brien is a museum professional and artist in the Northeast Ohio area. She has worked and interned with the Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland Botanical Gardens and the Akron Museum of Art. View more articles by Aubrey O'Brien.