Last week I attended the Preview of ‘Knife Edge Press: The Complete Works (So Far)’. The event and exhibition were part of ‘Impact 8 International Printmaking Conference’ held in Dundee, bringing printmakers from across the world together to discuss the historical and creative importance of printmaking as a medium. ‘Knife Edge Press…’ is a collaboration between art writer Mel Gooding and artist Bruce McLean, together they create artists’ books. I previously worked with Bruce in 2011, as part of the Exhibitions DJCAD team, on a large-scale project ‘a comic opera in three-parts’ entitled ‘A Cut A Scratch A Score’ and was intrigued to discover another facet to Bruce’s creative repertoire in a partnership which has spanned nearly three decades.
Knife Edge Press Christmas Card (1985)
An In-Conversation between Mel and Bruce during the preview lured the ‘Impact 8’ delegates from the Prosecco… I mean refreshments into, as reviewer Alex Hetherington puts; ‘a handsome, theatrical and precisely arranged installation’ of the duo’s books and prints in the Cooper Gallery. The two spoke of how this partnership came into being, their meeting in a pub and their continual meetings in a pub, seeming a neutral and apt situation for “enthusing” each other’s ideas. During ‘A Cut A Scratch A Score’ I observed Bruce’s interaction and insistence on discussion with his collaborators in the form of Artist Sam Belinfante, Digital Scenographer David Barnett, Mezzo Soprano Lore Lixenberg and Artist-cum-Dancer Adeline Bourett. Exchanges at times felt fraught, as Bruce’s visual language, combined with three other artists to form a performing, sculptural opera. It was “premiered” across three venues involving local musicians and singers. The Culminating Performance perhaps adhering to the ‘So Far’ quality which the ‘Knife Edge Press’ exhibition represents – an on-going process-led activity weighted by collaborative relationship.
Bruce’s works and collaborations have an air of confidence, punctuated by his iconographic style. I like to think of Bruce as the “original poser”, with no connoted negativities attached, when thinking back to such celebrated works as ‘Pose Work for Plinths 3’. Bruce’s visual expressions breakdown historical art practices such as sculpture, performance, printmaking, bookmaking, as well as art history, however, his interpretations of these retain a sense of familiarity, through the incorporation of domesticated motifs and humour which also through colour and shape feel nostalgically synonymous with the decade in which Bruce and Mel’s ‘Knife Edge Press’ was conceived. During this time, as critical practitioners Bruce and Mel were both feeling jaded from the bureaucracy surrounding arts education. The conception of their collaboration was cemented by the de-construction of the publication, viewing it broadly, within the genre of sculpture, disseminating original works of art, for nominal amounts, with democratic style questioning the structuring of institutes.
Image from Tate: ‘Pose Work for Plinths 3’ (1971)
Sophia Hao, the Cooper Gallery Curator, and another collaborator of Bruce's since 1997, interviewed the pair in the lead-up to the exhibition, Mel describes how their work came to be identified, explaining how they felt they were on a ‘Knife Edge’. That the creation of publications – systems of folding and splicing for all that it is a historical practice, felt as though through their reorientation with it, was the cusp of something new. The book could envelope their irregular thoughts, correspondence and narratives with the familiarity and verve of Bruce’s iconography whilst acknowledging the need to critique what was happening within the network in which they worked. This is expressed in the work the ‘Invisible Academy 1992’. A school or perhaps better thought of as a call for a school-of-thought, which could be based anywhere perhaps even a “call box on the Edgeware Road”. It would be the stimulus for conversations out-with the structured confinements of an arts education, celebrating self-validation through creativity not through curriculum nor convention. The idea of a prospectus is reformatted into framed, large-scale prints punctuated by erratic use of language, perhaps purposely expressing the irritation which Mel and Bruce were and maybe still are feeling. The use of colour, style and reformatting add, however, a sense of value, that this is not just an urgent means of expression but something which will be re-investigated in the future.
'Invisible Academy 1992'
In-Conversation Bruce voiced his difficulty in accepting the definition of an artist, the reclusiveness of the activity. Expressing that collaboration made his role much easier - the trajectory course ideas and work take naturally through the “explosive goings-ons” that take place when critical creatives, aware of each other’s presence, incidentally get chatting in a pub and decide to develop this occurrence into a series of on-going works. At times, the work, the collaboration, feel tenuous, however, this echoes the Knife’s ‘Edge’ on which their ‘Press’ was founded. This is no more reflected in the ‘Invisible Residency’, with the Residency reduced to a daily email exchange between Mel and Bruce of visual and textual correspondence projected in the Gallery staircase. A re-examination of their experimental collaboration and carefully showcased exhibition, an artwork in itself, ‘The secret of these little works…’ as Mel states in one correspondence, ‘… is that they might go on forever.’
'Invisible Residency' Correspondence: 04-09-2013