Friday, September 27, 2013

The medium and the message

Turnbull, Untitled, 2013

On returning to the Manhattan Graphics Center darkroom in New York after the standard summer wanderings and inner retreats, I did what I usually do after an enforced absence: inventory the mysterious bottles and containers that have accreted on the darkroom shelves since Doug Collins and I first began our chemigram investigations (2010 for me, I think 2009 for Doug) and wonder what on earth some of this stuff is and what it does. In the Endless Quest for Usable Resists, Doug and I have sampled many varnishes, gel media, glues, honeys and Ominous Gloppy Substances and eventually limited ourselves by process of elimination to those potential resists that offered the possibility of hard lines and at least some control over the results (though as always with chemigrams, control is never absolute and quite often not desired). Many substances did not pass the test and were left to rest peacefully in their containers at the back of the shelf until the Elder Days end and Them That Were Here Before Us return to rule what was once theirs.

One of our early experiments, probably suggested by Nolan Preece, was a bottle of Pledge Floor Care Tile and Vinyl Floor Finish with Future Shine, a mouthful of a floor care product that in Nolan's capable and practiced hands produced some fine and intriguing results. Our bottle of Pledge Etc. has sat mostly unmolested for over a year and a half now, since neither Doug nor I was able to make much sense or use of it. After meeting Nolan and seeing some of his Pledge-work first hand earlier this summer (several accounts of the World Congress of Chemigramists can be found in posts below), I felt the urge to return to this hitherto misunderstood material, but this time I had the assistance of e-mailed instructions from Nolan himself, who outlined several important considerations. Nolan suggested spreading a thin coat of the material on the surface of a taped down piece of photo paper with a foam brush, then applying textured objects to the surface and weighing them down while the Pledge dries (about ten minutes). After this, remove the textured objects and blow dry the paper's surface for 5-10 minutes. Process as you would any chemigram. The image above was processed in just this manner; I used a piece of crumpled paper towel as a textural surface. Nolan warned me that things happen fast in the developer and fixer, and indeed it seems like Pledge Etc. acts more like a soft resist than a hard resist and that to preserve white areas the chemigram is best first dipped into fixer for a few seconds (but not too long, or you won't get much in the way of darks once you move on to developer).

Turnbull, Untitled, 2013

This next image was processed on the same evening as the Pledge experiments but this time I applied a coat of Windsor and Newton Acrylic Gloss Medium (also orphaned on our darkroom shelf), a thin, milky medium that I used undiluted. It dried in about half an hour, with the help of our faithful darkroom blow dryer. I drew a quick freehand grid on the surface of the dry medium with an Xacto knife and processed in the same way as the Pledge image, i.e. a few seconds in fixer, then developer until the "desired results" were achieved, then back to fixer and then a water wash. What's interesting here is the way the developer attacked the carved lines and produced small visual eruptions along the lines, as well as the mottled areas of color that formed between the lines themselves. The paper here, as in the Pledge image, is an RC paper called VC Select. I'm assuming that the RC paper is responsible for the muted though elegant palette in both these chemigrams, and that FB papers would show a greater and brighter range of colors.

I certainly wouldn't claim either of these chemigrams as anything more than an experiment, but they were important in their own way. Many of us find particular resists and working methods that produce results we enjoy and admire, and I think we often tend to work within fairly narrowly defined boundaries. Here's a case where I went back to two materials long abandoned (for reasons neither Doug nor I can remember clearly, other than at the time they "didn't work") and discovered a kind of fresh potential. I look forward to revisiting other early "failures" and finding out what other potentials I may have overlooked.