Australian Print Triennial in Mildura
Mildura, on the banks of the Murray River, appears as an oasis within a flat and bleak landscape. In the 1960s and 1970s the Mildura Sculpture Triennials became a major focal point for sculptural practice in Australia before being snuffed out by petty rivalries and political intrigues.
More recently, Mildura’s role as a cultural oasis has been resurrected by several significant events, including the establishment of Stefano’s restaurant in 1991, which formed a creative cultural hub that fed into the Mildura Writers’ Festival and the music festivals.
The creation of The Art Vault in 2008 by the passionate lover of printmaking, Julie Chambers, provided a significant centre for printmaking with excellent printmaking facilities and a program of residencies and exhibitions that has included many, if not most, of the significant artist printmakers in Australia over the past decade.
The first Australian Print Triennial (APT) was held in 2015 where over 150 artist printmakers, print curators and print collectors descended on Mildura and over several days the art of the original print was passionately discussed in forums, public lectures, over long lunches catered by Stefano’s and in a series of workshops. The feedback was overwhelmingly positive and the general message was ‘can we have more of the same in three years’ time – please’.
The Second Australian Print Triennial was held in Mildura in 2018, which continued many of the features of the first triennial, but with a number of significant changes.
Julie Chambers was joined at the helm by Vikki Moore, another Mildurian passionate about the arts and art in Mildura; there were numerically more and more extensive hands-on workshops (with each registered delegate free to enrol in two of them), and a series of lively debates focusing on matters of critical importance to printmakers, such as authenticity, authorship and the future of institutional printmaking.
There was also a plethora of exhibitions, the most significant of which was the Mungo Prints, where a group of nationally recognised artists visited Mungo within the Willandra Lakes and created a series of works.
As in the first Triennial, the APT Print Award took centre stage with this year’s $10,000 award going to the South Australian printmaker Olga Sankey and $1000 Highly Commended awards going to Rosalind Atkins (VIC), Roslyn Kean (NSW), Jock Clutterbuck (VIC), Edwin Garcia Maldonado (Venezuela) and Glenda Orr (Qld).
Of the 150 artists, curators, gallerists and collectors who attended this year, many were repeat offenders from the first triennial, but there were also about fifty new faces. However, the enthusiasm remained very high whether it be in the exchange of passionately held views or the relaxed hours of dining on the banks of the Murray River on the concluding Long Lunch with exquisite food and entertainment from the charismatic Robyn Archer, Nicky Crayson and her group and the unique, and unforgettable Press Gang, with lyrics written especially for this occasion.
One of my most unforgettable memories was going past Stefano’s (a couple of doors up from The Art Vault in Deakin Street in central Mildura) where a group of printmakers was having breakfast and there was a loud and animated discussion concerning the viscosity properties of a particular printing ink.
A question that arises in my mind is why have the APTs in Mildura been such a runaway success, whereas many other art gatherings seem to be like a rehearsal for a funeral and full of pomp and ceremony.
From my observations, there appear to be three main reasons, although I have little doubt that some participants will disagree and may offer their own assessments.
The first deals with location. Unlike a major city, for example, Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane or even Canberra, there are very few distractions in Mildura. There are few galleries, museums or art collections to tempt the delegates, so for the five- to three-day duration of the APT (depending on whether people arrive early to participate in the workshops), the group largely sticks together and develops its own momentum.
Secondly, there is a certain tribal nature to the art of printmaking. This may in part stem from the fact that printmaking, virtually more than any other major art form, has fought with the question of definition.
What is an original print? How can there be multiple originals? Traditionally, prints have not been ranked as highly as painting and sculpture in the hierarchy of the arts and printmakers have frequently flocked together both for purposes of sharing resources, to make the prints, as well as to exhibit them.
Also, printmaking is intrinsically a collaborative art form with shared facilities in printmaking workshops, shared skills and the use of master printers. Although the idea of printmaking as a sort of ‘cottage industry’ inhabited by artisans with expertise in a narrow technical speciality, like wood engraving or chromolithography, has long passed and most artist printmakers embrace many mediums including sculpture, digital media, painting and installation, there remains a technical skill base amongst printmakers. Invariably, printmakers want to know how something was done and in gatherings of printmakers shared technical knowledge is at a premium.
Thirdly, the magic of Mildura also stems from the generosity of spirit of Julie and Vikki. This is not only a question of dipping into their own financial resources to prop up the event, but also having an authentic hospitality, enthusiasm and the desire to make a contribution to printmaking and to the cultural life of Mildura.
This generosity of spirit is infectious, so Robyn Archer AO, a patron of the APT, has presented inspirational keynote addresses at both triennials. Julian Burnside AO QC, another patron of the APT, is quick to lend his name and support to the triennials and The Art Vault.
The APT has become a cause as well as a celebration of printmaking in Australia. It has become an important milestone in the developing history of printmaking in this country.
GRISHIN'S ART BLOG
Sasha Grishin AM, FAHA is the author of more than 25 books on art, including Australian Art: A History, and has served as the art critic for The Canberra Times for forty years. He is an Emeritus Professor at the Australian National University, Canberra; Guest Curator at the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne; and Honorary Principal Fellow, Faculty of Arts, at the University of Melbourne.
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