5 Press: In Conversation
5 Press is a Melbourne-based art collective that uses traditional printmaking techniques to explore the artist book as art object. Lor spoke to them about collaboration, group goals, and the artist book’s definition and audience.
What prompted you to start 5 Press?
We all, individually, went to the first Melbourne book fair and bumped into each other. We’d gone to university together and all had a secret desire to collaborate with one another and to make books. We got together one day and decided to help each other make these books, and to learn printmaking techniques. We only have two printmakers in the group, the rest of us hadn’t done it before. So there’s a mutual benefit there – a skills exchange.
In what ways does collaboration influence the practice of 5 Press?
Initially we were just making our own work, within the framework of a collective. We supported each other to do our own things. Recently we’ve started work on collaborative projects. The exchange of skills and the critical feedback was something we had at university but once you step out of that context it’s really difficult to ask for feedback and get honest responses. Because we’re in a group scenario, and because we do similar things, we have a pretty honest feedback loop. There was also collaboration prior to the collaborative works in the sense that someone would want to learn a lithograph and they could be taken through every step of that. It’s a big part of bookmaking – the shared studio space. A lot of print makers have their own press but there’s constantly people coming in accessing the machinery. The relationship between the artist and the printer, other people would see it as a collaboration. But a printer would never say it’s a collaboration. It’s always: no that’s the artist’s work, I’m the machine that printed it. In printmaking you share the process of the making. It’s very communal.
Are there any challenges that arise from working as a collective?
Time and space. In printmaking, it’s very hard to gain access to the equipment that we need and then to find time where we can all get together and produce work. When we produced Conversations: Plan A we were very lucky to have someone say we could use their studio and press. The process can be cost prohibitive, all 5 of us going and sharing the same press we may all, individually, be charged the daily rate. It’s not really encouraging of groups, or experimentation, because it’s expensive machinery there are a lot of restrictions placed on artists in the workshops.
What’s particularly hard for creatives is that often you’re working multiple jobs, strange hours. It’s not like everyone is working a 9 -5 and has their weekends free. Finding even one night a week to get together can be difficult.
Has this collective process affected your individual practices?
We’re more well-rounded artists than before. We’re all relying on each other to make work. We’ve always made work for new fairs. That consistent making of work, that’s slightly outside your practice means the making of your own work, just comes. The pressure is off. Because we’re working in a group towards a specific event, we’re also quite supportive of each other, you don’t have to be the only one who believes in your idea.
How important is it for 5 Press to participate in art and book fairs?
It’s essential. Because we deal with artist books and it is such a niche area, the fairs are essential for us to show our books in the physical form. Without that it’s hard to find a place for them. There are galleries, but it’s hard to justify having these kinds of books in a gallery scenario because they’re not quite an art object. We’re trying really hard to remain accessible. We’re not making a one-off $3000 book at any point. For those kinds of books it makes sense to be in a gallery context. But for this kind of thing it doesn’t fit that context. It doesn’t necessarily fit into a shop context either. We had some of our books at Junior Space (a retail and commercial gallery space). It’s in this strange place of ‘it’s art but we want people to have it’.
There are many definitions for the term artist book, what does that term mean for you and your collective?
It’s something that we’re constantly reviewing and redefining as we go along. We’re figuring out we’re we want to sit in the space between high art object and zine. There’s also the other side of it, where we are often making concertina books when people come along and pick them up and hold them out. They automatically think this will be a framed object. They’re taking it out of the book context as well. There is something in the sharing of the book, in how you would read text and how you would read a book. There’s something in that when comparing it to a 2-d work on a wall. That first moment you get the whole image, where as a book you look through it, fold it, see snippets and then you might open the whole thing and reassess how you see it. Interaction with the work is very different, in that context. It’s not a picture on a wall, necessarily, unless someone decides that. The reading of the work is affected in that way and we think that’s really interesting.
You recently returned from a residency in Portland, Victoria, could you tell us about that experience as a collective?
An individual residency can be quite isolating, especially in a rural setting. It’s nice having other people around, but it does slow down the process. You have to factor in 5 peoples’ opinions. It’s a very rare opportunity for us all to be in the same place, at the same time, for an extended period of time. We’d usually have that for a night or a day, a small snippet of time. It can be hard to really develop an idea when we’re only getting a day here or there. Knowing that we had consecutive days to come back to the exact same space, have it exactly the same as it was, the continuity of that working practice was so important. We haven’t experienced that before, we felt pretty lucky. It changes the way you approach the work, you’re more open to experiments, to considerations and reviewing of things.
What are your future goals of 5 Press?
A communal studio space, a printmaking press. In the future to have some exhibitions to show the 2D work we do, the books, the collaborative, to explore those kind of things further. We’re excited about the collaborative things we’ve been working on. That’s pushing us into realms that we’re not usually comfortable with or haven’t tried so much before. The scope for that to keep going is pretty cool. Collaborations further afield – it would be great if we had space, a printmaking press we could invite other people who look at making books in the same format as we do. To see their perspective and how they would approach things. Even on an international scale, we’ve talked about doing similar to a print exchange, doing an artist book exchange. Because we’re doing this collaborative work, we’ve framed it as though when we make work together we’re kind of having conversations with each other with the marks that we’re making. That’s an idea that can be taken much further afield to lots of different countries, and the work that can come out of that is exciting.
What advice do you have for those to form their own artist collectives?
Do it. Don’t try to peg it down as one particular thing. We talk about so much more than just being a collective who makes artist books. It’s got evolve naturally, we don’t think what we’re doing is now is what we thought we’d be doing when we first met. Finding people who are as excited to do something, that you want to do, as you are. That’s the most important thing. Secondary to that is finding people that might be able to teach you something , and to who you might be able to teach something. So the relationship keeps developing and you still want to be there because you’re both still learning. Both, well, 5 of us. The most valuable thing about this group is that we all have different strengths that we can continue to share with each other.
5 Press is an art collective based in Melbourne. It comprises five members; August Carpenter, Cheralyn Lim, Sarah McConnell, Jaime Powell and Sophie Westerman. The collective was formed so the artists would have a framework in which to explore the medium of the artist book and fine art print, particularly focusing on handmade forms and traditional technique.